Natalie set for all-electric Projekt E rallycross motorsport comeback
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Exactly 13 years and two months after her last motorsport outing, former FIA World Rally Championship star Natalie Barratt is making a dramatic return to competition this weekend – driving in the new all-electric Projekt E Rallycross series at Höljes in Sweden.
Natalie, who wears a Stilo ST5 FN 8860 helmet, has always been a self-confessed petrol head, contesting 44 rounds of the WRC in cars like a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and Hyundai Accent World Rally Car, and racing in the SEAT Cupra Championship.
But she has also become passionate about battling global warming and climate change and wants to use her knowledge and experience of motorsport to help promote greener electric vehicle technology.
She also loves driving fast cars – and the Stohl Advanced Research and Development (STARD) designed Projekt E car that Natalie will race this year is one of the quickest machines in world motorsport.
Powered by three electric motors, the four-wheel drive, 613bhp Projekt E car has a REVelution powertrain system and, with 1002Nm of instantaneous torque, can accelerate from 0-60mph faster than a Formula 1 car and reach a top speed of 150mph (240km/h).
Following in the wheel tracks of drivers like François Delecour, Hayden Paddon, Janis Baumanis, Jani Paasonen, Tiff Needell and the car’s designer Manfred Stohl, Natalie became the first female to drive the Projekt E car when she tested it in Austria last month – and she will be the first lady to race it too!
Natalie’s all-electric racer, which is based on a Ford Fiesta, will be run by the multiple Polish rally championship winning team, Rallytechnology.
Projekt E – which is a support race series to the FIA World RX Championship – has attracted a star-studded field, with former works WRC driver Mads Østberg and extreme sports and Gymkhana YouTube sensation Ken Block also lining up on the grid.
But Natalie has always faced her challenges head-on – like having a successful rally career despite her dyslexia and controlling her coeliac disease, meaning that she will have to take her own gluten free food to events – and her approach to this new all-electric challenge is no exception.
And Natalie has been training hard for her latest dare – including wild swimming and marathon cycle rides on her Orbea Gain F40 electric hybrid bicycle, all in the stunning setting of her Lake District home.
But now it’s almost time to race, and encouraged by her two biggest fans, daughter Frances and son Magnus, Natalie can’t wait to put her crash helmet and race suit back on and return to what she does best – driving flat-out!
“It is no hidden fact that I have missed motorsport and competitive driving, but the reality of getting back in a car was never going to be easy until this opportunity came along,” says Natalie.
“I have always loved the outdoors, but as I have become slightly older and wiser I had an ethical dilemma – I love cars, I love driving, but is motorsport the right thing to do? I have children, so I am more conscious that ever before of the changes in the world’s climate that will undoubtedly affect their future.
“But I also believe that motorsport can play a big part in developing greener vehicle technology, and Projekt E is the perfect solution – both in promoting electric cars and enjoying the thrill of competing at the same time. The way I can describe it, without getting political, is Projekt E is like eating guilt-free chocolate, with only positive and healthy consequences, every day!
“The opening round in Höljes is very close now, and the closer it gets the more the enormity of the challenge sinks in – which is amplified by the driving talent on the grid.
“It’s going to be a big learning curve, but I’m very much a glass half full kind of person, and I hope that in the midst of this awful Covod-19 pandemic people can tune in and watch us race. It won't be the same without spectators at the track, but I think the electric cars will be fantastic to watch on television, because the cars are all identical, they are all as equally as fast as each other and we as drivers are all excited to show the world what electric power is all about.
“To drive a Projekt E car, with instant power and so much acceleration, is mind blowing.
“Some people don’t like change, but I love it and I'm excited. In fact, I’m super excited about this one!
“When you have children, I think you look at the world slightly differently. I don’t mean I’ll be taking my foot off the throttle pedal – I want to help show the world that electric is coming and don’t be afraid of it. It is great.”
And like many of her fans, Manfred Stohl – the president STARD, who ran a number of cars for Natalie in the WRC – is delighted to see her return to international competition.
“I my opinion, Natalie was one of the best female rally drivers there has ever been,” adds Manfred.
“Now, having a female driver like Natalie compete in Projekt E will bring an enormous amount of attention to the all-electric rallycross series, and we are very pleased to have her on board.”
Because of coronavirus restrictions, only a very small number of team personnel will be allowed at the opening race in Sweden. Natalie has therefore chosen her spotter wisely, with Finnish rally star Kristian Sohlberg assisting her on the pit to car radio during races.
Fans around the world can watch the racing live on youtube.com/c/FIAWorldRX
Fans in the UK can also watch at action on television: Saturday: BT Sport 1 HD 14.00-16.00 Sunday: BT Sport 2 HD 14.00-16.00