This month, coming off of the dramatic and exciting inaugural X Prix, we give you another installment in our Extreme E female drivers series. During the Desert X Prix, Andretti United team’s Catie Munnings suffered a puncture in the right rear tyre during Qualifying 1, but was able to still bravely push to the limit and bring the car back in fourth place. With a combined fourth place after Qualifying 2, the duo of Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen won Crazy Race on Sunday in a stunning fashion to charge into the Final. Considered by some as the underdog in the Final, again Catie and Timmy were able to beat the odds, and finish second in the groundbreaking first ever Extreme E X Prix. We caught up with Catie a week before she set off for her journey to Saudi Arabia. Today, let’s hear the story of Catie Munnings with Andretti United, the runner-up of the Desert X Prix.
All photos © Extreme E unless otherwise noted
Having driven alongside her rally driver father at the age of six, and having raced in club rally events since the age of 13, Catie Munnings is no stranger to rally and motorsport. Since her debut in European Rally Championship in 2016, Catie has made great progress in her career. She has won the FIA European Rally Championship Ladies trophy, and now she has made history once again as part of the trailblazing electric racing series Extreme E.
Even though she has been familiar with the sport through her dad, it wasn’t a big ‘this is the career I choose’ moment for Catie when she became a driver herself. She was merely taking it ‘one step at a time’. “I don’t think I really sat down and thought about it. I’m not a driver who has had millions of budget or a family that can sponsor me through. I started when I was in school, I was racing in the ERC at the time. I made the decision not to go to university. After that, it was always about trying to make it to the next event and see where we are next year. ”
This isn’t something I said ‘this will be it for me for life’. It was pretty much ‘OK let’s give this a go and see how far our budget can take us and how far I can go in it’. This is such an expensive sport, as a driver your opportunities change day by day as championships appear and teams appear.
In the earlier years of her career, Catie chose European Rally Championship as her platform to learn the necessary skills. Last year, Catie had the opportunity to compete in Junior WRC and further step up her game. “I’ve been doing ERC for many years, it’s kind of where I learned everything as a driver. I love rallying. I love the challenges rally brings, I love the adrenaline. I was only able to do one round of JWRC last year before COVID took over the world. It’s important to stay sharp as a driver and make sure that I’m still driving and developing and getting fast all the time. Again it comes back to the budget and what is possible. It might be that I just pick up a few rallies here and there this year.”
As Catie said, opportunities change and championships appear, in our world appeared Extreme E. When Extreme E as a series and its Driver’s Programme was announced, Catie was among the ones intrigued by the concept, but also found it unbelievable. “I heard about Extreme E through the organizers of Extreme E. To be honest, I didn’t believe that Extreme E was possible. It’s like from a movie: there is this big ship going around the world which will take all the cars, drop them in the Amazon rain forest, and we race. I was like, how is that ever gonna happen?”
But deep down, Catie knew this is a series she wanted to be involved in. So she joined the Driver’s Programme, and eventually Andretti United. “They contacted me about becoming a driver in their Driver’s Programme. My management team and I talked with the organizers about the championship and where it would go. It’s a commitment from everyone, if you sign up for the championship, it’s your career at the end of the day. Quite quickly after I joined the Driver’s Programme, I received a call from Roger (Griffiths), who is the Team Principal for Andretti in Formula E (now also Andretti United in Extreme E). I must have spoken to him for a good few months as well, and then I signed with the team. I was massively excited when I found out my teammate would be Timmy Hansen. I couldn’t wish for a better teammate than Timmy.”
As a rally driver, Catie has always worked with her co-driver. Now having a teammate who is a rallycross world champion, with a few months of preparation between them, it has been a great opportunity to combine their experience as drivers and build up a family environment in the team. “Signing with the team early on has given me a chance to really get to know Timmy. I spent three weeks with him in February and March in Sweden to train with him. It’s been cool to lean into his expertise as a rallycross driver and develop a really good friendship at the same time. Having Timmy as a coach and a teammate is invaluable for me in the last few months.”
In both Catie’s and Timmy’s earlier careers, they had their families’ support wherever they race. But in Extreme E, it will be the first time either of them travels around the world without their respective family. The team is now their new family. “We are traveling around the world, we haven’t got our families, which is normally what we do have when we go racing. It’s nice to have a familiar face and someone you can lean on and share these amazing experiences with. The places we are traveling to are once-in-a-life-time too.”
Besides her teammate Timmy, Catie’s journey in Extreme E will also be accompanied by Odyssey 21, the electric SUV designated for the series. “It is the first time I’ve driven an electric rally car. The first thing is obviously you don’t have the sound of the engine. It’s something to get used to. When you start the car it’s just this really calm experience. Then you press acceleration you get a bit of a shock as you are pinned back in your seat because it’s 400kw. In many ways I quite like it, because you don’t have the overwhelming noise (of the engine), so you can hear the car a lot more. From the performance side, I was massively impressed. It’s just instant torque, as soon as you need it, in any range as well. I think the locking wheels thing is interesting as well. Coming from a combustion engine, one of the things you hear if you are locking the wheels is the knocking sounds. Now we don’t have that either, you have to develop the feeling a lot more from the seats. The car’s driveability is amazing, the balance is there. It’s a really well-built race car.”
Now that I’m in an Extreme E car, with the high power it has, I’m gonna have to pick a pretty special rally car as well to create the same adrenaline and the same sensation.
There is the team, then there is the competition. The line-up of Extreme E is a great mixture of drivers with different backgrounds and experiences. Catie’s strength lies in her adaptability to changing conditions. “Coming from the rally side I had experiences with different surfaces but also changing conditions. Sometimes we see the road after 50 cars have been through, you are just adapting to the routes and what might be in the road. That side of it is really important for this championship, because obviously, we don’t really have any testing on the track, there is onlt the shakedown, then we go straight into Qualifying. The cars are very powerful, so they will be digging up the surfaces quite a lot. What I bring from the rally side is being able to be fast without knowing exactly where the road goes. Then I also need to adapt to the traffic. I’m normally on the road by myself. I think ultimately, Timmy is bringing his experience from rallycross, and we are combining that with my experience from rally, and sharing as much of that information together as we can.”
What’s more unpredictable than the competition is what the locations have in store for all the teams. For Catie, the Amazon X Prix is what she currently looks forward to the most. “I’m really excited about the Amazon X Prix as it’s just one of those bucket-list locations. It’s the one you think of when you think of the planet, the deforestation is getting a lot of coverage. Going there for the first time and working on the legacy program on that is important. Hopefully, I’ll see some cool tropical animals out there. In terms of challenges, we don’t really know a lot about the surfaces in the later events in the championship. So it’s anybody’s guessing game on that side. Every round will not be easy, that’s why we are here at the end of the day. That why it’s gonna make the success even sweeter.”
Beyond her own racing career, Catie has been involved in Susie Wolff’s Dare to Be Different project for many years to help girls and young women get into motorsport. Right now, she is happy to see the Rally Star campaign with the FIA giving opportunities to young female drivers in rally. “Rally Star will be organized in a lot of countries and the best female driver overall will be given a seat (on the FIA Rally Star team in 2022, then eligible to compete for one of the four seats from this program to compete in Junior WRC). It’s done a bit better on the track racing side in the past because there is a clearer route into it. In the past, I always thought rally needed something similar to Girls on Track. It’s cool to be seeing this happening now. It would be nice if we have a few more initiatives doing the same thing and creating longevity in that rather than doing it just in one year. It would be a tough call for anyone going into motorsport and being expected to prove themselves in one year. It does take years to develop all the skills to be able to have the instincts to perform on any surface in changing conditions all the time.”
When you think of the experience and the number of kilometers it takes to learn as a driver and to develop, it does take time and it’s one of those sports where you have to have patience. I guess that’s why we see the (rally) world champions older than the Formula 1 drivers.
Same as any drivers, younger or older, for Catie, it all comes back to gathering seat time and experience to become more and more mature as a driver. “I think for most young drivers it’s just about getting experience. For me, it’s just about getting seat time and being able to drive. It’s never something that comes easily for a lot of young drivers. We never really have a testing budget. We always just turn up at the event and get an afternoon in before the race. Even in those conditions, you know you can’t break the car because you are racing the next day in it, so you are never really pushing as you’d like to. The opportunity at Extreme E has given me a lot as a driver. I think that will transfer into any form of motorsport that I go into in future competitions.”
To wrap it up, we asked Catie to sum up why people should follow Extreme E in three words. And here is her answer: “Champions – The driver line-up is like a Race of Champions entry list. Extreme – Because of the locations. Perspective – It will give you a wider view of the world. It’s in places you shouldn’t see a race car, it shouldn’t be happening yet we are doing it. It’s gonna change people’s perspective just watching it. It will change the way you see the world and the impact we all have on it.”
On May 29-30th, Extreme E continues its electric odyssey in Senegal for Ocean X Prix, but before that, on May 5th, we continue with our Extreme E series.