In this article, Prodrive Engineer, George Imafidon, reflects upon the Extreme E Championship win.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
George Imafidon: I grew up in South-East London where I often saw my friends’ broken bikes left to rust in their gardens. As the bike shops repairs were relatively expensive, I started to fix them for free for other people in my mum’s garden so we could go to the BMX track and race in car parks. As an 8-year-old I was fascinated with the gears and making things work better.
Whether it was bikes, go-karts, mini motos, I enjoyed them all, and eventually I saved up enough money to get my own second-hand moped. I loved racing and always wanted to see how fast I could go. When my local go-karting track closed, I decided that if I couldn’t be inside a race car, I wanted to be the one outside designing it, and making it win.
This motivated me to study engineering at GCSE where I realised it was not just fixing things but building them and coming up with new ideas to improve people’s quality of life and standard of living. So, from there I went on to study mechanical engineering at University College London (UCL).
Whilst there, I took part in Formula Student – an engineering competition that gives you real world experience in the motorsport industry. This also helped open up a career in motorsport.
When did you start working at Prodrive?
George: I first started working with Prodrive in a limited capacity in November 2020 as Extreme E [the FIA-sanctioned international off-road racing series] was going through testing and development, before becoming an employee in March 2021 ahead of Season 1 of the Extreme E Championship.
My main role has been as a Performance Engineer on the X44 team, spearheaded by Lewis Hamilton. But since joining I’ve also worked on business development opportunities to expand our sustainable powered projects, be those sustainable fuels, electric or hydrogen which will shape the future of motorsports. Some of the research I’ve been able to do in these areas has also been submitted on behalf of Prodrive to Government committees looking into these topics.
You mention Extreme E and the X44 team. How does Prodrive support a participating team?
George: Prodrive has been the main Technical Partner to X44. We provide all the race team personnel including engineers, mechanics as well as drivers with the objective of making the car perform well enough to win races. We also support the team’s and championship’s media efforts where needed to help communicate about performance and sustainability.
What are the constraints of participating in an all-electric racing series such as Extreme E and how do you overcome them in such varying conditions in the countries you compete in?
George: In the drive to be more sustainable, the number of personnel allowed on each team is restricted to just seven people, so that means you have to develop a broader understanding of the whole of the car and its systems rather than just focusing on a small part.
Every track presents new challenges from an engineering perspective as there is often a new terrain, so the set-up of the car needs to be carefully considered from the springs to torque distribution to maximise the traction. A lot of our learnings come from testing when we get on the ground as most of the venues are new to the teams.
As an electric racing series, a crucial difference to other championships is knowing how the battery will perform in different conditions. We visit very different environments as part of our job highlighting the climate issues, some of which are extremely hot, therefore we need to make sure we build in enough time between sessions to charge the battery and prevent overheating.
In a given session our batteries have a capacity of about 40 kilowatt hours which can give us about 20 minutes of racing. So, in Extreme E we know we have more than enough power in reserve to complete the race distance, therefore our overall strategy is less about power conservation to reach the finish line but more about planning where on track we are going to apply the hyperdrive to gain time on any given lap or across a session.
In the finale of Season 2, we came into the final weekend needing to get best time in the Continental Traction Challenge section of the track to secure the extra five points on offer to win the overall Championship. So, in the first session we strategically used more power in this section than in other parts of the track knowing it would put us into the Crazy Race with a slimmer chance of getting into the final. It was a risky strategy, but with Sebastien and Cristina doing a great job all weekend we secured the Challenge points, still made the final, and won the Championship by 0.6s.
How important is sustainability in sport to you personally?
George: I describe myself as a Humanitarian Engineer and one of my mantras is ‘to leave everywhere better than you found it’. I truly believe that motorsport can be an important testbed and accelerate the development of multiple new technologies, that can eventually support everyday people.
The climate is the next space race, and the technologies we develop and improve through motorsport can help the wider societal challenges.
Personally, it’s been great to be in the series from the very start and then the journey through to winning the Championship at the end of Season 2. The Championship has developed rapidly in such a very short space of time from just seeing how an electric off road series would work, to an incredibly close, competitive and spectacular racing spectacle.
You’re very passionate about diversity in motorsport and engineering overall and have looked into it extensively in your role with the Hamilton Commission, what are the benefits of having a diverse team or workforce?
George: The McKinsey Report clearly shows that companies and organisations that have a more diverse workforce have a better bottom line. Be that by gender, race, experience, geography, socio-economic variation, or other factors – a diverse workforce allows a greater variety of viewpoints from which insights can be drawn.
One of the biggest keys to improving diversity is access for those marginalised groups.
We’ve seen that directly in Extreme E. At the beginning of Season 1 the time difference between the male and female drivers was around 10 seconds per lap. By the Season 2 finale, our female driver, Cristina Gutierrez, was the fastest overall across the whole weekend. Simply by racing with and learning from their male colleagues, every female driver had been able to level up their performance.
I’m now working with our Human Resources team to make sure that our diversity policies are delivering what they need to across all parts of the Prodrive Group, not just in attracting and giving opportunities, but in making sure that the company culture gives a sense of belonging in which anyone can flourish.
What’s it like working with the people at Prodrive?
George: It’s been great. Working at Prodrive, I am working with people who have won multiple World Championships in multiple disciplines across almost four decades of motorsport. So, whether that’s with people from the engine, design, chassis or simulation teams, you’re always learning from a great pool of talent. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with some of the Advanced Technology department where they take motorsport learning and apply it to other sectors such as automotive, aerospace and marine.
Joining Prodrive was my first job in professional motorsport. Races 1 to 3 of Season 1 felt like accelerated training on the job, but in getting to work directly alongside very talented and experienced people like Gus Beteli (Team Principal), and Gus Sanchez (Lead Engineer), when we reached race 4 and I was asked to take on extra responsibility due to the unavailability of one of our other engineers, I relished stepping up to take on the challenge. Their attention to detail and understanding of what it takes to win at the highest level meant I couldn’t have had better training.
The step up did come with extra pressure, especially that race decisions were being made solely on my diagnosis of certain data or situations, but the will to win amongst the team meant I felt like I was able to thrive on the opportunity. I haven’t looked back since.
What’s next for you, George, now that you’ve been part of the winning Extreme E team?
George: My ambition is to stay at the forefront of this new and exciting world of sustainable motorsport. There is an eclectic mix of promising technological solutions such as sustainable fuels and hydrogen, and I am keen to explore how we can maximise these for areas where electrification is limited. Fortunately, Prodrive is already working on several of these initiatives.
In 2021, we launched ‘Prodrive EcoPower’ and were one of the first major teams in the world to compete with an advanced sustainable fuel in an FIA championship. This has produced 80% less CO2 emissions than using fossil fuels during our rallies and could be used in almost any IC engine with no reduction in performance or range.
To complement this work, I will also be actively supporting David Richards when he becomes Chairman of the FIA Foundation later this year and the drive towards sustainable motorsport in all its different forms.