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An Interview with the McLaren Extreme E Team: Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour

Conducted by April Thorne, Edited by Nakul Naik

Emma Gilmour (left) and Tanner Foust (right) with the McLaren Extreme E Car (Photo by: McLaren)

April: So, Tanner, the idea behind Extreme E is to race electrically powered cars through areas that are specifically affected by climate change. This is one of the first ever racing series of its kind highlighting a somewhat difficult subject to talk about, specifically in motorsport. What are your views on this and how has it influenced your perspective on racing?

Tanner: When I first heard of Extreme E, I was questionable about how it applied to sustainability. The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve realised how critical this time is in motorsport. If you look at the last 100 years of racing, I think we have all benefited from the advances that motorsports has achieved not only in both safety and performance, but also in efficiency and reliability.

Extreme E takes it to another level by starting off with sustainability as its main focus. It not only shows that you can do motorsport in that core value type of way, but also shows, in general, to manufacturers - who really make the motorsport world go around - that remaining in motorsport as a marketing effort can still be a responsible decision, something critical for motorsports, as they have other choices to market themselves in YouTube videos and just creating content. So hopefully Extreme E shows that motorsport can be here to stay.

April: Emma, at the beginning of the year McLaren announced their team for Extreme E and you were one of the drivers. I think everyone was absolutely ecstatic to find out that one of the drivers would be the first ever woman to be a factory driver for McLaren. How did you find out about the news when you first heard it and what were your first thoughts?

Emma: When I first got the email from Zac (Brown) asking if I was interested, it blew my mind because growing up in New Zealand, McLaren is like motoring royalty and I never imagined our paths crossing, I was never destined to be a Formula 1 driver. To have this opportunity through the Extreme E series is a dream come true and it really has been a bit like a fairy-tale since being involved with such an amazing motor company is just fantastic. Everything I do is to the highest degree and it’s a great company to work with.

April: Okay so, Tanner Your racing career and just life in general is honestly one for the books- from a molecular biology degree to being a stunt driver in one of the most popular movie franchises to racing in Extreme E with one of the most historical motorsports teams in history. Which specific experience outside of racing has taught you the most valuable life lesson that you apply to racing to this day?

Tanner: (Laughs) Ah, that’s such a tough question, April, it’s early in the morning. Outside of racing, certainly, having a daughter has been quite an education. I think it makes you value time quite a bit more. Watching how quickly a child grows up and how limited some time is, it makes you want to take more advantage of the time that you have. I have been very fortunate to have three or four different careers working in parallel. All of them are fun things, part of passion, based around driving cars.

Also, having a pilot’s licence is something I have done recently, in the last five or six years, and I absolutely love the extra layer of freedom that flying to work gives. I don’t have a super fancy aeroplane or anything like that, it's just that I’m always a student. Whether it’s hosting television shows, stunt driving in movies, or racing, I love learning or being a parent frankly. Constantly finding new things to learn keeps any of it from getting routine.

April: Emma, Extreme E is a racing series that’s relatively new and one that has captured a lot of attention from motorsports fans globally, especially since it simultaneously highlights the vital issue of global warming while giving us all the excitement and adrenaline that one needs. What led you to race in Extreme E? Were there specific situations that influenced you to take this step?

Emma: I think the environmental side of Extreme E is great but when I first heard about it, it was so different to any motorsport I’d ever heard of. I actually thought it was a virtual, simulated kind of racing series. It had a male and female driver pairing, and that’s never been done, really, in any sport. We saw it a little bit in the Olympics last year where there was more combined competition.

But, as a female driver, I’ve had a career now of nearly twenty years to actually be able to be an equal teammate with Tanner in the same car. That’s transformational for the sport, and it’s a really exciting time in motorsport. It’s not like we’ve gone and taken an existing kind (of motorsport) and just electrified it and made it ‘boy and girl’.

It’s something completely different. And I think it’s really captivating existing motorsport fans that are also a new generation: you don’t have to invest a whole afternoon to see what the results are going to be. It’s short, sharp, and it’s super exciting. And no one knows what’s going to happen and that includes us inside the car. It’s just so exciting, and it’s a really cool motorsport.

Photo by: Sam Bloxham

April: (To both)What type of conditions are your strong suit to drive in and with which type of car? Like snow or rain etc?

Emma: For me, my background is largely in rally driving, so my perfect rally conditions, where I'm happiest, are smooth gravel roads, really fast, committed; that’s where I feel most alive when I’m driving. But I really love the challenge. The course we’ve got here this week in Sardinia is fast, but it’s quite bumpy as well, so you’re constantly thinking.

You just don’t get a break when you’re driving these cars because there’s so much coming at you and you’re dealing with so much happening in the car as well as the driving. It’s very busy but it makes it a real challenge and a real buzz once you’ve done a lap.

Tanner: For me, it’s a very chaotic feeling in the car. There’s just a lot going on, a lot of bouncing in the car. So I’m focussing on what the tyres are about to hit, and then following where I am on the track. There’s another thirty-something corners to remember and then what’s right in front of the tyre, what’s ahead on the track, it goes back and forth. I tend to like the tighter, more technical turns and maximising speed and momentum, and there’s no shortage of that in Extreme E.

April: What is the most memorable moment of your racing career? It doesn’t have to be of you winning but a memory that will stick with you forever.

Emma: I got to take part in the Goodwood Festival of Speed a few weekends ago, and that event has always been on my bucket list of things I’ve wanted to attend. So this year I got to go for the first time ever, but I also got to drive the McLaren F1 GTR up the hill, and that was pretty cool. But to be fair, I do feel a bit like I’m living a fairytale at the moment being with McLaren and doing this series, so the moments keep coming.

Tanner: At some point in my Rallycross years, some of the rules changed, and we went from a Bias Ply Tyre to a Radial Tyre, and the style of driving was completely different - not that unlike how Formula One has transitioned from last year’s cars to this year’s cars - really involving a whole new style of driving. For me, that was like, “Do I just stop racing now?” or “Do I go back to school, as in my internal school, and relearn how to drive in order to be successful?” And winning a championship after that whole process was a real sweet thing for just internally proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

April: How are you feeling about the rest of the season?

Emma: I think we learnt so much in our first event. It was our first time working together as a team at Saudi, and, so far, this week has started really well. For Tanner and I, the more events we do together, and with the whole, wider team with Leena and Teena, our engineers, we just get stronger and more comfortable. We’re going to be able to carry more momentum into the next part of the year because it has been a long break up until now. So, I think it’s just going to get stronger and stronger.

Tanner: I have no idea what to expect until we get there, really. Emma and I haven’t been to this event before, most teams have, thankfully, which has been a valuable resource of information of what to expect. I thought the track this year would be quite a bit different from last year’s, but it’s quite similar.

Going to South America, I have no idea of what to expect. It feels like a lot of racing between now and then. So, I just take it as it comes and make sure the teamwork is there, and as Emma said, working with Leena and Teena has been amazing, so I’m sure we’ll be able to take on whatever they give us.


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