How McLaren has prepared for its new off-road challenge

McLaren arrives in Extreme E a year after its rivals started – an approach with both upsides and downsides

McLaren MX Extreme E_Emma Gilmour, Tanner Foust & Car_Credit McLaren Racing

Entering a championship during its second year always tends to mean one of two things for a team: a nice advantage by virtue of its rivals having done the heavy lifting in year one; or it scrambling to play catch-up.

That’s something McLaren knows all-too-well after its ill-fated spell with Honda in Formula 1 that began during F1’s second year of turbo-hybrid engine regulations.

McLaren isn’t expecting a repeat when it joins the Extreme E field at next week’s season two opener in Saudi Arabia, however.

“We don’t underestimate the challenge,” sporting director Mark Grain told select media, including DirtFish. “We’re up against some fantastic competition when you look at X44 and so on.

“There’s lots of world championships in that paddock. OK, maybe in different categories, but there’s an incredible amount of talented drivers, engineers, mechanics, across the whole board so we don’t underestimate it but we’re certainly looking forward to it.”

McLaren MX Extreme E_Emma Gilmour, Driver_Credit McLaren Racing (1)
You go into basically new race venues every time. It’s not like the teams have already got an advantage from data. Emma Gilmour thinks McLaren's rivals wont be able to rely on past track experiece

McLaren enters the series having made the most of its preparation time which included the regulated shakedown run and sole test day, both taking place in the UK last November. It’s that trouble-free running that Grain feels will benefit the team as it enters competition for real.

“By regulation we’re allowed to do a shakedown and a test and we executed those to good effect back in November, so we really got a lot out of that from a data point of view but also the mileage,” he said.

“It was reliable throughout so that was good news and we’ve seen that our competitors throughout season one had some reliability problems.”

McLaren will also benefit from not having any sort of hangover from the 2021 season. While the Extreme E field is bustling with top teams and industry-leading talent, the gap between the last round of the first season and maiden race of the second is a mere nine weeks, with all cars and equipment transported directly by sea from the Dorset race in the UK to Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast.

Not having to recover from a recent race, or indeed a bruising full season, could, in some ways, be an advantage.

“Yeah I like that. That sounds great,” said driver Tanner Foust when that idea was put to the team by DirtFish, with team-mate Emma Gilmour echoing his sentiments.

“I think that certainly some of the technical background McLaren has in other racing is going to shed a new perspective on setup and what to do with the Odyssey vehicles. I think where we would be missing is on [knowing the] weak links of the machine, and how to maximise the car without hurting it.

“But certainly from a technical background I think we have as much or more data than anyone without having done a race yet.”


But while the team is certainly confident in its own ability, it knows all too well that going off-road racing for the first time will be a challenge.

“I think it will be a learning curve for us, especially at that first event,” Gilmour, who competed on two events last year with Veloce, said. “

“We had a fantastic, productive test at the end of last year, but I think it’s doing those procedures like the driver switch zone, all those kinds of things which, when you’ve got race pressure, will make it a new challenge.

“But I think the thing that makes it a bit more of a level playing field for us going in is that you go into basically new race venues every time. It’s not like the teams have already got an advantage from data, from racing there last year last season.

“We’re all learning together and we all learn the track at the same time so hopefully that will, with the testing that we’ve had, will put us on a good foot going forward for the season.”

Words:Dominik Wilde