Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour usher in a new era for McLaren Racing in Extreme E
In 2022, McLaren Racing expands their motorsports program into the Extreme E Series with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour pairing up against the competition.
McLaren’s foray into electric rally racing comes as Extreme E enters their second season. Beginning this weekend in Neom, Saudi Arabia, Foust and Gilmour will each run the full-five race season for the first time, giving them an opportunity to grow along with the innovative concept.
Gilmour raced in two of last year’s five rounds as the reserve driver for the Veloce Racing team during weekends when Jamie Chadwick had a conflict in the W Series. Foust has exactly one day in the car, which came in a test near McLaren’s headquarters in Woking, England.
For both, a fresh start is part of the appeal of not only a new series, but an entirely new concept in racing. In Extreme E, the car and the concept share center stage with the driver.
“It’s not a series that’s gone and just electrified itself,” Gilmour told NBC Sports. “It’s a completely new form of motorsport with the male and female grid and going to remote parts of the planet that have never before seen motorsports or even live sports of any kind. So it’s just a really exciting sport in general to be a part of.”
Extreme E competes in two-driver teams with a switchover in the middle of the race.
Their mission is to create a competitive series while also ushering the racing world into the idea of a renewable fuel source. To further the impact, they schedule races in areas of the globe impacted most by climate change. And while this is important to anyone who wants to keep watching races well into the future, the bottom line is that the cars must put on a good show.
“The car is fast,” Foust said. “For such a big machine it is still some 550 horsepower, which in the electric version means about four and half seconds from 0 to 60.
"(The car is) very capable; very tough. But also a lot of systems to learn, so you can adjust whether the power goes to the front or the rear axle based on a lot of things: On how much steering angle you have, how much load there is. There are a ton of things you can adjust with this because of the electric drive transmission. Because of that, I think will take more than one day to figure out.”
The Odyssey 21 electric SUVs used in the Extreme E Series put a lot of control into the driver’s hands.
Foust has been eyeing electric rally racing for some time. Last year, he raced the full Nitro Rallycross season in an effort to learn the tracks since that series plans to run electric cars, the FC1-X, in 2022. But when a chance arises to race for McLaren, however, a driver has to pounce on the opportunity.
The same was true for Gilmour, a veteran of rally racing with more than 20 years of experience. For her, the experience is even more personal. A native of New Zealand, she gets a chance to race for one of the most famous drivers ever exported from the island nation. Bruce McLaren won four Formula 1 times and had 27 podium finishes in a 101-race career.
Gilmour will also usher in a new era for McLaren as the first female driver for that organization.
“I always put a lot of pressure on myself,” Gilmour said. “I always want to do the best job possible, so I try not to focus too much on those added pressures that come along with being the first female driver for McLaren, but I can guarantee there will be some nerves come that first event.”
Still in its infancy, electric vehicle (EV) racing has a lot of growth potential. Founded in 2014, the ABB Formula E series is becoming better established with each passing season and there have been rumors that NASCAR is also exploring the concept.
Foust believes EV racing is the key to keeping racing relevant. Not only relevant, but this is a chance to reinvent the sport as the automotive industry turns toward sustainable efforts. EV racing may even possibly be what keeps the sport alive.
“The motivation for getting involved in Extreme E is to get ahead of something that is inevitable, for any of us that race,” Foust said. “Especially for manufacturers.
“If we are going to keep motorsport alive, we have to make racing just as it was back in the turn of the century. We have to keep racing relevant for improving performance, reliability, safety, and all of the things that make motorsports what it is. We have to transition that to EV in order to continue on.”
At its core, racing is racing. Competition was a big factor in the improvement of cars when the internal combustion engine was first invented. The desired outcome for electric vehicles is the same - to transfer power from the engine to the wheels - but the mechanics are different, and racing has always been one of the best ways to stress-test and experiment on components.
“With electric, at any rpm down to zero, you have 100 percent of your torque available at any moment, so you get the power just as fast as you can push the pedal to the floor. Considering the truck is like a marshmallow with all of the suspension you have working, it makes the throttle the quickest part about it.”
Racing setups are typically done in garages or pits. That remains true for electric vehicles, but the handling for Extreme E’s SUVs can be adjusted on the fly. That is where Foust’s and Gilmour’s experience come into play. Foust has been winning rally championships since the mid-2000s; Gilmour also has two decades of experience under her belt.
“You can send the power front or rear independently, and you can do that all the time,” Foust said. “You can have more power in to rear than the front so it drives like a rear-wheel car, or just the opposite. You can also assign that power front to rear with the amount of steering or the amount of lean angle.
“You have traction options, which are digital because it’s electric, which means it’s a super-precise traction control system, which can make it faster on certain surfaces.”
Last year the season opener was also held in Saudi Arabia, which was the first time these cars saw racing action. The desert proved to be a great proving ground and 2022 will be no different, but that is necessary to build a better racecar.