Interview with Lance Woolridge, Veloce Extreme E driver
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Interview by Umut Yelbaşı
I can't remember how I first heard of Extreme E, but what I remember is the huge excitement I felt for it. It just seemed like so much fun as well as being a new, interesting, and potentially planet-saving idea. Unfortunately I wasn't able to follow their first season in 2021, but I've been waiting for the start of their 2022 campaign for a long time.
Last weekend was the first round of the 2022 Extreme E season. Once again it was an amazing atmosphere in Neom and the competition was as fierce as always, with Rosberg XE finishing the weekend on top, closely followed by Acciona|Sainz and X44.
After qualifying on Saturday, Veloce XE’s Lance Woolridge was kind enough to answer some of my questions following a pretty hectic day for the team, which unfortunately ended early after his teammate, Christine GZ, had to be taken to the hospital with a fractured left foot after a scary crash in qualifying. I’ve received confirmation from the team that Christine was okay - all of us at Divebomb wish her a quick recovery.
Although this is his first full season in Extreme E, Lance Woolridge is a man of many talents. Apart from being the reserve and development driver for Veloce XE last year, he is also a two-time South Africa Cross Country (SACCS) winner and runner up at the FIA SACCS category last year. He is also the current General Manager at his family business, Neil Woolridge Motors, which manufactures custom heavy-duty racing vehicles for cross-country series. I’ve asked him about his introduction to Extreme E, his thoughts about the series, and his background.
Umut Yelbasi: How did you first get involved in Extreme E? What was your reaction to the concept?
Lance Woolridge: I sort of started hearing about a new electric form of motorsport coming, and at one stage we were even possibly approached, in our personal business [Neil Woolridge Motors], to build the chassis as well. But we didn’t think much of it, we didn’t think it was going to happen. Two years later, Ian Davies, who is now our team manager, contacted me and said there’s this new sport coming, and I should keep a lookout for it and try to push myself to it. So I sort of did a lot of hard work and knocking on doors, and eventually that all came through.
UY: Extreme E is a huge initiative that aims to make a difference while also making no compromises when it comes to on-the-limit racing. How does it feel being the pioneers of something like this?
LW: It’s really special. I think I’ve said it a lot that motorsport pioneers the way forward for technology that goes into our everyday roadcars as well. I think we’ll be pushing the boundaries in the future of how far electrification can go and how far it can take us. That’s just in general in motorsport. Specifically on the Extreme E side, to be pushing the idea that sustainability can work alongside motorsport, raising awareness of the environmental issues, and then the equality of males and females, I think it’s an all-encompassing championship and it’s really special to be a part of it.
UY: The Extreme E cars have almost double the power that DAKAR cars have while also weighing over 400 kilograms less. Both of you have driven your fair share of different vehicles, what are your thoughts on the Extreme E car? How is it different?
LW: The car’s really at a good performance level. We are 10 teams pushing the cars to their absolute limit. As we’ve seen in all of the crashes that all the teams have had so far the car is really safe, we’ve got a good piece of mind there. I’d say the biggest thing to get used to is the sensation of speed. There’s no revs on the car, there’s no gear changes. Those are usually used to gauge how fast you’re going, whereas now you just come up to some corners really fast and you realise you’re doing 140. But, at the end of the day, it’s got a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals, wheels and diffs, so there’s a lot of things we can fine tune, but it’s pretty awesome to drive.
UY: Extreme E has been sort of an All Stars championship, where drivers from many different backgrounds and with experiences in different racing series came together. As far as you could observe, is there any difference to how drivers with different backgrounds approach these cars and races?
LW: I think there’s sort of mainly two groups of drivers at the moment. There’s track and rallycross guys, and there’s off-road, cross country guys. The off-road people are sort of used to reading the road and are quite confident from the start and able to keep a good pace from the start. The track people are more used to building up through the weekend, so you’ll find that they’re probably quite slow at the start of the weekend and get faster and faster. At the end of the weekend, that results in everyone being on an extremely fast pace, but it is quite interesting to see the two different mindsets. It’s stuff that I’m learning as well and can take back to my own racing as well. It certainly helps me intensify my pace as well.
UY: It was recently announced that a new series, Extreme H, would be launched in 2024. This will be another step towards more environmental racing series. There is still a prejudice against racing series that utilise alternative means of power, like Extreme E and Formula E, and with the announcement of Extreme H, it’s clear that these series aren’t going anywhere. How do you think the response to them will change over time?
LW: I think it’s a thing that just takes time to be accepted. There are people in the world that are visionaries, and there are people in the world that take time to see the ideas come to fruition. I think particularly Extreme H is also very exciting because I think it’s a more sustainable form of motorsport for longer distances. Until technology on electrification catches up we’re quite limited in range. With Extreme H you might see us able to do some longer races which is going to add a different element to the style of driving, the intensity of driving, the terrain, and the track that we’ll drive over… It’s exciting!
UY: You are a double SACCS winner and runner up at the FIA SACCS category in 2021, and you were the Reserve and Development Driver at Veloce last season. After Dorset last year, everyone had nothing but praise to say about your performance. How do you feel about your first full Extreme E season? How do you think it’ll compare to cross country, for example?
LW: I feel excited. It’s very nice to be involved within the team from the start, all working towards a common goal. I wouldn’t say our championship hopes have been dashed already, but they’ve been dealt another blow this weekend. But I’m hoping we can salvage something today. Certainly my goal through the year is to have an extremely strong year and strong championship for Veloce. I’m very focused on that and I hope we can continue to deliver.
UY: You are the General Manager at Neil Woolridge Motors, your family business in Pietermaritzburg. You’ve been involved in the technical side of motorsport from a very young age, and you also have a degree in marketing and economics. How has this extensive background helped you in your motorsport career?
LW: I think it’s all helped. I think life’s a situation of building blocks, you know. Connections you make, things you do, and experiences you have just help all the time to make these little building blocks to build up yourself and your career. I’m very lucky to have been exposed to a wide motorsport network for sort of the last fifteen years while I’ve been racing, so I’m quite proud to say I know a lot of people and I’m familiar with almost everything that’s going on in the motorsport world. I think I’m just very fortunate to be in the situation that I’m in, from both a technical and a professional side. As a driver, it always helps understanding what’s happening to the car from a technical point of view. Having a bit of mechanical sympathy - I think that always helps you to get the car to the end.
UY: You’ve had an event, a Legacy Day, where you helped with local regreening by planting trees and took part in a project which will help re-introduce spiny tailed lizards to Neom. How do these types of events affect your approach to the environment and to racing?
LW: I think they’re really important. There’s a lot of stuff that I personally wasn’t aware of before these Legacy projects. You learn this little bit just of this one portion on this Legacy project, and the next time it’s something completely different. It’s something that I continue to take back to friends, family, other staff at work, even back into the team to the guys that weren’t on the legacy project, our mechanics and engineers. So it’s very cool and special to be able to get this knowledge. Particularly in some of these Legacy projects, to be involved at the very start of change.
UY: Finally, which race weekend are you looking forward to the most in the XE 2022 season?
LW: I would say either Senegal or Chile. There’s going to be some very exciting races. Long way to travel, specifically Chile and Uruguay. But, I think Chile and Uruguay being new locations, there’s going to be a level playing field for everyone. Senegal and Sardinia, I believe we’re going back to the same tracks that the guys raced last year so there might be a bit of advantage for the people that raced last season there. But either way, I’m looking forward to those two.
I'd like to thank Extreme E and the Veloce XE team for this interview opportunity, and I wish them all the best in the rest of their 2022 season.