Thursday, 3 March 2016

Tanner Foust interview: Two-time champ on the history of Global Rallycross

Tanner Foust is Red Bull Global Rallycross's most successful driver. The all-time leading points scorer with 959 points and a record eight event wins has been a part of the series since its inception, making him the perfect person to discuss the series history as it prepares for its sixth season.

With the season not getting underway until May, the Top Gear USA host and I took a trip down memory lane, not reminisce about the early days of Global Rallycross.

Tanner Foust Interview

Dominik Wilde: Rallycross was a new sport in the US in 2011 and is still in its infancy today, but how did you first get involved in GRC?

Tanner Foust: Before there was rallycross in the United States I started competing in rallycross in Europe because it was good preparation for the short-course style of rally that we were doing in X Games at the time. As I dug deeper into the sport, it became obvious how cool it would be to have a series in the United States and I started talking with my manager at the time about how to bring the sport over here. I wanted to focus on racing and continued to compete while he found some partners and founded the series that became GRC. Since the sport was introduced to the United States in 2010 at X Games, I have never missed a race here.

Dominik Wilde: Although a brand new series that year, the standard of drivers was incredibly high. Yourself aside, how did GRC manage to attract such big name drivers from all over the world so early on into its life?

Tanner Foust: We were doing something that was so different but that checked so many boxes that I think it was hard to resist. U.S. manufacturers were struggling to get exposure out of stage rally in the U.S. but they still needed to make their cars do amazing things on the track. Guys like Pastrana, Mirra and Deegan saw the opportunity to practice for a relatively new X Games event while forming valuable relationships with manufacturers through rallycross. Plus they were able to bring their fans and partners, like Rockstar in my case, into this new discipline. The stage rally series was very involved early on but eventually most of us who were in X Games moved toward rallycross, and GRC was born.

Dominik Wilde: We've seen the championship calendar grow massively too and the tracks change with that. Back in the early days you would be racing on a lot of courses laid out at oval venues, now we see more purpose built tracks in towns and cities. Do you miss racing at places like Bristol, Irwindale, PPIR, Texas etc. or are you much happier racing where the series does today?

Tanner Foust: Racing on a track and racing on a temporary circuit are different experiences. When the series got its start, I think it was easier and more cost effective for organizers to use existing facilities but the vision has always been that the sport is portable and that we could bring it to the fans, instead of having them drive out to a racetrack to see it. In 2012, we raced as a support series to some NASCAR events on modified tracks during their event weekends. Having all these fans of that very traditional form of American racing watching us for the first time was wild. I don’t think they knew what to make of us at first, but we won over a lot of people.

Dominik Wilde: For a casual observer the cars of 2011 may not look to different to those of today but just how have the cars evolved throughout the short history of GRC?

Tanner Foust: Wow. They are completely different machines today than they were in 2011. They’re faster. They’re more agile. They’re more durable. You used to see modified rally cars out there and now they’re all purpose-built at a very high level just to do this. They’re more like a road race car – especially in the United States where we don’t see as much dirt as you do in Europe. The Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetles that my team mate Scott Speed and I race were developed jointly by Volkswagen Motorsport engineers and the incredible team at the Andretti organization and they are very sophisticated machines. 

Dominik Wilde: We have different cars and drivers today and an even higher level of competition, but which do you think is the most responsible for this, the cars or the drivers which have come along in the last few years?

Tanner Foust: I think it’s actually the teams and manufacturers that have pushed the technical part of the sport to the next level. We’ve got organizations coming into the sport from other disciplines who are helping to introduce new technology and new tactics to rallycross. And the funding from manufacturers who are committed to winning and committed to supporting their teams pushes all of us to perform at our best. The unique thing about rallycross is that with the drivers' massive social media following and a network of youth oriented sponsors there's a ton of value for manufacturers off the track also, it all just keeps fuelling the fire for progress. 

Images: Chris Tedesco, Matt Kalish, Larry Chen

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