Red Bull GRC: Volkswagen Andretti RX hits key youth market for company

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Speed (center) flanked by Joni Wiman (left) and Ken Block (right). Photo: Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross

With the Red Bull Global Rallycross season now in the books, it’s worth noting how one of the top teams from the Verizon IndyCar Series has diversified into the championship as a way of both expanding its business and hitting a key new market.

Andretti Autosport – or Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross as the team is known in GRC – had a driver in contention for the GRC title heading into the Las Vegas finale (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET, NBC) in the form of Scott Speed.

Speed’s a fascinating case study of what GRC can provide. The last American driver to start a Grand Prix in F1, Speed was later replaced by a then-upstart named Sebastian Vettel in 2007, and headed back stateside for NASCAR. A handful of challenging seasons in stock cars followed and seeking a third career reinvention, Speed then headed to GRC, where he became an instant winner.

With Andretti, new partner 7UP and teammate Tanner Foust – renowned for his career of TV presenting, rallying and generating buzz among a younger demographic – Speed was in the perfect place and got the year off to a great start with wins in the first two races.

Their presence added to the series, and it was something both Michael Andretti and John Lopes (president, Andretti Sports Marketing) have extolled as part of the company’s greater long-term strategy.

“This side is really important,” Andretti told MotorSportsTalk in an interview from New Orleans over the weekend. “Just finishing GRC, and having Kuala Lumpur with FE (FIA Formula E) in a couple weeks, it’s becoming a year-round thing for us. It’s important to stay diversified, and we need to stay in the news.”

Speaking specifically to GRC, Andretti said it’s hitting the youth market more than IndyCar is at the moment.

“Both have a lot of very positive buzz; I’m very bullish on both of them,” Andretti said. “Both series are going after the demographic, which we’re all starving to get, which is millennials. To me being in the racing business, that’s very important. We need to be in series that are hooking young guns, and following the sport for many years to come.”

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Photo: Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross

Lopes tells more of the business story, how Andretti got involved in GRC, and how it has progressed over the last couple years. Of note, Lopes highlighted Starke Taylor, a behind-the-scenes tour de force who serves as Andretti Sports Marketing’s EVP and CMO, as the individual who worked to many of the partnership deals done.

“GRC was born out of a couple things,” Lopes explained in an interview with MotorSportsTalk at the Andretti Sports Marketing headquarters in Indianapolis.

“What happened is Andretti Sports Marketing, because of its event business, helped provide operational staffing to GRC to some events. This was the year where it seemed everyone was asking, ‘Can you help us in 30 days?’ So we helped out GRC with an event that wasn’t gonna happen (Vegas), and we jumped in to help. After that, what occurred we had a meeting with Volkswagen, and they told us they were thinking of getting involved.”

Andretti’s manufacturer relationship with Volkswagen stretches beyond its running of VWs in GRC, which were Polos for most of this season with the new Beetle introduced towards the end of the year.

“The untold story is that the foundation of the Rallycross program came based on Andretti Sports Marketing being the agency that runs VW’s enthusiast and experiential events in North America,” Lopes explained. “Our relationship is based on a multi-year relationship of running their enthusiast events. It’s nothing to do with racing.

“So we’re running trucks around, doing cycling events, festival events, big community events, ones in Virginia, Portland, Texas. And we run the race team in addition.”

From a business standpoint, Lopes expanded on why hitting the coveted youth market is so crucial, and how GRC does a good job of that.

“If IndyCar is sort of the core business and the Indy 500 hits the largest amount of the world, Formula E is a diversification into something green and global, and rally is specifically targeting millennials,” Lopes said. “So now when we sell to a sponsor, we can answer their questions of ‘are you selling international?’ We’re in Formula E. ‘Are you selling to millennials?’ We’re in GRC. That’s what rally is about. And it was also about expanding relationships with auto manufacturers. It was the beauty of it.”

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”