Global Ambition: the Scoop from VW, Andretti, Speed, and Foust for GRC
"The only way I wanted to do it is if I felt like we could come in and win right away," the figure to my left says. That figure, is none other than Michael Andretti, famed IndyCar, CART, and Formula 1 driver-- and these days--owner of Andretti Autosport. We're sitting in an intimate conference room less than 90 minutes before Volkswagen will publicly announce its official Global Rallycross drivers at the Chicago Auto Show, two-time GRC champion Tanner Foust, and former NASCAR and Formula 1 driver Scott Speed. There's a palpable feeling of anticipation in the room, motorsport is rapidly changing, evolving, and there's a lingering sense that this could be the start of something huge. Andretti is of course at the Chicago Auto Show in support of the Volkswagen Andretti RallyCross team announcement, which he says is a logical, strategic play. "It makes a lot of sense for us, for diversifying our racing portfolio. One of the struggles that racing has today is their demographics, everybody is after the millennial, and this is exactly where Global RallyCross is hitting." Apparently Andretti isn't the only one betting big on the GRC; NBC has recently inked a deal that will televise the races, bringing Global Rallycross into millions of living rooms, and most importantly, that younger, hipper demographic that sponsors are looking to gain favor with. Foust and Speed will start off driving modified Volkswagen Polo rally cars, but will trade those for angry VW Beetles, all juiced up; The twosome will eventually be manning 560-575 mean ponies--an absolutely silly amount to burst out of a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, the same power as a Ferrari 458 Italia--and will commandeer them over dirt, asphalt, 70-foot jumps, in inner cities and special road courses alike. This isn't permanent lefts on an oval, it's fast-action, dynamic racing that's equal parts sport and spectacle. The way interest has waned in the sport of boxing, so too can the same be said for traditional racing. But just like MMA has supplanted boxing, Global RallyCross can replace the exuberance, exhilaration, and intensity for younger generations. If Volkswagen and Andretti Autosport are hoping for drivers that feel the same way, they've found them in Scott Speed and Tanner Foust. Speed, recently with NASCAR, says the GRC is "the most fun I've had in a race car," adding that the switch was "a no-brainer. If you look at how quickly this series has grown, and where it's going, this is going to be the future of motor racing in this country." A bold statement, and one that racing partner Foust, weighed down by serious X Games bling--nine medals and counting, the most of any driver in the sport--would certainly not disagree with. And for Volkswagen, the payoff is evident; when asked why the German automaker hasn't gone with one of its more logical performance cars--such as the seventh-generation Golf GTI that's coming to America this year--new Volkswagen Group of America vice president of marketing, Vinay Shahani, says this is the right opportunity for the Beetle. "It's more masculine now," Shahani says, adding that its iconic image and silhouette are instantly recognizable. And when you think about it, if you're flipping channels and catch just a second or two of the race, you may not be able to tell what cars are actually racing, camouflaged in sponsor logos and flashy colors as they are. But the Beetle, even without seeing a VW badge, is instantly recognizable, and easily distinguished from the pack. For now, it appears the table is all set, all bets are in, and everyone is waiting for that first race, May 18th in Barbados. And when I ask Michael Andretti what would constitute a successful season, his answer comes easily and without hesitation: "If you're asking me, these two are going to be fighting for a championship."
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