Motorsport is at a crossroads in 2021, according to McLaren Extreme E driver Tanner Foust. Ecological and economic pressures around the world are raising serious questions about the viable future of motor racing. But, McLaren’s latest signing thinks electric racing series like Extreme E could secure racing’s longevity.
On Friday, McLaren threw the covers off its striking Odyssey 21 challenger, alongside the new liveries for its Formula 1 and IndyCar racers. With the Odyssey 21, McLaren Extreme E will partner Foust alongside rally driver Emma Gilmour as the team takes on races across the globe.
Ahead of the unveiling of McLaren’s latest race car, Foust sat down with Jalopnik to consider where the future of motor racing is headed.
“I think we’re at a crossroads in motorsport right now,” he says. “EV racing needs to demonstrate that it is pushing the performance, the safety, the reliability and the capability envelopes.”
If it can do this, Foust believes EV racing series such as Extreme E and Formula E will become a “solid marketing platform for manufacturers.” Because, as depressing as it may sound to pure-blooded race fans, that’s exactly what motorsport is: competitive marketing.
For Foust, one of the most important aspects of this “marketing” for Extreme E is tackling the opportunity to quell any concerns prospective EV buyers might have.
“[Extreme E] does that through going into the nastiest possible environments that there are, and taking the objections that owners of EVs typically have – like range, durability and temperature issues – and throwing these cars into the nastiest possible places and saying ‘if it can survive this, it can survive your commute to work’.”
If it can do that, Foust believes the sport can encourage people to “buy EV cars on Monday that win on Sunday.”
But in Extreme E, the number of manufacturers racing right now is limited. Sure there’s McLaren, but they don’t exactly make a commuter-friendly model that viewers might pop out and buy after Foust and Gilmour take to the top step of the podium.
But McLaren isn’t the only manufacturer on the grid in 2022. As teams run by F1 world champions Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button will also line up alongside squads backed by GM’s Hummer and Seat offshoot Cupra.
So maybe this isn’t such an outlandish ambition for the sport to have?
Despite that unlikely link between McLaren’s off-road performances and sales of its on-road cars, it’s this connection that Foust believes is one of the most important hurdles for motorsport to overcome. And it’s a task that falls squarely into the lap of Extreme E, Formula E and other electric race series.
“If those dots don’t get connected through innovative motorsport like Extreme E, then I don’t know how much longer middle ground motorsport will survive,” he says.
“I think it’s a critical time in motorsport for EV racing to prove that it is beneficial for manufacturers to play the game.”