Friday, 27 June 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Tanner Foust on Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, the Beetle, and GRC 2014

Last week at the Washington DC round of the Red Bull Global Rallycross championship, the Volkswagen Andretti team finally unveiled the race version of their eagerly anticipated Beetle rallycross car. While the car isn't race ready just yet, we can expect to see it make it's début fairly soon with testing under way.

After speaking to Scott Speed earlier in the year, who better to talk to than his two time champion team mate Tanner Foust to hear what he had to say about his new car, his new team, and his thoughts about their future.

Tanner Foust Interview

Dominik Wilde: Obviously The Beetle's coming this year so, firstly do you have any idea what round you'll be running it at?

Tanner Foust: I don't know exactly which round. The first time we gotten our hands on an actual race version was in DC so there'll be a bit more development and testing both on the European side and the Andretti side before we enter it for competition.

Dominik Wilde: So is it going to be run in Europe as well?

Tanner Foust: No, just because it's being built by SEAT in Spain, who built the WRC Polos as well.

Dominik Wilde: Have you had chance to drive it then?

Tanner Foust: I have

Dominik Wilde: What are your initial thoughts on the car?

Tanner Foust: It feels like the first really engineered rallycross car that I've driven. Rallycross has had this folklore of being a little bit of a bastard child of European racing for four decade which with just the crazy people that had something in their system they just had to get out and so had to strap themselves to, I guess it's been through as much as 8 or 900 horsepower back in the day and then go battle it out and that was almost like a therapeutic experience of just being extreme and so there's a lot of know-how, old school Scandinavian know-how, and in some teams French and British know-how built into the cars but not a lot of cars that have proper engineering that you would get from Volkswagen or, you know, a team that has WRC experience.

Dominik Wilde: You've started the year off with the Polo, of course you've not driven it as much as the Polo, but how would you say the Beetle compares to the Polo?

Tanner Foust: I think it's much more sorted. The Polo was something that we were kind of handed that was a few years old and we'd put a little bit of Volkswagen minds on it and Andretti racing minds on it and they've made it work really well, but the Beetle's the first car that, I think's, been engineered with the new radial tyre rules in mind and is built from the ground up just for Global Rallycross in the US specifically to the US rules.

Dominik Wilde: So are you still going to be running the Polo in Europe and in the World championships then?

Tanner Foust: Yeah. The Polo's still I think gonna be running over there. And the Polo that will be running in Finland this weekend is a much newer version than the one we have in the US.

Dominik Wilde: So with you guys getting the Beetle the world series is not being left behind at all then?

Tanner Foust: No, in the (Volkswagen/Audi) group there's the new Polos from Marklund, I think Ekstrom has some new Audi A1s and there's another Audi program as well and I think there's loose factory involvement in all of that.

Dominik Wilde: When the Beetle arrives, and both you and Scott (Speed) have been positive about it, do you expect your season to kick-start and get going because you've had a tough start to the season so far.

Tanner Foust: Oh a terrible start, such a rough season so far this year and the frustrating thing is that we both have found speed out of the cars, as far as time goes on the laps times, but there's just a, element of action that happens that happens and Scott has been able to keep his nose a lot cleaner than I have and I've also made a few mistakes already this season but the Beetle will certainly give us every possible chance we could have to do well. There is some things with Global Rallycross where sometimes you can just get cleaned out of the first corner by somebody three rows back but we will have every possible opportunity that's for sure. I think the Beetle will be fast, I think it'll be quick accelerating and it'll be lightweight and I think all of those combined will make it the fastest car on the track, it's just a matter of surviving what is GRC in order to translate that into a win.

Dominik Wilde: Of course you know all about winning, the first two seasons you won in the Fiesta, last year you were championship runner-up as well, how would you say both the Polo and the Beetle compare to the Fiesta because the Fiesta's sort of been king of the hill so far?

Tanner Foust: Well I think the Fiesta has a great motor and I've run the European championship for the last five years and the US with the Fiesta and it does well with really tight corners and bumpy tracks. I think that the Polo has a great chassis and whenever there's racing to be had especially on tarmac the Polo is able to drive like a much more sorted road racing type car and is much quicker than the Fiesta through those sections. The goal with the Beetle is to make it quicker on every surface and easier to drive on every surface at the same time.

Dominik Wilde: So sort of like a combination of the Polo and the Fiesta?

Tanner Foust: Yeah. I mean, it's a tricky thing to do with these cars. They have to be some of the most talented racing cars in the world. They have to be great road racing cars like a touring car. They have to be great rally cars through the gravel, they have to land on the jumps, they have to have incredibly tough bumpers and they have to drag race start without blowing the drivetrain every time you dump the clutch and it's really a cool combination to have such a multi-talented car and the Polo's proven that even though Andretti was given a car that was a couple of years old it's proven to be a really good chassis and a strong car and I think we can make the Beetle a little bit better on on some of the bumpy, rough parts of the track. We will have the most versatile car in the series.

Dominik Wilde: When do you guys start testing the Beetle in anger? When does the testing program really pick up?

Tanner Foust: I would think within the month. I think they've already got some testing done and already working on different versions and, I don't know exactly how the development program works but we have a car already built for development so we've already made some decisions on changes to make to the actual race car so we're in the nitty gritty part of the testing and the development right now actually.

Dominik Wilde: Now, this year you're working with Andretti who are no strangers to motorsport of course but are new to rallycross. Now, you aren't new to rallycross so how has it been for a guy like you to work with Andretti this year?

Tanner Foust: Andretti's great. They're fundamentally driven to win and, it's hard to describe I guess what something as cliché as that really means, and I think that everything that we do and every person that is there has an understand of what steps need to be taken to be from where you're standing to on top of the podium, so there's a purity to working with Andretti. Even the marketing guys are all about winning races. There's really nothing about the show. I love that purity of it but at the same time it's also a little bit on the refreshing side because the rules have changed quite a bit in GRC this year, especially with the radial tyre, it changes everything. Going from a bias ply to a radial. So now all of those pre-conceived notions that you may have had if you were rallycrossing for the past 20 years in Europe of how to set the car up, those are all gone now so Andretti is in with a fresh perspective, the car behaves completely differently to all the other cars on the track and clearly with winning the first two events it worked.

Dominik Wilde: Rallycross isn't the only thing they do as well so, with you part of the Andretti 'family', is there any chance we could see you maybe making an IndyCar start, Formula E, sports cars perhaps? Have you spoken to Michael (Andretti - Team owner) about that?

Tanner Foust: Well we've talked about getting involved in various parts of their racing, it's probably more likely you'll see Scott in something that starts with 'Formula', that's a lot more his background. I'd love to test a car and I think I can be quicker at rallycross by maybe driving some other lower class formula cars like the Formula Mazda, and maybe for training purposes, but I think my role with Andretti will be in the rallycross world and in exploring kind of the demographic that rallycross has which is creating your own content, the branding that companies like Rockstar and my sponsors have been doing very well for a number of years, and then we can bring those big companies that have been in IndyCar racing and other sports car racing that don't normally reach such a young demographic.

Dominik Wilde: And that would obviously be beneficial for not just them but the rallycross guys, it'll kind of work for all sides wont it?

Tanner Foust: Yeah and if you look at Global Rallycross the main difference between Global Rallycross and the rest of the world is that in Global Rallycross the drivers really are their own brand. You have Ken Block, and Travis Pastrana, Brian Deegan, myself, Dave Mirra, these all have established some sort of an identity and partnership and branding that combined is much larger than the type of branding that the series has so there's the need to tap into our fans and followers to educate them on rallycross I guess and we can get the word out pretty quickly. It's kind of a cool series in that way but it's not the normal racing model than an Andretti team would have, 'I want you to drive for my team I'll give you this much to do it show up on Friday', it's not like that so much.

Dominik Wilde: So more of a two way thing?

Tanner Foust: Well yes. I've helped with the branding of the team and also with Volkswagen and we race together to win ultimately but we also help to influence the image of an entire, one of the oldest established car models in the world, the Beetle and so its a cool thing in that respect. It's really kind of a crazy perfect storm where you have Andetti, you have the most youthful branding companies in the world like Rockstar, and then you have the most identifiable car model and shape in the world, the Beetle, all coming together and trying to find a common image and marketing demographic. It's really kind of, from a business perspective it's pretty fascinating.

Dominik Wilde: And of course it's only the start as well so there's plenty of room for it to grow, there's plenty of room for more and more people to be involved. In the last four years alone the growth of the series has been absolutely huge and as you've said just then, if all of these things come together and keep that way it's just going to keep growing.

Tanner Foust: For sure. Five years ago when I went to Lydden Hill for the first time to test a rallycross car, I put a GoPro on the car and it was the first time they said they'd had a GoPro camera on the cars there and now, because the cars are so cool and crazy, they're photogenic and now creating content for each team, each team has their own web series in GRC, there's an amazing amount of content that comes out of these races, completely far and above the amount of influence you get from the television coverage and it spread really fast so it makes perfect sense for manufacturers to come in and be involved and get instant gratification from this and in the States we really have some educating to do on capability of the performance that you can get out of smaller cars. We tend to drive big cars and muscle cars, they're seen as being the fast machines, and that's changing as the inevitable fuel prices keep climbing and everybody in the States moves towards the smaller cars that have been in Europe and the rest of the world for a long time.

If there's one thing I would add that would compound what you said it's we're really just now starting to scratch the surface. VW has a reputation, the whole auto group, as being a very engineering-centric, large organisation, and when they do something they tend to do their research and do it right and I'm feeling that first hand as we're moving forward. We've just begun, we're almost a year into the program and the foundation is there so it's going to be a cool deal. They really are doing it right so the next two or three years are going to be pretty influential years I think personally for the Volkswagen brand in the States and I'm really excited about it.

Dominik Wilde: And you've been a part of it from the start as well

Tanner Foust: Yeah that's been a real pleasure and Volkwagen Motorsport USA is a company that just started very recently so it's, I think, really cool to see it built from the ground up but at the same time because it's a big company there's a big job to show the, not just the masculine side, but to show the performance side and capability side of some of these cars and they really are capable so it's not a hard sell but I think over the next three years it's going to be a brand changing thing.

Images: Matt Kalish, Alison Padron, Volkswagen Motorsdport, Volkswagen Motorsport Facebook

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