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Tanner Foust - Almost Famous


Carter Jung
Feb 1, 2009
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Here is a man who needs no introduction. What with his X Games Rally Gold and Silver medals, stunt driving, hosting SuperCars Exposed and the highly anticipated U.S. Top Gear, and now back to back Formula D Championships, Tanner Foust's name should be as household as Lysol, Tide or "subprime crisis."

And if you don't know who he is, go ahead and flip on over to page 74. The pictures of the cover model are over there, so check out what you came here to see and put us back down on the newsstand. Try not to put any creases. Hurry up, cause you're keeping us out of the hands of readers who actually care to know more about the greatness that is Tanner Foust.

Your second FD championship. How cool is that?
Bitchin! It's hard for anyone to finish at the top once, but a team's true capabilities are really proven when it wins back to back championships.

When the season began, did you think that you were going to do a repeat performance?
I was so relieved to get through 2007 that I was not expecting anything from 2008. I only hoped we could do well and prove to be a consistent threat in the series, even with all the trick toys other teams were bringing out. But to expect our aging Z to beat everyone was a bit of a tall order.

Besides swapping final drives for different tracks, what changes, if any, were made to the Rockstar/AEM Z33 from last year?
With the help from Rockstar we were able to spend some time on the car and freshen it up. We stripped it to the bare metal and stitch welded the car on its way to a complete rebuild. Besides the stiffer chassis and lighter weight, we also added a bit of steering angle to keep up with the 'Joneses'.

How was it working with Steph Papadakis and Shawn Hillier as your crew?
They suck! They keep making great, reliable cars just so they can put all the pressure on me! [laughs].

Steph is, of course, a great car builder and has made a career on that ability. His attention to detail and professional integrity will keep him earning work as a builder for as long as he wants. Shawn cranked it out this season and earned the Top Mechanic award at multiple events. These are the guys who make it all happen in our little world.

As one of our Formula D Diaries drivers, how was the experience?
I enjoyed reading what the other drivers had to say. It was interesting to hear what they thought of the tracks and what changes they made to set up for each venue.

Back in Chapter 5, Monroe, WA, you said: "Okubo accidentally hit my driver's side while closing the gap... HARD." Was that the hardest crash of the season?
That one may have been the hardest. I'm thinking about it and I don't think I hit the wall that hard this season. Whew! We used the same bumpers all year but the Okubo hit rang my bell a bit.

What was the worst crash you've ever been in?
I've dropped a motorcycle on the highway and rolled a street car, but the hardest crash I've had in competition was in a rally car. I dropped off a 30 foot cliff at 75 mph and lawn darted into a hillside. Even with my 5-point harness on, I cracked my helmet on the gear shift.

Ouch! How bad were the injuries?
Both my co-driver and I were extremely lucky. We walked away from the crash with only torn ligaments in our necks.

During competition at Monroe, WA, rain soaked the track. How do the wet conditions affect your driving?
I enjoyed the wet track. I come from an ice driving background and was a lead instructor at a performance ice driving school in Steamboat, CO for eight years. The slippery part didn't bother me and was pretty fun. The hard part is adapting to a track that is mostly wet but has little patches of dry that grab tires and spin you out.

Was the ice driving school where you built the foundations of your drift skills?
Absolutely. The time on the ice is where I really got addicted to the world of car control which lead me directly into drifting.

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What was your first drift event?
It was a Laguna Seca Yokohama invitational back in 2004 or so. Sam Hubinette-who I'd been doing drift exhibitions with for several years-recommended me to the Jasper guys to run their Supra. That was my lucky break in the early days of U.S. drifting. I remember pitting next to Daijiro, who didn't speak a word of English back then. In the event, I drove the Jasper Supra to a Third place finish. Rhys beat me out and took Second and Ken Gushi took First. I remember Ken's dad almost having a heart attack when he won. It was a very cool event.

Were you always into motorsports?
To be honest, I was never a fan of racing. I loved cars, and I could name any car by its headlights, but I never followed motorsports. Back in college, I was actually studying Pre-Med at the University of Colorado at Boulder and was working for an inventor named Bill Kitchen designing new amusement rides.

Word? Roller coasters?
No. You know the big swing thing in amusement parks? The one where you're hanging in a harness and you're pulled back and you release yourself? That was one of his designs. After college, I was still working for Bill and he ended up moving operations to Orlando, FL. I went over there to see how it was, but knowing that I would have to live that close to Disneyworld freaked me out and I came back to the mountains.

As we were landing on the flight back, I was looking out the window and noticed a race going on not too far from the airport. Leaving the airport, I went directly to the track, Second Creek Raceway, to check out the action and I guess I was standing too close and some guy came over to kick me out. I starting talking to the guy about how I could get involved in motorsports and he ended up making an offer: I worked as a mechanic in the shop in exchange for seat time in his car.

How old were you and what kind of cars were they?
I was 23 and looking for any excuse not to go to Med School. The cars were Spec Ford Racers, which is a tube frame, generic looking race car with a Ford engine.

Wow. You're like the Rudy of drifting, only not short.
[laughs] That's the story about the Notre Dame guy, right?

Yep. [laughs] Back to Sonoma: After losing the points lead to Sam, you said "If I were a betting man, I would not have bet that we'd win Sonoma." How were you able to win?
In bracket-type racing, shit happens. After qualifying, you go round to round and if four pairings go right, you end up holding the big trophy. It all happens very quickly and things just fell into place that day. That being said, Sonoma is not my favorite track because it's hard to attack other cars without hitting them. The drivers did a great job on that track though and put on one of the better shows of the season.

Was that the pivotal point in the season for you?
Every round seems so pivotal in this series, but in hindsight, the Sonoma win put some big pressure on the other teams to hang it out on the most dangerous track of the series: Irwindale.

A lot of our Formula D Diaries drifters wrote that Sonoma was their most challenging track. Is it for you?
It's not Sonoma, rather Irwindale. Just because we've all done hundreds of laps at Irwindale, it doesn't seem like a difficult track. We've gotten used to it. But I'm here to say that Irwindale is very scary. This is a place where if a guy crashes, and it only costs him a bumper or a taillight, he is stoked! It's very easy to total a car there and in tandem, some cars make so much smoke that you can't even see the walls.

From your Sonoma diary entry, we know that Megan Fox has the ability to distract the impeccable Mr. Foust, what about an import model? Any one you fancy?
What are you a lawyer? My girlfriend put you up to this, didn't she! [laughs]

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At Irwindale, before the Top 16, I remember talking to you and you were a bit bummed that Sam had a bye run for his first. Were you feeling the pressure?
Yeah. It's pretty easy to throw it all away with a small mistake in the first round and Sam getting a bye run for the critical Top 16 match definitely laid the pressure. I had to focus on my runs and remember the lessons from last year when I almost lost the championship by being too conservative.

How did you almost lose the championship last year?
The 2007 season was really close. The top three of the final round at Irwindale ended up being the Top Three for the season. During the Top 8 round, I was staged up against Ryuji Miki and almost lost. The battle was close and in the run where I was following I was too conservative, resulting in a One More Time. It was at that point where I decided to go all out. If I crashed, I crashed, but I was going for the championship-all or nothing.

In hindsight, do you prefer the pressure of sitting in First going into an event or in Second, going all out-for First?
There is definitely a different feeling going into the last event in First position versus Second. At the end of the day, you want all the points you can get before the season ends, so I'll take First and the pressure any day.

When Sam lost it in the Top 8, sealing your championship, and he walked over to congratulate you, what was going through your mind? Were you like: "Screw this event, I'm done, son!"
He walked over before the judges had finished deliberating, so at first, I wasn't sure he had lost. When the call came in that we had in fact taken the season, I celebrated for a minute with my crew (ie. I yelled back and forth over the radio) and then got down to the task at hand. I had no intention of walking away from a potential podium finish on the last event.

So what you're saying is, JR Gittin won the podium, fair and square?
I think so. On the first run, he was closer to the wall on bank-he even touched-and that was the advantage. It was a tight match and it was fair that he won.

Looking back, what were some of the greatest challenges of this season?
We started with some steering changes to the car and different tire sizes from Toyo. We had a very short time to get comfortable, and after the first test, I was nervous we'd done something wrong. But after a few focused days tweaking the alignment and suspension settings, the overall result was a much more competitive car.

What were some of the high points?
Beating Rhys in Englishtown and Sonoma-sorry buddy-was an eye opener that our Rockstar Z could hang with the quickest little cars out there.

You and Sam were in a heated battle for most of the season, how was that?
While it would be nice to know that you're going to win, I love the competition. I remember in college, when I wasn't competing for anything, thinking that something was really missing from my world. It wasn't until my first season in racing that I realized I had been missing the drive a person can only get from heated competition.

What do you think of Sam as a driver?
I've known and worked with Sam, in some capacity, for over 10 years. I know him pretty well and his driving capabilities. He is truly a great driver who is very driven. Sam and I share other sports in common like road racing and ice racing so our drifting styles are very similar.

Sam has two titles and now so do you; would you say that he is your most challenging opponent?
From a driving perspective, he is certainly one of the most challenging opponents. But there is no telling how his new car will turn out for '09, or mine for that matter!

Any other formidable drifters?
Again, next year there will be many drivers getting accustomed to new rides. I think JR, Sam and Rhys have the resources to test their cars to come out swinging. If Rhys is in the Solstice again, then I'd label him enemy number one.

When it comes to Tsuiso, who do you look forward to staging against?
I like drifting against Dai and Miki because their cars are fast, but not too fast. I can also relate to Sam and Rhys' style but if they beat me to the first corner, it's hard to catch up.

Conversely, who do you dread?
Some cars are just smoke machines and that can be hard to deal with... Conrad, Tuerck, JR and Darren put out so much smoke that it's hard to see the track.

Switching gears, how was winning 2008 X Games Silver?
It wasn't quite as nice as the Gold in 2007, but pretty damn great! We had a lot of problems with the car that week and I was lucky to just get a medal!

How different is rallying from drift?
The cars have four tires and a steering wheel... and that's where the similarities end! Rally racing uses a different part of your brain. You're driving on a road that you've never seen before, there are trees clipping the mirrors and you're going over 100 mph in some spots. A co-driver basically determines exactly how fast you can go by telling you the radius and shape of each corner and the driver is just a translator putting those notes into the steering wheel and pedals. It's pretty cool. With drifting, the mentality is to have a game plan before each run--where to get close to the wall, when to brake, etc.

Are there any similarities?
In both sports, the driver is pushing the car very hard. Both sports involve sliding the car and using car control while still maintaining a safety buffer.

Money question: which is more difficult?
Drifting is incredibly committed but not nearly as dangerous as rally. I think you could take a drift driver who doesn't mind listening to a screaming co-driver and make them a fairly fast rally driver in the US, but making a US rally driver competitive in Formula D would take more time. However, competing in rally at the WRC level around the rest of the world would be more technical and difficult than both US rally and Formula D drifting.

Have any of your X Games peers shown any interest in drift?
I've taken Travis Pastrana and Ken Block drifting. They are great drivers and could understand the amount of practice that goes into the sport. I've also talked to Bucky Lassik about drifting. It attracts some attention from other athletes and I hope they get some drift cars and come play!

That would be cool. Most people know about your drifting and rallying, what they probably don't know is that it's just the surface...
I'm lucky enough to work on various films as a stunt driver. Several of the Formula D drivers make part of their living in the car commercial world. I also get to compete in "one-off" races like the Baja 1000, and occasionally Pikes Peak, in addition to Time Attack and various road course events. I'm also spending an increasing amount of time hosting TV shows for ESPN, SPEED and NBC.

Speaking of which, as one of the new hosts, how is the new Top Gear for the U.S.?
Shooting the pilot was a freakin' blast. Hanging out with Adam Corolla was a pretty cool experience. He is a genuinely funny guy and is exactly the person who you would think he is. I can't talk much about the show, but I can say that the format is very similar to that of the U.K. version. Adam is an amazing fit for the lead host role and the U.S. Stig kicks ass. We do some pretty cool stuff with some not pretty cool cars. Check for more info.

How did you learn how to drive?
I learned at a young age in Scotland. When I was 10-13 we had an 18 mile drive through the countryside (which is all there is there) and seven of those miles were on private property. My mom taught me to drive our VW Van and I drove those seven miles every day possible. It was my favorite part of the day for sure.

Where did your love of cars come from?
As is probably the case with most enthusiasts, I think my Dad's car sparked my interest in cars. He bought a '76 Porsche 912E off the showroom floor and I grew up drooling over that machine. When I was old enough to cut grass I'd to move the 912 up and down the driveway 10 times just to get the law mower out of the garage.

About 2 weeks ago, after 32 years, my Dad told me he was selling the Porsche to make garage space. I bought it during the Irwindale finals week, and have driven it almost everyday since. Now that old Porsche smell is in my garage... and it's awesome!

You're also going to be driving the Import Tuner/TEIN/Rockstar Lexus IS F for Super Lap Battle. Any expectations?
I think the IS F is going to be great! It's got a great balance from the factory, the Toyota/Lexus V-8s are killer. With the tweaks from TEIN, I'm looking forward to wringing it out!

When you're not behind the wheel, what do you do?
I like to ride mountain bikes and if I'm in the mood for Rich Rutherford and Rhys to laugh at me, I'll surf a bit.

Rumors are abound of your new ride, being a Diaries drifter, can you tell our readers-avid might I add-what it is?
Um... no.

Boo! Last question: are you in for Formula D Diaries 2009?
Bring it!

Uh, we just did.

By Carter Jung
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