Extreme E debut pushed back from March to April

LONDON (Reuters) - The new Extreme E off-road all-electric series has pushed back its opening race in Saudi Arabia from March to April as motorsport wrestles with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Series founder Alejandro Agag told Reuters on Wednesday that the debut in Wadi Rum would now be on April 3-4 instead of March 20-21.

He said the decision was taken to avoid any overlap with Formula One, whose Australian season-opener was scheduled for March 21 but was postponed on Tuesday until November with Bahrain now starting that championship on March 28.

"We are quite optimistic that we are going to keep the date, 99% sure of it but never say never with this COVID situation," said Agag, speaking from Mexico.

"The fact that the Dakar takes place in Saudi has given us a lot of confidence."

The Dakar Rally, run over 12 days entirely in Saudi Arabia, finishes on Friday with competitors repeatedly tested for COVID-19 and operating in a 'bubble' environment.

Agag said Extreme E would have the same arrangement, with three days of initial quarantine.

"Hopefully by April things will look a bit better but we've been saying that for months and this virus is pretty sticky," he added.

The Spaniard said the pandemic had been the biggest challenge in setting up the series, whose lineup will include teams entered by Formula One world champions Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

"What happened in March and April last year was that everybody froze, the world froze on us. So it was difficult and we had to make a call -- do we push or freeze this project for a couple of years and wait until this passes," he said.

"We made the call to push so we've been building the whole thing under COVID, which has been incredibly challenging."

The series aims to raise awareness about climate change by racing electric SUVs in remote and harsh environments, with a former mail ship used to transport cars between locations.

Rounds will be held in Senegal, Greenland, the Brazilian rain forest and Argentine glaciers of Tierra del Fuego as well as Saudi Arabia.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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