Conner Martell: "Rallycross is the perfect platform for anything electric"
Rallycross fans got their first glimpse of Conner Martell back in 2015 when he made his debut in a Lites racecar in the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship series. Though he was new to rallycross, Conner wasn't a stranger to the racing world and had begun his racing career in motocross. But after suffering a significant injury he was forced to withdraw from the world of motocross racing and eventually found himself behind the wheel of a rallycross car. From the get-go he showed obvious skill and potential. He has proven to be one of the top drivers in the Next series.
In 2018 Martell dominated the Americas Rallycross series (ARX) in the Lites class and was crowned the Champion.
The 2022 Nitro Rallycross season will usher in a new electric racecar series. Martell has already started testing in the car and is looking forward to getting behind the wheel and showing fans what the future of rallycross racing will look like and that electric racing will be just as entertaining to watch as the current internal combustion engine series.
(Photo from ConnerMartell.com)
RX360: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NITRO RX TRACKS?
CM: "The nitro tracks are incredible. I think Travis [Pastrana] has done such a great job. GRC and ARX failed in the US. but I think it was because of the show and not a whole lot of people in the U.S. know what rallycross is. I think that Nitro, Red Bull, and Travis are doing a great job with the media part of it and making the tracks fun to watch. A lot of the tracks before [GRC and ARX] were like all the World Rallycross tracks where they were kind of boring, single line, not a lot of big passes going on. But all these Nitro tracks are super wide, they have the banked turns, and every line on the tracks is within a tenth of a second of every other line. So I think it makes the racing more fun, the fans enjoy it more because they can actually see all of the track now too. I just think they've done a great job with the media and selling the show."
RX360: BACK IN THE GRC AND ARX DAYS THE TRACKS WERE MOSTLY TARMAC AND NOT A WHOLE LOT OF DIRT. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE NITRO RX TRACKS BEING MAINLY DIRT?
CM: "I love it. I actually do like tracks where it's half pavement and half dirt because it's two different driving styles. If you're good at one, you're going to dominate in one section; and if you're good in the other you're going to be good there, in that section. With the dirt, I think it's way more fun for me driving wise because you're so sideways, especially in the NEXT cars because they don't have the power the Supercars have. So on pavement you have to drive the NEXT cars almost like a go-kart. You can't get them sideways at all because it's all momentum based. Whereas in the dirt it's still a lot momentum based but we can really hug those cars into the turns. It's just more fun and you're sliding more and I think it makes for better battles. It is a little more slow motion as a driver being on the dirt than the pavement. So yeah, I definitely like more all dirt tracks but I think it would be cool to have half-and-half."
RX360: SO WE'RE SITTING HERE AT THE GLEN HELEN ROUND DURING THIS INTERVIEW AND I'VE SPOKEN WITH A FEW OTHER DRIVERS ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR TRACK AND THEY WEREN'T AS STOKED ABOUT THE TRACK IN COMPARISON TO A FEW OF THE PREVIOUS TRACKS, NAMELY THE PHOENIX TRACK AND THE ERX TRACK MINNESOTA. WHAT'S YOUR TAKE?
CM: "I really enjoy this track. I think the racing is really good but it doesn't really have a lot of flow. It has a lot of those rollers along the straightaway and the ruts get really bad, which I don't mind. I think it's really cool having tracks that get rough and get holes. A lot of the drivers complain about it but I think that as a driver I shouldn't complain but instead, overcome the problem and take a different line. Drivers complain that the tracks might be rough in one spot, and like I said, these NITRO tracks are big and they have a lot of different lines that you can use, so why not use them? But I agree that this track has a lot less flow than Phoenix. There's a lot of turns off of jumps and into them or all the big roller sections and for us we don't get a lot of air off of them [NEXT cars] so they're kind of pointless whereas a Supercar can maybe get a little bit more air. I definitely think that out of all the tracks this one is a little bit less flowy."
RX360: HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN RACING?
CM: "After motocross I had a bad injury so I knew I was done racing motocross. I was seventeen years old and getting to that point where you're either going to go pro or you're not so I decided to stop racing and took a year off. I never really had an interest in driving a race car because I never thought I'd really get the opportunity even though I'd been around it my whole life because of my step-dad, Lance Smith, who owns Vermont Sportscar; and I've known Travis since a very young age, but I never had an interest in driving.
"About a year after I was done with motocross. Lance came to me at dinner and said we are going to give you a test in a Lites car and see how you do. So I was super stoked on that but didn't really think it would go anywhere. We got to the test and my times compared to other drivers who had tested at that track were pretty on point so we said okay we are going to go do a race. So I raced my first race with Rhys Millen in North Carolina at the Marine base, Camp Le Jeune, (Red Bull GRC, 2015) and we finished 5th in the final so he said okay we are just going to continue doing this. The next year I was with DirtFish full time and moved to Seattle. I lived in Snoqualmie, WA where DirtFish is and worked there for a whole year and just got acquainted with the Lites car and was able to test a lot and it just kept going up from there."
RX360: YOU'VE BEEN DOING RALLYCROSS FOR SIX YEARS NOW, ARE THERE THINGS YOU THINK YOU STILL NEED TO WORK ON?
CM: "Absolutely. I don't think you could ever be perfect in a racecar, especially now with these tracks because the tracks change every lap. You could never be perfect but I think consistency is what I'm working on and there's always speed to be found. I think for me in these Lites (NEXT) cars after being in them for six years now, it's hard to think that I can get much more out of them. But I definitely know that I'd like to do more pavement driving with them because I know that's where I need to be faster. Racing is the best way to learn. You go and test and get acquainted with the car but racing is definitely the best way to learn."
RX360: HOW ABOUT SIMULATED RACING? DO YOU DO ANY iRACING?
CM: "I do. Me and my step dad drove down to SimCraft in Georgia and picked up a full motion simulator from SimCraft and brought it home because no one really knew what was going to happen with racing so everyone was going to get into iRacing. We started doing the iRX in 2020 all-star races which is the championship for rallycross in iRacing. They do an eight-round series and then take a month off and then another eight-round series. It's a great training tool. It's the most realistic video game in the world and I think they could do a lot more work with the rallycross stuff because their tire modules for whatever reason whenever you get sideways in iRacing in a rallycross car it's like being on ice; but whereas the off-road trucks and circuit cars are much more realistic in my mind than the rallycross stuff. But it's still very realistic. You have to be on point and can't go wide open in the dirt or else you're going to slide, and the damage is very realistic. It's a good way to stay in rhythm with driving."
RX360: NEXT SEASON NRX WILL BE INTRODUCING THE ELECTRIC RALLYCROSS CARS. WILL YOU BE DRIVING ONE?
CM: "Yes. I was actually in Spain last month and I was supposed to test but they didn't have the inverters ready. But I will be moving up to those next year. I think it's really good for the series. Rallycross is the perfect platform for anything electric because they're short races. You don't have to be worried about running out of battery during a race. They already have the fast chargers figured out and they are already using those in FormuleE. I actually raced earlier this year the RX2E over in Europe which is a Lites car but electric. I was actually the first American ever to drive an electric rallycross car, which was cool."
RX360: MANY FANS HAVE EXPRESSED CONCERN ABOUT THE ICONIC SOUND OF THE RALLYCROSS SOUND DISAPPEARING AND THAT IT WILL MAKE ELECTRIC CARS LESS EXCITING. TO MOST FANS, THE RACING AND THE SOUNDS OF THE CARS GO HAND-IN-HAND. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT THAT CONCERN COMING FROM THE FANS?
CM: "I totally agree. They already know how to make speakers for the cars to make noise and they can upload any sound to the car to make any sound they want. They can make it sound like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, it doesn't matter. I don't think it will happen for a couple of years because I think they want to get the point across that it's an electric car. They are actually very loud because they sound like a supercharger on a car. They don't have the engine noise but it has this very loud, loud whine. Out on the track you probably won't hear it very much. But in the car, if you don't have anything covering your ears, you'll go deaf.
"It's going to be super exciting. I think it's really good that electric is coming because there are also a lot of electrical battery companies that have loads of money that they're going to want to spend and I think it's good for the series to bring in new manufacturers. I think that once people see the cars out there they are going to be better to watch than the supercars classes. Those cars will put the supercars to shame. They have twice the horsepower and I think it's just going to make for better racing."
For more information on Conner Martell, head to his site at https://connermartell.com/