How Racing Leads to Better Off-Road SUVs
While racing trucks and SUVs look very different from what’s in the showroom, racers use quite a few production parts. Honda’s Unlimited Ridgeline, for example, uses the same engine block, cylinder heads, and crankshaft as the production truck. Ford’s Bronco R is based on the production SUV, and customers will even be able to bolt the R’s suspension into their own Broncos. The Bronco R didn’t win in Baja, but failure can inform more than success. Ford will learn, make better parts, and try again. And all this effort put into racing does lead to better off-road SUVs.
The SCG Baja Boot: win at racing, win in the salesroom
Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus made quite a splash when its Steve McQueen homage Baja Boot was announced. The only differences between the street and race versions would be extra suspension travel, a racing brake system, and a bigger fuel tank. The basic suspension design wouldn’t change, nor would the body. The race engine would also actually make less power than the street one, to comply with regulations.
But this was an SUV that could, theoretically, drive to Baja, tear through the desert, then drive home. And according to Forbes, that’s literally what the race team did. In fact, they did it with two Boots: a Road Boot was used as the Race Boot’s chase vehicle.
Although the Boot didn’t win, simply surviving the Baja 1000 proved it was a tough off-road SUV. And that has translated directly to sales. Road & Track reported that the day after the Baja Boot finished, SCG had sold 50% of its 2020 production capacity. This isn’t just a slam-dunk for SCG, either. Glickenhaus credits GM, who provided the Boot’s 450-hp race engine, with SCG being able to expand so quickly. The engine, the suspension, the transmission, all survived the desert—and SCG isn’t even fully finished with the design.
High-end SUVs get a lot of their desirability from their off-roading credentials. But rarely are they tested to such a degree. And seeing how closely SCG is using racing to improve their off-road SUV is something worthy of respect.
Jaguar used racing to give its electric I-Pace SUV more range on- and off-road
It isn’t only boutique supercar manufacturers that use racing to improve their off-road SUVs, though. And Baja and King of the Hammers aren’t the only proving grounds. For instance, Jaguar used Le Mans to test the mettle of its then-novel disc brakes. Now, Jaguar is racing to again trickle-down technology to its customers, but for its electric I-Pace SUV this time.
Car and Driver reported that Jaguar had recently released a software update for the I-Pace. Using data from its eTrophy racing series, as well as I-Pace owners’ driving habits, Jaguar was able to increase the I-Pace’s range by 8%, for roughly 19 more miles of range. The software changes let the battery run at a lower state of charge, and modified the active aero’s performance. The update also modified the SUV’s Eco mode and boosted the regenerative brakes.
While this isn’t as dramatic as the Baja Boot, range is extremely important for EV owners. Demonstrating that racing can improve an electric SUV’s range on- and off-road is arguably an even bigger accomplishment than SCG’s. After all, there will likely be more I-Paces on the road than Baja Boots.
What else can racing improve about off-road SUVs?
The Baja Boot and Jaguar I-Pace demonstrate that, nowadays, racing can improve an off-road SUV’s mechanics and electronics. Tesla has already been showing how dramatically over-the-air updates can modify a car. Tesla hasn’t joined in any racing series yet, but the automaker could refine the Cybertruck’s hardware and software in a place like Baja. At the least, it would demonstrate the effectiveness of the truck’s suspension and possibly increase range.
Racing could also serve to demonstrate how effective other electric SUVs are at off-roading. Both Rivian and Bollinger have highlighted various aspects of their electric off-road SUVs, the R1S and B1. The R1S may have the power and battery advantage, but the B1’s deliberately-simple design could make it more durable. It could also demonstrate how useful Rivian’s “tank turn” really is.
And, like SCG’s Baja Boot being able to back up the marketing hype with genuine racing performance can be a huge sales boost. “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” right?
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