McLaren Extreme E driver Tanner Foust on the freedom of flight

A photo of McLaren Extreme E driver Tanner Foust with a caption

McLaren Extreme E driver Tanner Foust on taking to the skies.
photo: McLaren

I first heard about Tanner Foust when he appeared on an episode of top gear and was introduced as one of the hosts of the show’s American counterpart. With the lack of racing pedigree then to be found among the British show’s hosts at the time, I assumed he was just another fun TV host. How wrong I was

Since then I have learned and exposed my mistake Foust’s impressive races in rallycross and Formula Drift and learned he was working as a stunt driver for films like The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Need speed. He has also competed in countless X Games events and holds the world record for the longest jump in a four-wheeled vehicle. Pretty.

Now he has been recruited by the famous McLaren racing team as a partner rally driver Emma Gilmour in the squad’s new Extreme E outing.

“When you walk through the halls of McLaren, you’re on a different level,” he says, “Back when I was teaching ice skating and starting to delve into drifting, that’s what I would do never thought this was a possibility in this life.”

A photo of Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour.

Tanner Foust is partnered with Emma Gilmour on the McLaren Extreme E team.
photo: McLaren

Foust and Gilmour have competed in one Extreme E event so far, at the 2022 season opener in Saudi Arabia. At the X Prix they secured a spot in the final after winning the Crazy Race and are now fifth overall.

It’s clearly an exciting time for the American racer as he adjusts to driving in one of the newest forms of international racing.

but Extreme E is an interesting offer for Foustwho says he has spent the past “20 years away from home”.

That’s because the series that has a strong focus on sustainability and creating a positive environmental heritage after each race longer breaks between events. With Extreme E transporting all of its cars, gear and a group of environmental scientists around the world on a converted mailboat, Foust and the teams have every week, if not months, between races.

A photo of the start line at the Extreme E season opener.

The McLaren duo is now fifth in the Extreme E classification.
photo: Extreme E

This has left Foust “a lot of free time between rounds” to find things to get done.

“I started flying,” he says.

But Foust admits this isn’t a new passion. Instead he says he was interested aviation for years and took to the skies for the first time after its run Top Gear USA.

“I’ve flown now since the day that top gear completed. After his last day of shooting, which was probably like 2015, I started my pilot’s license the next day. I have probably over 2,000 hours now.”

He says he flies “probably every other day” when he gets back home in California. And while I, and I’m sure many of you, expected this famous rally and stunt driver to take to the skies in search of even more thrills, so far it’s been a much tamer affair.

“It’s mostly for transportation and essentially like a time machine, getting you from A to B faster than you could otherwise,” he says.

“It’s a lot of lunches on Catalina Island, which is only about a 15-minute flight away, and also flights to work and the race track. Then I also fly to Denver, there is family there and there are a lot of work-related things that I have to do there.”

That doesn’t mean everything went smoothly – sorry, easy to fly. Foust did do some aerobatic practice, but explains that it was more of a “safety measure to have those tools in my skill bag just in case.”

And as he learns all about getting into the skies, Foust believes his close relationships with mechanics and engineers at race meetings have served him well in his move to airplanes.

He says: “Racers aren’t known for being the best pilots because they’re known for pushing the limits in a way. And maybe the personality doesn’t seem to match someone who would do things exactly the same every time.

“But I actually think that the technical side of racing cars and talking to engineers to understand how cars really work has been beneficial to the pilot’s life.”

A photo of a Bonanza light aircraft.

The Bonanza F33A: “Technically not very advanced.”

Because of this close connection between driver and mechanic, Foust enjoyed learning to work on his own plane as much as possible. This, he says, is to ensure he can “understand every little part of it.”

“So if I hear a noise, I know what the problem might be,” he explains. “It’s a very technical thing and I like how calm you have to be when you’re under pressure as a pilot.”

But what, I’m sure you’re all screaming now, is this Airplane that Tanner Foust flies? Is it exotic aircraft, a nimble acrobatic vehicle or an elegant jet? The short answer? no

“It’s called the Bonanza, it’s a small four-seater,” he says.

More specifically, it’s the Bonanza F33A that Foust flies. These small, single-engine aircraft, built between 1970 and 1994, can travel up to 595 miles and reach a top speed of 200 miles per hour.

Foust admits it’s a plane that’s “not very technically advanced,” especially when compared to the Odyssey 21 race car he competes in Extreme E With.

A photo of the McLaren Odyssey 21 race car.

The Odyssey 21: “100 times more advanced than the airplane.”
photo: McLaren

“When you get into the Odyssey, there are so many computers and everything,” he explains. “You can literally control how much power is sent to the front or rear tires depending on how much steering angle you have. You can set up so many cool things with it, and it’s 100 times more advanced than the plane.

But if Tanner Foust can access the raw performance of McLaren’s Odyssey 21 and no doubt a wide range of exciting cars to get him from A to B on a daily basis. What is stopping him from returning to the skies?

“The freedom is on a completely different level,” he enthuses. “Frankly, we may be the last generation to enjoy that freedom. Because you can literally hop on a plane and fly anywhere, you don’t really have to tell anyone.”

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