Auto Industry News: F1 Hits Miami, Toyota (Still) Teasing Tacoma and Racetracks Ban Hybrids & EVs

Formula 1 racing landed stateside this past weekend, drawing record crowds to the Miami International Autodrome – including an impressive number of high-profile celebrities. While the elite drivers found the track lacking for the second year in a row, citing dangerous surface conditions, they still delivered heart-pounding action with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen delivering the award-winning performance.

Speaking of racing and safety concerns, tracks and organizations around the country are revising their rulebooks to explicitly prohibit EVs and hybrids from competition. Some are even placing restrictions on where they can be in the parking lot. The Engine Block has the details on why this is, along with more 2024 Toyota Tacoma teasers and updates on the forthcoming Ranger Raptor.

Miami Hosts Second Formula 1 Grand Prix

For the second year in row, Formula 1 brought its high-speed, high-class flavor of international racing to the city of Miami; and for the second year in a row, Americans expressed significant enthusiasm.

F1 organizers reported weekend attendance of 270,000 fans – an uptick of 30,000 visitors from last year.

A similar increase was noted in the number of famous faces in the crowd, as big-name celebrities from various industries made an appearance, like Tom Cruise, Roger Federer and Shakira. Even the world’s richest men, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, carved out some time in their busy schedules for F1 entertainment.

They weren’t disappointed either, as the drivers ran a dramatic wheel-to-wheel race on Sunday.

Verstappen Nabs Second Victory

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen put on a riveting performance, ruthlessly advancing from ninth place to second by Lap 15 – with the majority of his forward progress occurring in just the first 10 minutes.

He eventually overtook his teammate Sergio Pérez to take the pole position, leading by over 16 seconds in the middle stages. After falling back to P2 after pitting in Lap 46, Verstappen quickly took the lead again to secure his second Miami victory and third win of the season.

Verstappen’s ability to overtake nearly half the field was doubly impressive, considering drivers’ complaints about the track surface during qualifying. Several drivers bemoaned the low-grip conditions, with Charles Leclerc even smashing into a barrier during practice. (Indeed, it was this crash that sent down the session-ending red flag during qualifying which relegated Verstappen to ninth starting position.)

Amazingly, Miami officials actually brought in a special track resurfacing company this year to completely redo the 3.36-mile circuit — since drivers angrily expressed safety concerns over the slippery surface last year. Let’s just hope the track-aging efforts pay off over the next year, as there are talks about turning the 2024 Miami Grand Prix into a night race.

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Racetracks Saying “N-O” To Electric Powertrains

Speaking of racing circuits and safety, a number of rulebooks around the country recently made headlines for banning electric and hybrid vehicles from track competitions. According to officials, the policies relate to a fear of battery fires – and the herculean efforts required to extinguish them.

Inciting Incident

Tongues first started wagging when the National Council of Corvette Clubs (NCCC) upgraded its competition rulebook to prohibit the lithium-packing vehicles. They even went so far as to require those driven by spectators be parked a minimum of 30 feet from structures or other vehicles.

The decision drew anger from enthusiasts partly because the organization gave no official reason for the rule change but mostly because it would eliminate the new Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray from participating. The ‘quickest Corvette in history’ uses electric hybrid technology to power the car’s front wheels.

While the NCCC quickly amended its rules to include the E-Ray (and other hybrids), it is not alone in its apprehension of electric powertrains. Several other tracks and clubs across the nation have banned the technology, with the majority of them citing a lack of preparation and training to deal with the specific needs of a battery fire.

Line of Fire

Many EV-owning enthusiasts remain unconvinced, arguing the track’s “don’t like ICE cars losing” and gasoline car fires are much more common. While the latter may be true, there are unique challenges to lithium-ion battery fires — not the least of which is the risk of high-voltage electrical shock.

EV-related fires are significantly harder for firefighters to extinguish. They not only burn hotter and faster, but also require much more water to put out. For reference, a Tesla Model S parked in a California scrapyard unexpectedly burst into flames last summer. According to the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, the fire burned hotter than 3,000° and took crews an hour and 4,500 gallons of water to extinguish.

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Additionally, fires that ignite as a result of uncontrollable self-heating are different than those caused by a collision-damaged battery. And while automakers install automatic shut-offs and protective crash absorbers, they don’t due so with racing demands and crashes in mind. Suffice to say, we’re in some unchartered waters and many race tracks are unwilling to take the gamble (at least, just yet).

Others, however, are eager to welcome EVs into the fold. Atlanta Motorsports Park (AMP) in Dawsonville, Georgia recently installed five new Level 3 fast chargers for quick off-track charging. The park’s owner and CEO Jeremy Porter sees electric vehicles as the “future of racing” and is working hard to mark AMP as a pioneer to EV motorsports.

Did you know…?

Despite CEO Jim Farley calling EV price cuts “a worrying trend,” Ford recently dropped the base price of every Mustang Mach-E trim level – significantly. The reductions come in response to aggressive discounting from Tesla, whose vehicle prices are now down about 10-15% depending on the model.

Many experts believe the yo-yoing Tesla prices (which just ticked back up this past week) are part of founder Elon Musk’s strategy to “gobble up more market share.” Considering the dedicated EV maker operates on a dealer-free model and is enjoying industry-leading automotive profit margins while competitors struggle to bring their EV efforts out of the red, the experts may just be right.

More Tacoma Teasers

Now, onto the ICE portion of the program. Toyota continues drag out the reveal of its next-gen Tacoma, though we finally have an end – I mean, debut – in sight. The midsize pick-up truck will have its official grand unveiling on Friday, May 19.

The automaker released the debut announcement alongside – you guessed it – four new teaser images, which indicate the new Tacoma will come in multiple bed and cab configurations. The side-view silhouettes imply customers can have their Taco as an extended cab or crew cab, in short or long wheelbases. One image shows what is likely the upcoming Trailhunter model, as evidenced by the giant roof rack and sport bar.

Based on previous hints and clues, here’s a recap on what we know the 2024 Toyota Tacoma will have on tap:

  • new TNGA-F body-on-frame platform
  • new rear coil spring setup
  • new hybrid power option
  • new interior design with removable in-dash Bluetooth speaker
  • new overlanding-oriented Trailhunter trim
  • new disc-brake setup in the TRD Pro model
  • addition of Fox Racing QS3 coilovers in TRD Pro model
  • six-speed manual transmission option

That last surprise was dropped on May 2 via a three-pedal teaser image. With another 11 days to go before the big to-do, we expect Toyota won’t be able to restrain itself from dropping another little breadcrumb.

In Case You Missed It…

The high-performance Ford Ranger Raptor is finally set to make its stateside debut – just in time to throw down a gauntlet against the new Tacoma. Scheduled for a May 10 reveal, the 2024 Ranger Raptor will feature a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 making an estimated 392 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque, as well as a beefed-up suspension, body protection, tires, and other off-road equipment.

The Engine Block is your one-stop source for any and all auto industry news. Keep an eye on our weekly round-up of enthusiast coverage, product reviews, vehicle spotlights, auto show/expo features, and more. Be sure to check back Wednesday for some truck accessory intervention, with the top 3 signs it’s time to install a cab rack. Then, loop back around on Friday for some handy vacationing tips if you plan to visit or camp in a national park this summer.