Interview with Extreme E’s Izy Rekiel

Guest blog by Thiemo Albers-Daly

Extreme E entered its second season last weekend in Saudi Arabia which saw a host of action take place across the entire weekend. *Spoilers* Nico Rosberg’s RXR won the opening round in Niom with Johan Kristoffersson and Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky proving to be a very effective driver line-up after Molly Taylor departed the team to join JBXE ahead of the new season.

But Extreme E isn’t just about racing off-road electric vehicles in well…extreme locations. At each event, there’s a legacy project to help bring awareness to various impacts of climate change that are happening around the world that also finds a way to help combat these impacts. In Senegal last year for example, the drivers helped to start planting the first of a million Mangrove trees and then in Dorset, helped in the first steps of a rewilding project.

The cars used in Extreme E are also transported from location to location in a unique way – shipped from country to country in the St. Helena, a repurposed old Royal Mail delivery ship that has now become a floating garage and research lap. To help bring attention to this throughout the inaugural season of Extreme E, Izy Rekiel decided to jump in the deep end and live on board the St Helena for the majority of the year.

We caught up recently to chat about how she first got into motorsport, what it was like living at sea, what other motorsports can do to help combat climate change and much more. Check out the full chat below.

What first got you interested in motorsport?

Motorsport came knocking on my door before my interest in it developed. I became the official DJ for the FIA Formula E Championship which was my introduction to the industry. It was through my involvement that I realised the role that motorsport played in technology development and in the instance of Formula E, pushing EV technology and being ahead of its time.

How did you become involved with Extreme E?

Throughout my career in entertainment, I’ve always been passionate about the environment and living as harmoniously with it as possible. When Extreme E was still in its development stages, I identified an opportunity to bring value to the environmental aspect of it through in depth reporting of the Legacy Programs. A marriage of inspiration for the ambitious vision of Extreme E along with my strong principles towards environmentalism and what legacy I wanted to start building, led to the creation of the Impact Correspondent role. Living on the ship for the duration of the annual season came as an afterthought, I was committed to understanding the championship from its core and lifeline.

What was it like being onboard the St. Helena for so long?

It was a life changing experience. I was taught so many life lessons in that year. There were some tough moments along with marvellous memories. Living on a ship for the duration that I did, labelled me crazy from a lot of people, but my commitment to any project I’m passionate about and want to see through is that extreme. There was never any moment that I wanted to call it quits despite there being a few challenging moments. In fact those just fuelled my determination even more.

The crew of the ship really helped with the transition from land to sea life and life on board in general. They were extremely patient and understanding. I learned so much from them and they were always willing to at least entertain my ideas for content creation, even if they weren’t too keen on creating them or if I’d failed to acknowledge a certain safety aspect that swiftly shut that thought down. When I got off the ship I had a bit of land anxiety – I couldn’t find my way around a supermarket, and I sorely missed the sight of scattered stars on a black sky, the peace of the ocean. We had some intensely striking nights especially coming from Senegal where the Southern Cross, which is usually only seen in the southern hemisphere peeped over the horizon. Some of our officers were trained to tell the direction by the stars so I was lucky to be treated to a few star gazing sessions.

Which location from Season 1 did you find most interesting to work on and why?

They were all incredibly interesting and eye-opening in their own ways. I had pre-conceived notions of Saudi Arabia as being just a vast flat sandy desert, hostile to its people. Upon experiencing the country and coming into close contact with communities, it is so far from that. Incredibly historic rock formations and valleys that are jaw dropping scatter the country. Home to a nation of people that are respectful, generous and have the same hopes and dreams as you and I. The trip and time in Al-Ula for the first race really triggered my hunger to explore the country more and I long to do a road trip to the “Edge of the world” , just outside Riyadh and even more Wadi Al Disah, a relatively unknown oasis area surrounded by towering majestic cliffs and mountains rising up from a volcanic region in the Tabuk province.

However the most interesting from a social perspective was Senegal. The issues that the nation face are a direct result of colonialism and consequently Western exploitation, compounded by climate change. There is a great cartoon I recently saw that had a black and white drawing of the global map. South America and Africa were dug out and that ‘dirt’ was piled up on North America and Europe respectively. A powerful accurate image of the politics and inequality that those regions face, of the exploitation of their resources without economic benefit for them. It was a sobering time in Senegal but I also have to mention I met incredibly beautiful people there with kind souls that really went above and beyond to show me the country and places that perhaps no tourist would get to see.

Is there a fun behind the scenes story that you can tell us about?

Too many but not sure they are appropriate! I’ll share one that I thought was particularly funny – just before we left Saudi Arabia we received a late shipment of dates. A LOT of dates. We had to use them before going into Senegal, the regulations stated that we couldn’t have that in the dry stores. The crew would eat them as is, but then pretty quickly we found out that most people were sensitive to the erm, effect of them.  So Patrick our head chef and I were researching recipes with dates to try and hide them into the food rather than throwing them out. Patrick is very big on zero waste. We were making caramel slice, cake, adding it to meals- any way to conceal them. Needless to say the crew were not appreciative of it.

Extreme E is all about raising climate awareness, what can people do everyday to do their part in combating climate change?

There are countless steps we can all take in our daily life that will show respect to the world we live in. That’s the way that I view ‘climate awareness’ – you wouldn’t trash and disregard your own house so why do it to the environment. People tend to believe that anything outside their own four corners is someone’s else problem, but everything comes back three-fold.

Extreme E is involved with Count Us In that gives some suggestions on everyday habits we can slowly start to change. Switching to meatless meals, being conscious of energy consumption, taking shorter showers, these are all steps we can take that will not only lessen our carbon footprint but benefit our own health.

Do you think that other global motorsports should adopt Legacy Projects of their own or find ways to do more to help the environment?

I believe every company and entity regardless of industry has now a corporate responsibility to the environment. If you’re not you are living in the past and being quite frankly socially irresponsible. We have already recognised that the generation that belonged to the industrial revolution plundered earth’s resources without much thought of the consequences due to lack of scientific data and knowledge. We have more than enough data now. We are exposed to the effects of not living in harmony with the world every day – freak storms and floods, disturbed weather patterns, crops failing. Selectively ignoring it for corporate gain should be a crime and the longer that companies hold out on implementing alternatives, the more money solutions towards climate change will end up costing and more importantly, time.

As small companies are swallowed up by conglomerates, it’s even more imperative that there is a global legal movement to make corporations responsible and tighten existing policy that allows large establishments to evade responsibility.

Where’s one place you’ve always wanted to travel to but haven’t been able to yet?

Antarctica. It would be such a bucket list tick. When we had our scientists on board, Professor Aulicino entertained us with stories of his expeditions to Antarctica. To go on a scientific vessel would be that extra cherry on the top. To hear first-hand from academics who live and breathe the Antarctic would be like having a private concert by your favourite band.  

If you could have dinner with any celebrity, who would you pick and why?

Jane Fonda. A movie icon that exudes class, grace and balls – she got arrested not once but five times on Capitol Hill in the name of climate change demonstrations. People may not know that she has forever stood up for rights and against oppressive government. In the 1970s President Nixon had her placed under secret surveillance as she was vociferously protesting the Vietnam War. Her mug shot – when they finally brought her in on bogus drug smuggling charges, should be a t-shirt – the ultimate image of defiance.  

At that dinner I’d only wish that I could absorb as much of her wisdom and fiery boldness.  

Hopefully you’ll agree that this was a fascinating chat with Izy and thanks to her again for taking the time to chat – be sure to go and follow her on all the social medias. Extreme E continues with Round II in Sardinia in May so be sure to go and check it out!

– End –

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