If there was a rallycross hall of fame, there’s no denying Tanner Foust would be a lock in.
A record four US titles (an honor he shares with former team-mate Scott Speed), a record 24 US series wins, and the first American driver to win in Europe, his place in rallycross folklore is undeniable.
So it came as a shock to see him endure a tricky campaign in 2021. Winless for the first time since 2013, and outside the top three in points for the first time since 2014, it wasn’t a storybook year for Foust as he – and fellow Audi drivers Cabot Bigham, Robin Larsson, and Liam Doran – struggled to get the most out of the Audi S1 on Nitro Rallycross’ new breed of race tracks.
“Certainly driving for Dreyer & Reinbold in Nitro [Rallycross] was a car that I didn’t have any experience with and we really didn’t have much that we could change about the car,” said Foust, who previously spent five and-a-half seasons developing and racing Volkswagen’s unstoppable Beetle, and before that the class-leading Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta.
“That was a difficult experience,” he added. “The car really was set up for Tarmac tracks and the grippiest European tracks, where Nitro was almost all dirt with huge jumps, and it was a fish out of water.”
But 2021 wasn’t just about notching up another year in rallycross’s top Supercars class. Foust also had one eye on the future of the series, as he takes his career in a new direction with electric racing.
“I did Nitro last year to get an understanding of the tracks, to get an understanding of the Nitro organization, as they were going into EV racing, with a goal of being at the forefront of EV racing in both Extreme E and Nitro,” said Foust, who now races for McLaren in Extreme E.
“I learned a lot about the track constructions, the organization, I stayed close enough to Nitro to learn how the progression of the FC1-X is going with Andreas Eriksson in order to make a decision if we would put together a program for 2022.
I love where Travis is going with that series, I love what he’s doing with rallycrossTanner Foust
“I think Nitro does a great job and as an organizing body they are themselves a distribution network of content, it just is on the teams and the drivers to find sponsors that are interested in that distribution network rather than traditional television,” he added.
Foust says a definitive decision about his 2022 rallycross plans hasn’t been made yet, but he’s optimistic about the direction Nitro Rallycross is taking regardless.
“I love where Travis is going with that series, I love what he’s doing with rallycross,” he enthused.
“There is room to grow with possibly using treaded tires since the tracks are nearly all dirt, some dust solutions and things like that, but they’re challenges that Nitro’s aware of and working on aggressively and I think they have a great staff going.”
Foust also believes that the combination of electric vehicles and a groundbreaking series like Nitro RX can regain fan interest in rallycross in an age where cheaper, yet more effective, online marketing initiatives are winning sponsorship dollars.
“The reason I’m pushing to be involved in EV racing is to promote motorsport in general,” he said. “I’m a believer that motorsport as a whole over the last 20 years has made our lives better, and has made cars more reliable, efficient, and safe, right down to just the seatbelt.
“So the things that we take for granted, that save lives every day, I genuinely believe were developed in motorsport and I hope that as our inevitable transition to EV happens, we can convince manufacturers that motorsport is still a great way to innovate, to demonstrate their capabilities, and to push the boundaries of reliability, safety, and capability. And performance.
“That’s the mission that I’m on. The big competitor to motorsport I think is just content. They can make videos for probably less money than they can go and race. They never lose on a video and they can get a lot of people to watch them.
“But it doesn’t push the boundaries of the actual technology like motorsport will and so hopefully with things like XE doing it in a responsible way, with Nitro with a very young demographic, you can can keep motorsport on the minds of manufacturers when it comes to budgeting time.”