If racing is to live up to that tenant of “Win on a Sunday, Sell on a Monday”, then in the second decade of the 21st Century we should be having a track racing series dedicated to SUVs. A grid full of rip-snorting V8 pushing a scrum of bespoke winged monsters is as relevant to today’s buyers as Tinder is to a eunuch. And to be in continued denial that fast SUVs are a thing that will never catch on is Icarian hubris. Fast SUVs are here, people like them more than they like to admit it, get used to it.
Jaguar, on the other hand, has uncharacteristically shed its blindingly proud heritage towards its bygone days of LeMans glory and embraced the popularity of SUVs with the establishment of a one-make series of i-Pace electric SUVs. Set to kick off later this year, the series is taking on that “race-to-sell” mantra seriously as it would be core to their strategy of bringing the i-Pace to the market. And props to Jaguar for stepping up to the plate, even though it is an electric vehicle with no other factory-fielded petrol-powered racer currently in their inventory, but that’s okay because the only other racer currently in their stable is the i-Type 2 Formula E single-seater, so at least they have got a theme going.
“Track is no place for an SUV! It should be in Dakar!” I hear you say, and yes, while rally stages are what many relate to as the natural habitat to the ancestors of the SUV, again, those forest scurrying and dune crushing conquerors are as far removed from their cafe-hopping hipster audiences whose only concept of outdoor entertainment is the Discovery Channel.
Besides, the clean-cut trackside environment is a far better fit for SUV-based motorsports as that is how most of its customers would see their SUVs. Spotless and clamouring to be at the front of every queue.
That jostle for the top spot in what essentially is fatsuits would make for an awesome spectacle. Imagine half a dozen elephantine SUVs thundering through Imola’s Tamburello like a herd of drunken wildebeest. Furthermore, with very little that can be done to improve the aerodynamic properties of what essentially is a living room on wheels, there is little need to cover it in fragile air-deflecting canards and boards, which would mean drivers are free to rub one another without much consequence, bringing back the glorious days of the 1990s BTCC.
It might be an inelegant sight but you have to admit, big dumb fun is what people want on a Sunday afternoon before the reality of the weekday sinks in. Put it this way, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had in the intense cerebral thriller of American Sniper, but you cannot deny the appeal of brash blockbuster fun when Arnie rocks up with a minigun.
The only people that might not like the idea are drivers who are used to more scalpel precise machinery but they’ll change their tune and race anything so long as it pays well. And pay well SUV racing will.
For what they lack in tact, SUV has the distinct advantage of being giant moving billboards of excess. Where Formula 1 cars would have carefully positioned advertising space for the cameras, there is ample space to proudly display your sponsors on something as big as an SUV. Look at all that promotional real estate. You can even sell the roof off for a neat sum.
A track-prepped SUV might have little relation to the performance enthusiast, with no potential for a road-going ala-RS lightweight spin-off. But as we have learnt, performance enthusiasts aren’t always paying customers, and from what we have seen, nothing is sacred to manufacturers anymore when money speaks. BMW M’s exclusion of SUV models have long been broken, Porsche is already minting money from the Macan and Cayenne, both Mitsubishi and Nissan are mulling the idea of turning their Evolution and Z icons into SUVs, and China seems keen on steamrolling the world with electric SUVs and crossovers that can demolish a supercar in the century sprint stakes. It is clear that people enjoy the performance as a potential more than a philosophy.
And there is huge potential, and possible incentive, for manufacturers to get in on this. As it is now there are way too many car racing events taking place around the world, some of which aren’t even all that entertaining to the crowds as they are to the few who are participating. Attracting manufacturer support would also help grow the motorsports industry as well. So in many ways, it is a win-win. Motorsports outfits will have a new and potentially profitable avenue to expand into, while many more people will get a spectacle they can relate to, and SUV track racing has them both.