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Around the World in 80 Days -- with eco twist

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The Africa Eco Race isn't for the faint hearted. Eco-friendly bikes, cars and trucks race over 3,700 miles in early January.

Posted: Jan 22, 2019 4:00 PM
Updated: Jan 22, 2019 4:00 PM

Nearly 150 years after author Jules Verne's famous character Phileas Fogg first journeyed around the world in 80 days, a new race will attempt to recreate the feat without combustion engines.

The novel of Fogg's against-the-clock circumnavigation of the globe was written when fossil fuels were first used for mainstream transport, and nearly a century-and-a-half later, Verne's tome is acting as the inspiration for another adventurer.

Sailing has its Jules Verne trophy where yachts circumnavigate the world in the fastest possible time, but Dutchman Frank Manders is challenging teams to drive around the planet in the same time as Fogg but piloting only zero-emission vehicles, in a venture called the 80 Day Race.

"Back in 1873, the new tech was fossil fuels," race founder Manders told CNN Sport. "Now, we have sustainable and renewable energy. So it was the idea of bringing back that adventurer style but embracing this new approach."

READ: Around the world in 80 days ... on a bike

Visit CNN.com/Sport for more news, features and videos

But while the race has a low carbon footprint, it comes with a high price tag.

Registration opened earlier this month with 40 places up for grabs at a cost of more than $44,000 for those signing up before the end of March.

There are three rules: no vehicle can have a combustion engine, it has to be road legal, and no more than 40% of the vehicle can be the energy system.

"We didn't want something like a 250-page FIA rule book," said Manders, referring to motorsport's governing. "That way, people can have different approaches to how they see the zero emissions working on the vehicle."

Secret Dakar viewing

For Manders, the 80 Day Race combines his ambition for adventure and his greener credentials -- he had previously set up Wonders of Waste, a race in which teams traveled from Rotterdam to Rome entirely powered by disused cooking oil.

The 80 Day Race will begin in Paris -- scheduled for April/May next year -- and head to Kazakhstan's capital Astana. From there, teams will navigate their own routes across China, before transport across the Pacific to Vancouver. The race will resume via San Diego to Cancun in Mexico and then, after crossing the Atlantic, journey to Marrakesh, before a final run from Monaco to Paris.

Manders' inspiration for the race lies in his passion for the Dakar Rally as a child. The Dakar Rally was born in 1979 with competitors traveling from Paris to Dakar. Since 2009, it has been held in South America, though there's also the Africa Eco Race, which recently completed it's 11th edition.

"I was 12 years old when I first saw the Dakar," said Manders. "It was only on TV at midnight and obviously I wasn't allowed to watch so I'd sneak into the living room in the night when everyone was asleep and watch it."

One of the 80 Day Race backers is former Dakar race director Hubert Auriol, who competed in the first nine editions of the Dakar on a motorbike, and was the first competitor to win the event on both two wheels and four.

"It's funny to think that 35 years ago, I was creeping down to watch him on TV and now I have him on speed dial!" says Manders.

The 47-year-old is no stranger to adventure himself. He and his brother attempted their own Dakar, driving an old Land Rover from their home to Senegal without ever reaching the finish.

"It broke down in Morocco for 10 days so we had to redo the engine and then we were held for another 10 days at the Algerian border as they said our papers weren't in order," Manders recalled.

"I was on vacation so had to return home after six weeks. My brother made it as far as Niger and then sold the car so we never made it."

Scottish entry from oil industry

One of those who have already signed up for the race is Chris Ramsey, a.k.a. Plug In Adventures.

His entry will be purely electric. Most of his adventures -- from the 10,000-mile Mongol Rally in 2017 to the 60-hour Edinburgh to Monte Carlo -- have been at the wheel of a Nissan Leaf.

"For the last eight years, I've been doing sustainable adventures," explained Ramsey, who used to work into the gas and oil industry in Scotland before his job moved into renewable energy.

"We're traveling through some of the most polluting cities and countries with this so we can show what's capable with electric and/or hydrogen power.

"Hopefully we can inspire individuals to make the change, and make them understand electric vehicles are a reliable option."

His navigator is yet to be decided although it won't be his wife Julie, who joined him on his last adventure -- the Mongol Rally -- despite an aversion to long car journeys.

"We had our moments but we're still married!" quipped Ramsey, who also has designs on entering the Dakar race in the future.

READ: British couple drive 10,000 miles in electric car

Ultimately, he believes manufacturers will get on board with the 80 Day Race and what it stands for.

"I'm confident they'll get involved and this place will have a long future on the calendar. This is just the start," he said.

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