Building our transportation future with an emphasis on sustainability and gender diversity.
A few years back it could have been hard to think of racing alongside environmental sustainability! This is a sport that we mostly associate with the ‘Vroom!’ sound, extreme speeds, handbrake turns, drifting, among others. But times have changed. We now recognize that the climate change problem won’t be wished away. It’ll require efforts from all corners to raise awareness, develop cleaner energy solutions, and promote sustainable living. While the journey ahead is still very long, some significant steps are being made in promoting environmental conservation and reducing carbon emissions in the motor vehicle industry. We now have more electric cars on the roads than ever before and a lot of investments are being directed towards designing vehicles with lower carbon emissions.
In this episode, part 1 of 2 episodes that are part of the Women Driving the Future series, Ed Bernardon interviews Catie Munnings, a British rally driver currently participating in the Extreme E racing series for the Andretti United team. Today we’ll learn about how Extreme E in partnership with Count Us In is raising awareness about climate change by racing in some of the most extreme locations in the world. We’ll understand what this unique competition involves, the locations they’ve competed in, and the impact they’ve had so far.
Some Questions I Ask:
- What is Extreme-E racing and what are its goals? (1:43)
- Is Extreme-E having an impact on the general audience? (9:19)
- How does racing in extreme locations work? (15:37)
- How do you prepare to travel for the races in extreme locations? (20:10)
- What is it like to be a TV show host? (35:20)
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- How Extreme-E combined environmental awareness and racing (6:35)
- How Count Us In raises funds to protect the environment (10:11)
- How Extreme-E champions gender diversity in its races (11:04)
- What is a handbrake turn (25:32)
- What Katie’s amazing machines TV show involves (31:55)
- How a rally driver prepares for a race (36:14)
Connect with Catie Munnings:
Connect with Ed Bernardon:
Ed Bernardon: It’s common knowledge that climate change is a cause that needs our attention. Soaring temperatures, increasingly destructive storms, and rising sea levels are demanding it. But most of the time, we’re not able to witness first hand the changes that need to take place. Options are out there, but the attention we’re giving them doesn’t always match the urgency. So, what do you do? Well, could making sustainability a source of entertainment help this cause? We might not love the idea of sitting in a classroom to learn about the scientific inner-workings of a hydrogen fuel cell..
But we’d definitely be interested in seeing a sustainably powered, flax-fiber shell race car rip through the Saraha desert, right? Or even to see this across some of the most remote places in the world that are being impacted by climate change. Better yet, let’s take it a step further and put an equal number of men and women on every team. Though this might sound like a plot of a dystopian, near-future Mad Max film, the scenario is actually a scene straight out of the world of Extreme E racing. Extreme E aims to change the face of the industry while accomplishing some pretty major environmental goals. Created with the mission of promoting sustainability, it’s the first series of its kind that proves car racing can be fueled entirely by renewable resources. Extreme E sees the need for its message and mission as more real-world relevant than ever.
Welcome to the Future Car podcast, I’m your host Ed Bernardon VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industry Software and this episode, we have the perfect guest that has experience in entertainment, in racing, and a strong drive for addressing issues related to climate change and diversity to discuss with us what it’s like from the driver’s seat of the sustainability focused Extreme-E race series. We’re going to look at the future of transportation but with an emphasis on sustainability and gender diversity.
We’re so lucky to have with us, Catie Munnings. She is a driver in the Extreme E racing series sharing equal driving duties with her team mate Timmy Hansen. Not only that, but Catie also has had her own TV show, all of this by the age of 23, which is utterly amazing. Catie, thank you so much for joining us on the future car podcast.
Catie Munnings: Oh, thank you for the lovely introduction, as well. It’s great to be chatting to you.
Ed Bernardon: Well, listen, I want to get into your career and how you have accomplished so much by the age of 23 that most people can’t accomplish in their entire lives. But I’d like to start off, for our listeners, if maybe you could explain a little bit about Extreme E. Because when people think about racing, they might think of Formula One, they might think about NASCAR, or cars that go around on our track, then, of course, there’s rally, which races on dirt against time. But rarely, if ever, do you think about racing, and sustainability, and gender diversity all at the same time. Tell us what is Extreme E? What are its goals? What’s it all about?
Catie Munnings: Yeah, exactly. You kind of hit the nail on my head when you said you don’t think of sustainability and racing at the same time. When you look at in the history books, it’s been very male-dominated, exhaust fumes polluting, and it hasn’t been very sustainable at all when you think about it. So, when I first heard about Extreme E, I didn’t believe it, to be honest with you. I didn’t believe that it was a real for a championship. I remember my first meeting with Extreme E, they said, “We’re going to have a massive ship, which is going to be our floating paddock, and it’s going to sell around the world, then we’re going to race in the most extreme areas that we can find. And then we’re going to be doing a lot of scientific research – so, we’re going to be planting trees in the Amazon, and we’re going to be racing around the glaciers in Greenland.” And I remember hearing it and thinking “This is absolutely insane. It sounds like a movie. It sounds like something from a James Bond film.” It doesn’t sound like it’s, you know, just hasn’t been done before. Especially when they were describing some of the most remote parts of the world that we were going to be able to visit. I was skeptical at first because, obviously, I didn’t think it would happen. And then I signed up for the championship as I started to learn more about it and believe in it. And now having experienced it firsthand, it is kind of polar opposites to what I’ve known motorsport as in the past. So, Extreme E is basically, a championship that is raising awareness for the effects of climate change. And each race is called an X Prix, and each has got an environmental message. So, next week, we’re off to the Arctic X Prix, and the environmental message there is around, obviously, the sea levels and the effects that climate change is having on that side of it, and the melting of the ice caps up in Greenland. And when we were in Senegal, we were looking a lot at planting mangroves, which apparently are one of the best kinds of trees you can plant for the environment for biodiversity, and soil, and fish, and also carbon capture. So, there’s been so much. I’m not a scientist at all, so you can’t quote me on any of that.
Ed Bernardon: Planting mangroves, that’s interesting. This is the first time I’ve ever heard racing associated with mangroves at all, much less planting them.
Catie Munnings: Yeah, it’s funny. We all arrived and we had — So, it wasn’t just turn up and have a photo, which is normally the case. When a championship or an organization does some environmental work, you kind of turn up for a photo, and then everyone goes home and it’s posted on social media. This was literally the complete opposite. We were on a six-hour coach trip to this town in Senegal, and we got onto these tiny little boats. We sailed up the river for about an hour. We got out and we did some planting. And now we were working with local communities. They’re actually employed for the next few years to plant mangroves sponsored by Extreme E. So, they’re planting, I think, a million trees. So, we help them do just a few of those. And then the tide had gone out by the time we came back. We went to our boats, and we ended up – all of us – barefoot. These are the drivers that are going to be racing, pushing the boats through sand and mud in this river bed.
Ed Bernardon: A lot of mud through your toes.
Catie Munnings: Honestly, you should have a look on the internet at some of the videos. It was so funny seeing us all out of the boat pushing it. And this is like the day before we went racing and we were just with the local people having such an exciting and adventurous day. Yeah So, anyway, mangroves apparently are the trees we’re planting to have the best effect on the environment, which I didn’t know before Extreme E, so I’m learning a lot as we go.
Ed Bernardon: So, you’re racing cars as part of the event but it sounds like you do these things like planting mangrove, and the idea is to use the racing event to draw attention to the fact that, “Hey, if you plant mangrove trees, that’s good for the climate, it’s good for the atmosphere, it’s going to eat up CO2 or whatever it might be.”
Catie Munnings: Yeah. So, I think Extreme E, in the early days of designing the championship, they did some research into what the most-watched programs have been on TV and history. And apparently, it’s always been sports matches. So, they were aware of the audience that sport can have if you deliver a really good sporting format, and in our case, really good racing. And they said, “Actually, let’s combine the two things,” because we’ve got some really high-profile drivers: we’ve got Carlos Sainz, Sébastien Loeb from the rally side, and then we’ve got Nico Rosberg and Hamilton, Andretti and Chip Ganassi, lots of different teams that have got big followings in their own right. And the idea was to use that platform that we have collectively as a sport, and especially nowadays through social media. And there’s been a lot of emphasis on us as drivers to sharing the knowledge that we’ve been learning from the scientists. So, when we went to Saudi Arabia, it was the first race of the year – our first introductions into what Extreme E was, and we will arrive, flew in, went straight to the ship. And then, I think, we have three days of two-hour lectures in the evening. And we were going off with the scientists and doing workshops on the beaches during the day. It was really hardcore learning about the environmental issues that they were facing there. And I was really surprised at the depth that they were kind of pushing us into, but it was really cool because then, obviously, we’re able to put it into our terms, and then relay that to our following.
Ed Bernardon: So, Nico is a former Formula One champion, is he any good at planting trees? Are you a better tree planter than him?
Catie Munnings: It has been really fun. And it’s been funny watching everyone kind of roll up their sleeves and get involved with the championship. We were talking about it in Saudi Arabia because, normally, you get used to, for example, a Formula One or even Rallycross. I was speaking to my teammate, he’s from Rallycross, and they were saying, “Every year you end up going to the same nice hotels, the same track, you fly the same airport, and you know exactly what you’re getting. And it’s very kind of clinical, and it’s almost like being at home everywhere.” And then we went to Saudi Arabia. And obviously, we’re going into the middle of the desert, there’s no nice hotels or anything like that. So, we were literally staying, everyone was staying, in tiny apartments in different parts of the tower. I mean, ours had a mosque next to it, and so the call to prayer was at 4:45 am every day even when we’re racing and everything. So, you have to completely adapt to the environment that you’re in. I was joking that I didn’t have a towel for the shower the whole week that I was there, so I was just using one of my old t-shirts. You have to be up for the adventure of it. But I think that is part of what we’re doing. You can’t expect everywhere to be what you do when you’re traveling to those remote locations.
Ed Bernardon: Well, I think, too, people can experience your adventure by watching the races and the events as they come up. So, there has only been a couple of races so far. The third one, I believe, is the one’s going to be up here in Greenland. So, you’ve been to Senegal, you’ve been to Saudi in the desert; do you feel it starting to have an impact? Are you getting any feedback that this is a good vehicle by which to bring climate change and the impact of things like planting trees or whatever it might be out to the general audience?
Catie Munnings: I think so. I think the viewing figures if we look at that from the racing, which obviously in the programs, they’re like two-hour-long programs that have got a lot from the scientists involved as well, and the viewing figures have been massive. My agent, I was having a conversation with them the other day, and they’ve done a lot of analysis in comparison to other racing theories and sports championships, and they were saying that they were really impressed with it. That’s kind of from the UK side, I know that there are lots of different things going on all over the world as well. So, I think that’s been exciting. And I think also that they’re running a league for, basically, the environmental side, which is called Count Us In. And you can support your favorite team by pledging to, for example, reduce the amount that you use your car or cycle more, or even change your energy supplier for your house to renewable energy, or buy an electric car, or eat less meat – all of these things, it doesn’t have to be massive steps. But when you pledge that you do it, you can put your points and you can say, “I’ve done this and I’m allocating my points to Team Andretti United.”
Ed Bernardon: How are you doing in the environmental points standings?
Catie Munnings: I think we’re doing okay. I haven’t looked at it for a few weeks now. We were doing okay before, I need to pick up my pledges a bit as well.
Ed Bernardon: Have you pledged anything at all yet?
Catie Munnings: Yeah, I have.
Ed Bernardon: What have your pledge has been so far?
Catie Munnings: So, small steps have been the ones that are — Because I was having this conversation with Timmy yesterday. He FaceTimed because we hadn’t spoken for a while but through the races we were having a bit of a catch-up. We were talking about the Count Us In —
Ed Bernardon: This is your co-driver you’re talking about?
Catie Munnings: So, each team has got a male and a female driver. I didn’t explain that, actually, when you asked me what Extreme E was. But Extreme E is, basically the best thing about it from the diversity side, I guess, is that each team has to have a male driver and a female. And normally you can see females dotted around motorsport, but actually, the overall team result now is both of our laps combined. So, there’s no second driver or the male having more testing or whatever it would be – there’s emphasis on both drivers. So, obviously, that’s amazing for providing more professional seats for females at the top. So, that’s exciting. So, that’s what Timmy is; he’s the male driver in the team and I’m the female driver. We’re never together in the car. He’ll do a lap and we have a quick driver change, like when you see in Le Mans, for example, and then I’ll do a lap, and then whichever team crosses the finish line first is the winner. So, that’s how we roll together. So, he’s coming from Rallycross. And we were speaking yesterday, and we were talking about the Count Us In campaign, and he was saying that when he first thought about doing better things for the environment and changing his lifestyle a bit, he was quite put off by it because he thought that you’ve got to do all or nothing. So, you have to turn completely vegan and your house has got to be completely converted.
Ed Bernardon: Solar panels or whatever it might be.
Catie Munnings: Yeah, exactly. And he never really realized that small steps can have an impact. So, when you look on there’s really small stuff like, “I’m going to eat less meat, or I’m going to have less dairy this week, or I’m not going to use plastic water bottles for July,” whatever it might be, but you don’t have to completely change your life. So, I think that’s the biggest thing is, like, not to get overwhelmed by it. So, I haven’t done any of the big ones yet.
Ed Bernardon: All race drivers are very competitive, so I’m sure you must be competitive on the points you’re stacking up on the environmental side.
Catie Munnings: Yeah, absolutely. I’m slowly ticking off all of the ones that are probably, let’s say, easier to achieve.
Ed Bernardon: What specifically have you done? What are you proud of on your environmental points?
Catie Munnings: Definitely driving less.
Ed Bernardon: You’re driving less? Oh, my goodness.
Catie Munnings: Well, I mean, yeah. I’m taking my bike to the shops and stuff like that what I can. So, I mean, not on the competitive side; I always want to be driving more.
Ed Bernardon: And that’s electric. So, that’s actually not so bad.
Catie Munnings: Exactly. And that’s run off hydrogen fuel cell as well, so that’s quite cool that we’re using the latest technology from that side. Collectively, as a family, we’ve found an organic farm shop. So, if I eat meat, it’s only really good quality, and we know where it’s sourced, and it’s local. I’m eating less of that, less dairy, less plastic. In general, all the things that are quite easy to do. And I think then, obviously, in the future, we’ll be looking into electric cars, and yeah obviously, at what you can do from your energy sources at your home and that sort of thing as well.
Ed Bernardon: So, for the people that watch and will participate by saying, “I did this, or I did that.” right. Is there a competition on that by who, in the audience, has done the most? How does that work? Because it seems like a great way to feel like you’re doing something yourself.
Catie Munnings: I think it’s really cool. And actually, it’s something that Extreme E have done across the board. So, not just with the Count Ut In, obviously, you can pledge your points for your favorite team, and then the teams get — there’s actually a trophy for at the end of the year. And I think if you win that, you get to go to the FIA prize-giving, which is the big motorsport prize-giving with Formula One. But they’re actually doing it in the race as well. So, I don’t know if you’ve heard about this booster you can get. So, the fight is called Fan Vote – so, the fans can vote for their favorite team, and then their vote actually determines the start grid for the final race at the weekend. So, they have a big influence. They do it with Formula E – they have this FANBOOST thing where they can literally have more power in the car. But with Extreme E they’ve done it that they’re deciding the start grid for the final.
Ed Bernardon: Is it a big boost? Do you get a lot more power or is it like 1%?
Catie Munnings: I don’t know what it is. I think it is quite low in Formula E because they have to drive off of the racing line together. And then I think that they get it for one lap. So, I think it is enough to make it worthwhile.
Ed Bernardon: You do that in Extreme E as well?
Catie Munnings: We don’t get the power boost, but we get the votes. Basically, whoever has the biggest pool of votes at the end of the weekend before the final on Sunday, gets to choose pole for the race. And so, then obviously, it goes second or third. And if you haven’t qualified for the final, you get to gift your votes to another team. So, in the first race, I think we had Jenson Button’s team gifted his votes to us, and so did Carlos Sainz – they gifted their votes from us as well. So, you have to make sure you’re friends with everyone in the paddock.
Ed Bernardon: I was going to say what do you do to get more votes? Sounds very important if it’s going to get you on pole.
Catie Munnings: Yeah, I mean, it’s a lot of posting on social media, and my mom shares a lot. So, that’s nice.
Ed Bernardon: You need a PR company to get you at P1, at first position.
Catie Munnings: Yeah, it’s going to get more competitive as the year goes on, I think.
E: Well, let’s talk about some of these locations which are so unlike other type of racing events. Most people think when you race, you’re racing on a track right: Indy cars, Formula One, NASCAR, and then you have rally. In the United States, people aren’t quite as familiar with Rally, but Rally is against time and it’s on offroad. But here, all those events have spectators. So, in Extreme E, it’s not about the spectators. And then you’re going to these extreme locations without spectators and having races. Tell us a little bit about the locations from deserts to beaches to the Arctic. Tell us about those and how do you get there and move around? I mean, it can’t be easy to go to the Arctic Circle. I don’t think Southwest flies there direct. I’m sure they don’t from Boston.
Catie Munnings: That has been one of the biggest challenges is the logistics of it. And I think even with the pandemic and travel restrictions, it’s been made so much more complicated. It’s almost an achievement just to make it to the race itself with immigration and everything. And I’ve been hearing of some mechanics in the different race championships that my team were involved in. Some haven’t been let in, some have, and they’ve got the same documents. It’s a crazy world out there at the minute, I think. Then, of course, when you’re trying to reach the most remote areas of the world, it is not made easier. Yeah I mean, in Greenland, for example, we’ve been told that we’re all sleeping on the boat, so we’re all bunking up. So, the drivers are sharing, basically, bunk beds in these cabins on the ship.
Ed Bernardon: So, everything is on the ship: all the drivers, all the equipment, all the cars in one ship?
Catie Munnings: Yeah. It used to be a cargo ship. And now it’s been converted. So, there’s actually a 50-person crew that lives on it and sails around the world all the time for the racing. And then we move in, and it’s got capacity for drivers to stay on there as well, and then we have our catering there. So, I think we’re getting tenders at like 5 am from the boat, obviously, this is at sea, and we come across into the land and then we’re going into offroad vehicles because there are no roads to where we’re racing. So, we’re getting into offroad trucks that are gonna transport us all through whatever; to be honest, I have no idea what even the land looks like there. So, we’re basically venturing inland for about two hours, then we get to where they’ve made the race location. So, I’ve been told it’s quite picturesque I think. I haven’t seen the tracks. We’re not allowed to see the tracks before we go. So, from what I’ve been told by the organizers is that it’s quite picturesque, quite flat, and it’s an area that used to be ice which is obviously melted due to climate change.
Ed Bernardon: But you’re racing on on dirt then?
Catie Munnings: Yeah, so we’re racing on this gravel rock and I think there’s some black ice and there are some rivers that are, obviously, flowing from where the ice is melting. So, I think we’re in and out of those with the ice in the background, obviously, as the message of the race. So, each has been very different. When we were in Saudi Arabia, our trucks couldn’t actually get over the sand dunes, so we all getting stuck for the track walk.
Ed Bernardon: Did your camels pull you out?
Catie Munnings: So, we were literally — And it’s like a 10-kilometer track, it doesn’t sound that far but I think it was about an hour and a half to see the whole track and to do this. So, me and Timmy actually ended running up sand dunes – the steep – to see what’s over the top because the next day we’re arriving with a car, 100 miles an hour.
Ed Bernardon: Oh, that sounds exhausting.
Catie Munnings: It was. So, we were absolutely shattered. We’re running up this in deep sand, and it was like 40-degree heat in the middle of a desert in the middle of the day. And then I’ve got my GoPro, trying to film it, trying to see where the track is going to go.
Ed Bernardon: That sounds crazy. “Let’s run up this sand dune to figure out what’s on the other side to see if we’re going in the right direction.”
Catie Munnings: I know, it was mad. And then we all had the same because in Saudi some people’s trucks were able to get over the sand dunes, and we all were like, “Oh, that’s an advantage.”
Ed Bernardon: Well, it sounds like the exact opposite of going to Monaco or to Indianapolis for the 500.
Catie Munnings: Definitely. It is completely different. And I know that when we’re in Greenland because, obviously, it’s so remote, we can’t actually get any vehicles there. So, we’re walking there at the track. But I’ve heard it’s a bit flatter and it’s on gravels, that sounds easy.
Ed Bernardon: So, you have the desert in Saudi, you have Senegal beach, you have Greenland racing, is there anything else?
Catie Munnings: It was meant to be, there was meant to be one in the Amazon. So, that was the Amazon X Prix, which would have been racing on, obviously, the deforested area – some tree stumps and things like that. And then the legacy work there would be to put a lot of money into the community, replant trees, and that sort of thing. And then we were meant to be having one on Patagonia on the glacier as well. But because of COVID, we haven’t been able to reach South America this year. So, instead, we’re going to Sardinia, and that one was announced a couple of weeks ago, that will be our Island X Prix.
Ed Bernardon: Sardinia is not a bad backup, I have to say.
Catie Munnings: No. I know. And I was thinking I could probably stay there a week after the race as well if I had to.
Ed Bernardon: So, you’re going to be in Greenland, I think, is that the 26 through 28th? Did I get the dates correct?
Catie Munnings: Yeah, that’s it. So, it’s next week.
Ed Bernardon: Okay. So, here we are, about two weeks out, explain the logistics here. For instance, when do you pack your bag? When do you hop on the first flight, and the boat, and this and that, and everything else? How do you get from where you are now, with all your preparation, and you arrive there? And I imagine there must be a crew there now setting things up, what does it take to set up a race in the Arctic Circle?
Catie Munnings: I have no idea how they’re doing it, to be honest with you, I really don’t. When we got to Senegal, it was cool because they were employing a lot of local people.
Ed Bernardon: It was all ready when you got there.
Catie Munnings: Yeah, exactly. You just tell off and drive having spoken to the organizers, they’re there for weeks in advance. They’ve got two drivers who create the course and set the course up ahead of time. So, I think they’re out there. I think they flew out today actually, I saw on Instagram. And then, I think, we’re flying next week. But it changes with every race, obviously, sometimes we have to quarantine and we’ve got lots of different other rules that we have to follow at the minute. But we normally have a legacy day on Tuesday and Wednesday where we go and, for example, I think we’re taking a trip up to the ice cap this time, so we’re kind of doing a part of the hike that they have there. And I think we’re putting a lot of infrastructure in. They haven’t got toilets and stuff like that there for the explorers. So, I think we’re putting in toilets, so there’s less litter up on that area. Because apparently, it gets quite bad because, obviously, there are just no facilities and people go there quite a lot from the adventuring side. So, we’re doing now on Wednesday, and then I think we go to the track on Thursday, and then we have free practice on Friday, and then we go into qualifying on Saturday, and then the final on Sunday.
Ed Bernardon: Are you taking the boat to Greenland?
Catie Munnings: So, the boats are already there.
Ed Bernardon: Okay, so you’re flying then.
Catie Munnings: Yeah. So, we can’t travel with a boat because just the boat takes so long to get there – obviously, it’s a massive ship and it’s going from one side of the world to the other. So, it’s been there for a couple of weeks, I think, because everything is self-contained. So, the hospitality units, everything from our team setups, and all of our computers, helmets, cars, everything like that is on the boat. So, it takes a while to offload that, and then obviously, ship it inland.
Ed Bernardon: So, you’re flying.
Catie Munnings: Yeah. So, we’re having a championship flight. So, we’re all getting together to then fly everyone from one airport, straight into where we’re going in Greenland. I think it’s quite complicated to reach where we’re going. But then, we’ve only got one plane going so it’s, obviously, massively limited on actually how many people can go because the last thing we want to be doing is flying 10 planes in when we’re running an environmental championship if you know what I mean. So, I think that that’s why there’s a limit – I think there’s eight people per team, which is not a lot when you think of what they have in Formula One and IndyCar, and that’s including team principles, and marketing, and media and communications, and then, obviously, the mechanics and engineers. So, it’s really capped and really stripped down, so everybody’s got to have two jobs, really, but it’s part of the excitement of it.
Ed Bernardon: Well, maybe when the electric plane is more viable, then you’ll be able to have more planes going up there. It’ll be a little cleaner.
Catie Munnings: Exactly. It’s only a matter of time, isn’t it?
Ed Bernardon: Let’s take a step back and talk a little bit about how you got to where you are now, and maybe go way back to when you were a little girl; how did you first get involved in wanting to race around? What was your inspiration? How did it all come about? I know your father was involved in Rally, how did it all start?
Catie Munnings: yeah So, I think when I grew up, my dad – he was an instructor for rally at Brands Hatch and Oxford Rally Schools. Before that, he had been a rally driver himself, but he never really had a budget to do it properly. So, he was racing over in Belgium, and he was really quick but he just didn’t have because motorsport is quite inaccessible from that side. It is massively expensive to get involved in.
Ed Bernardon: I think you’ve experienced the same throughout your career as well.
Catie Munnings: Yeah, definitely. It’s not the easiest one, let’s say that. So, anyway, he has a big talent, and he still kind of works alongside me and is always coaching me. If I listen, that’s another matter, there’s lots of arguments that happen, but I think that’s what happens when you work with your family.
Ed Bernardon: So, you grew up on a farm, and your dad created a course for you?
Catie Munnings: Well, I actually started grass auto testing when I was about 14, and that’s just in a normal car. It’s like a slalom; so, a handbrake turn, reverse flicks; the sort of things that you see in stunt movies, really, that’s what I was learning with my sister. So, we started doing that at the local motorsport club every Wednesday off to school.
Ed Bernardon: On pavement?
Catie Munnings: At grass. So, it was on the local airfield. So, I did that until I was about 17. And then I had the opportunity to go to a test with Peugot. And they were running part of the European Rally Championship, and it was called The Rally Academy. It was about bringing young drivers up. And so I went, and actually, it was massively in at the deep end because I was sat in a rally car, which was an RT, which is like World Championship class for the juniors but it’s a very competitive left-hand drive. I was only 17 and just passed my driving test and I hadn’t driven left-hand drive, hadn’t driven in Europe.
Ed Bernardon: Can’t even rent a car.
Catie Munnings: No, I still can’t. Can you believe that? I have to take my dad away now if I go —
Ed Bernardon: Well, you’re a rally driver, they’re probably thinking, “Oh, no way we’re letting her rent a car. Who knows how it’ll come back?”
Catie Munnings: Yeah, I can’t for different reasons, though.
Ed Bernardon: Well, you know, on your wiki page, there’s a couple of interesting facts that I want to ask you about. One of the things that they brag about — Have you read your wiki page? Have you looked at it recently?
Catie Munnings: It annoyed me. A few years ago, I tried to change some of the facts because they weren’t true. And it came off and it said, “You’re an invalid source.”
Ed Bernardon: Technology ran amok.
Catie Munnings: I know. It said it has to be on the news or something for it to be counted as a reliable source.
Ed Bernardon: Well, you did have a TV show, maybe you can become a newscaster on the side or something to fix that. But one of the things that they mentioned was, they probably spoke about how by the age of 13, you have mastered the handbrake turn. Now, I know most of our listeners would probably say, “Handbrake turn? What in the world is that? Why do I even care?” The handbrake turn is an important thing to master when you’re racing on dirt or wet grass or whatever it might be. I guess, are you the youngest ever to master? What is the handbrake turn and how did you master it at such a young age?
Catie Munnings: I think my dad would say that I still haven’t mastered it, to be honest with you.
Ed Bernardon: He’s always pushing you to greater heights.
Catie Munnings: I know, ruthless. So, a handbrake turn is basically when you’re driving in one direction and then you kind of lift off the gas. You can’t press the brake at the same time because then you just have horrible understeer, which basically means you can’t turn the car. But you lift off the gas and turn the steering wheel, and then literally pull the handbrake. You see in movies all the time when the baddies do 180s, and then you end up facing the other way and you can drive off. So, that’s a handbrake turn.
Ed Bernardon: Do you ever do it for fun like when you’re driving to the grocery store or around the neighborhood?
Catie Munnings: Try not to on the road. I mean, I’m lucky where we live, we still got some fields and stuff. So, sometimes, when I’m parking my car, wherever I will, just because it’s convenient, it’s easier. I remember when I was younger, I used to have my friends over and dad bought like a couple of old banger cars that were literally from the salvage site. And we used to come home from school and they’d come on a sleep over, and we just go and drive around the fields, and they would learn how to handbrake turn. And then when they went to their driving lessons when they were 17, they were saying like, “Oh, I feel comfortable handbrake turning but I can’t parallel park.” And I think they sometimes scared their driving instructors by saying like, they say, “Oh, what experience you have in a car?” And they say, “Well, I can do this, and I could do this.” And I think their instructors would be like, “Don’t do any of that, please.”
Ed Bernardon: Well, and in fact, I’d like to tell our listeners that don’t go off and try handbrake turns now. Catie is a professional driver, and it’s taken her years to master this. So, keep that in mind. Now, there was another very interesting fact on your wiki page – I have to ask you about this – and I’m just going to quote it directly, it says, “…was talent-spotted as a dancer.” Do you know anything about this? First, talent-spotted, which means you must have great talent as a dancer. Is this true? Tell us about what that means.
Catie Munnings: I was really competitive when I was younger. So, I started with athletics and I wanted to be — It was around 2012 when the London Olympics were on and Jessica Ennis was my hero and she was doing the heptathlon. So, I was during the pentathlon, and I was just training really seriously, I absolutely wanted to be in athletics. But I did a bit of everything. And yeah, that is true.
Ed Bernardon: Did you win any prizes or any competitions?
Catie Munnings: I didn’t do competitions. I’m not that kind. No, it was more just like, I don’t know how you spend it like musical theater schools in England, I guess. So, that was what I was going into. So, I used to go every Saturday. And then I stopped doing that when I started rallying, I think because I literally just ran out of time to do everything. At the school, I was like studying, I wanted to be a vet. And then on Saturday, I wanted to be a dancer. And in the evenings during the week, I was still doing my athletics. And I think my parents just got fed up with running me all over the place.
Ed Bernardon: “Pick something. Pick something. You can’t keep going like this.” Earlier, or actually, it was last year, I had Sara Spangelo on podcast. And she’s the CEO of this company that makes these little tiny miniature satellites at Swarm is the name of the company. She’s CEO now, but when she was young, she wanted to be a ballerina. And just within the last few weeks here, this summer, they were acquired by SpaceX. So, Elon Musk bought their company. So, I think that’s a sign; “Today, I want to be a dancer; tomorrow, CEO, championship rally driver, whatever it might be.” So, you never know where your career is going to take you.
Catie Munnings: Absolutely.
Ed Bernardon: Your inspiration, I’ve read, is Michelle Mouton. I’ve worked a little bit with her on a project that we did with Rally to try and use sensors and autonomous technology to make Rally safe, and that’s a great passion of hers. But she was a great champion in the ‘80s in Rally. So, has she been a great inspiration for you over the years?
Catie Munnings: She’s really cool. I think what she did in those cars was awesome. And yeah, I’ve got massive respect for her the way that she drove, the way that she handled herself as well. I think she was the only female at the top at that time. So, it was cool that she put herself there and handled it well. Yeah, I’ve worked with her before because she’s working with the FIA now on the safety side. So, for example, when I did Rally Rome, she was the opening car for the rally. So, she was checking that all the spectators were standing in the right areas. Since she was kind of shouting at everyone to move out the way. She’s quite fiery. So, yeah, she’s an awesome woman. I’ve got a lot of respect for her.
Ed Bernardon: I was sitting in the backseat of a Rally car on the Shakedown run where she would go around to find all those crazy people that were out in the middle of the road. And she did the exact same thing; she told her driver to stop, she would yell at them, and then she turned to me and she said, “Ed, see these people, I yell at them, they move. But when we come back in 10 minutes, they’ll be there again. Your technology has to try and fix that.” Now Now you drive for the Andretti team. I grew up in Indianapolis. And when I was growing up, Mario Andretti was my racing hero right. He must give you advice, I would imagine – racing advice. And I’m sure Michelle probably gives you some advice, too, when it comes from a Rally standpoint. How do you compare the advice that Mario gives you versus Michelle? Do you get advice from both?
Catie Munnings: To be honest, no, not so much. So, Mario hasn’t been to one of our races yet. So, I met him briefly at Goodwood Festival of Speed, which was cool to bump into him there. But I think he’s quite focused on the IndyCar side. Obviously, with travel restrictions this championship’s had, so we’ve only been going for a couple of races and I think it’s been difficult to get out of America and back in. So, I think I’m sure we’ll see more of that. I know that Michael definitely wants to come over to one of the races as well. So, I’m sure we’ll see more of that in the future. We had Zac Brown in Saudi with us, which was really cool. Obviously, he’s the boss of the McLaren Formula One team as well. So, to have him there and to be hearing from him. He co-owns the United Auto Sports side of our race team. It’s a joint team; the Andretti side and the United Auto Sport side. So, it was cool to have him there. He’s really kind of a relaxed guy. No expectations or no sit-down kind of high pressured chats. It was more a case of everyone just feeling their way into the championship and getting comfortable with it. And I think it’s really nice to have that energy so that you don’t feel too much pressure going into the first races, that you feel like you’ve got room to explore it a bit. So, yeah, he was a cool guy to have at the race.
Ed Bernardon: Well, Mario has NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One, but I don’t think he’s done anything with Rally. Maybe when he does come to an Extreme E event, you could get him in the car and teach them how to do the handbrake turn.
Catie Munnings: Yeah, I’m sure he could do a handbrake turn. I don’t think I need to teach him.
Ed Bernardon: Let’s talk a little bit about your TV show, Catie’s Amazing Machines. And I am absolutely sure that you are the first person that’s ever been on this podcast that’s driven a monster truck, an excavator, a train, a submarine, a Jad, a police car. And I believe that you would learn how to drive these different machines, like the morning of the show or soon before, and then you’d get in them and you would explain how all these different machines work to — I guess it’s mostly for younger people. Tell us a little bit about your show, Catie’s Amazing Machines, and how you got involved in it?
Catie Munnings: So, it was like Top Gear for children, and I guess it’s the best way to explain it. So, it wasn’t just cars. It would basically be a show where I test any machine. So, as you say, like a combine harvester in the fields with the farmers, and then I’d be in a jet plane or a helicopter. I did a snowplow in the Alps as well.
Ed Bernardon: Would you drive it yourself?
Catie Munnings: Oh, yeah, I had to because it was BBC, that’s like the British Broadcasting house, they have rules where nothing can be untrue if you know what I mean. It’s quite a factual show. So, I couldn’t say, “I’m driving.”
Ed Bernardon: Just like American media.
Catie Munnings: So, basically, couldn’t say that I was driving and then have a stunt driver do the shots. So, I would have to do it, which I was completely fine with obviously. It was cool to experience. And so there would be manic filming because I was competing in the European Championship at the same time. So, it would literally be two machines every day, we’d have to film them to fit it around the race schedule. So, I’d be learning how to fly a helicopter in the morning, filming that, driving two hours, learning how to do a submarine in the afternoon, and filming that. And yeah, it was absolutely manic. But it was really good memories. And I got that through. I did an interview on the BBC Breakfast Show, which is like a news channel in the UK after I won the ladies’ championship in the European Championship. And I think just one of the producers from Kids TV watched the interview and said, “Oh, it’d be really cool to have a female in this kind of role where she’s shown to drive and to master, typically, male-dominated kind of industries where driving a machine or a tractor is often thought to have the kind of a male role.”
Ed Bernardon: Yeah, a lot of variety in those machines: police cars, harvesters, whatever it might be. Let’s take, for example, the jet. So, you actually flew the jet – it’s actually a fighter plane, I believe. And for the show, you didn’t take off at land but you flew it in the air, I would imagine. How long does it take to learn to fly a jet for that TV show you did?
Catie Munnings: Not long it was always down to the filming schedule. So, there’d be times when I said, “Look, I think I’m actually going to need a bit longer on this just to make it safe.” I think when you’re filming something like that, it’s really easy to think, “Okay, well, we’ve got to be here because we’ve built that machine for there, and we’ve got this person meeting us there, then you’ve got your briefing for that.” But sometimes you’re actually like, “Well, hang on because this is something that takes years to master and I’m having to do it in literally 15 minutes sometimes.” So, it wasn’t long at all. But yeah, I always had a professional on the machines that were kind of hard to master. I’d always have a professional in with me, if anything were to go wrong, they could quickly grab their controls.
Ed Bernardon: I’m sure a lot of people would like to imagine or would like to be a host on a TV show. What was something that was unexpected, or that was more difficult than you thought or surprising? What’s it like to be a host on a TV show?
Catie Munnings: The hard thing that I found for me, which I think was quite unique to the lifestyle I sort of had at the time, was that I was doing a full championship in the European Rally Championship at the same time. And they had a deadline for the filming. They had like a couple of months really that they had to get it in. And it tied as the busiest months of my racing as well. So, that was really inconvenient. But it basically meant that every day when I wasn’t racing, I would be filming. So, I will be flying straight back and going straight up to Scotland or wherever it would be to be filming. And I think the hardest part, which people don’t really think about, is the amount of lines that you actually have to learn. So, it was all scripted.
Ed Bernardon: A lot of memorizing.
Catie Munnings: Yeah. It’s a lot of that but it’s not just kind of conversational stuff because I was explaining how machines would work. It would be quite detailed on, like, “This is how the cogs work. This is what powers this.” And actually, when I was tired — Because the racing side, you don’t really just turn up and race, you’re also in the Rally situation. You’re trying to watch onboard videos of the tracks from previous years to memorize the road. So, if you memorize it, you know where you’re going and then you can go faster, obviously. So, we don’t do it as detailed as they do in Formula One because we’ll be covering hundreds of kilometers over a weekend, so it’s impossible really to learn it. But the more you can do, the better prepared you are. So, I was looking to find a compromise, basically, between the two. And I actually got commissioned for the second and third series but I had to say no to it just because I wanted to be a racer and that’s what I went into the industry for. I just knew that I was kind of half doing both by the end of the series because my brain couldn’t hold any more info, to be honest with you. I had random words from the TV show in my head when I was trying to remember where I’m going in the race. And then the other way around, I couldn’t remember my words when I was on set. And So it became, I was just exhausted, I think, and it was just sort of too much for me. Although I look back and it’s you never remember those bits, you remember the amazing opportunities that you had. And I don’t think I’ll get the opportunities to test those machines again in my life. So, it’s cool to have said that I’ve done it.
Ed Bernardon: Are there ever these instances where “Oh, I just forgot my lines! Could you please show me what’s on page two, paragraph three?” Or something like that?
Catie Munnings: Oh, every 10 minutes. It was always a case of that. And to be honest, because from their side, it’s last-minute as well on what machines they can from the production side. You don’t really get the lines until 6 am on the day, so you’re not expected to be perfect. And I was lucky that my mom and my sister had been in the film industry and the TV industry for years.
Ed Bernardon: They coached you and helped you.
Catie Munnings: Well, she was a makeup artist. So, for that show, she was actually employed as the makeup artist. So, I put a special request in to have her on the show with me. So, she doubled up as momager, and driver, and all of the other things. So, we had a little adventure together. And it was amazing to have her because she would be able to tell when I was fading and when I needed a break. And she knew me better than I knew myself, so she was really able to support me from that side.
Ed Bernardon: That’s part 1 of our talk with Catie, join us again in two weeks where we take a deep dive into the technology behind a truly sustainable race series, what it’s like for women to race against men on equal footing and also learn if Catie was able to teach Prince WIlliam a thing or two about driving a Rally Car. As always For more information about Siemens Digital Industries Software, make sure to visit us at plm.automation.siemens.com. And until next time, I’mEd Bernardon, and this has been the Future Car Podcast.
Catie Munnings- Guest, FIA Extreme E Andretti United Driver
A rising star in Motorsport who inspires both on and off the track. In her first year in the sport, and while she was completing her final A-level exams, Catie won the Ladies European Rally Championship, making her the first Brit to win a European Rally title in 49 years. Her continued success led to her becoming a Peugeot Brand Ambassador and the UK’s first ever female motorsports athlete to sign a sponsorship deal with Red Bull. Catie advocates for causes close to her heart, and has partnerships with a number of organizations. Her ambassador roles for the Sean Edwards Foundation and IAM Roadsmart promotes driving safety awareness, and her work with the ‘Women of the Future’ programme and ‘Dare to be Different’ campaigns encourage girls to get involved in motorsport and celebrates their achievements. Catie has also built a successful TV career, presenting her own CBeebies TV series “Catie’s Amazing Machines”. Catie continues to inspire generations through public speaking engagements, speaking passionately about all the different aspects of her work.
Ed Bernardon, Vice President Strategic Automotive Initiatives – Host
Ed is currently VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industries Software. Responsibilities include strategic planning and business development in areas of design of autonomous/connected vehicles, lightweight automotive structures and interiors. He is also responsible for Future Car thought leadership which includes hosting the Future Car Podcast and development of cross divisional projects. Previously he was a founding member of VISTAGY that developed light-weight structure and automotive interior design software acquired by Siemens in 2011, he previously directed the Automation and Design Technology Group at MIT Draper Laboratory. Ed holds an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, B.S. in mechanical engineering from Purdue, and MBA from Butler.
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The Future Car Podcast
The tech-driven disruption of the auto industry cuts across domains, from silicon and software to sensors and AI to smart traffic management and mobility services. Get the chip- to city-scale story in regular interviews with technologists at Siemens and beyond.