As the wider motorsport industry faces up to the challenge of becoming more sustainable, up-and-coming series such as flying car championship Airspeeder have been putting environmental performance at the core of their purpose.
“When you build a new sport and you’ve got the responsibility of creating the next generation of motorsport, you need to build it with sustainability as an inherent value of what you’re creating,” says Jack Withinshaw, chief commercial officer at Airspeeder.
“The idea of building it to be sustainable was a bit of a no-brainer for us. It was something that we were always going to do, and it’s kind of come to life in the format of the sport as well.
“So when it comes to our stance on sustainability, it’s not that we aren’t here to promote cleaner mobility solutions through electric mobility, but looking beyond that, it’s also how we set up our race series.”
Indeed, motorsport is currently entering a new era, one where the development of sustainable technologies will ensure that this 100-year-old sport is well-equipped for the future. With that in mind, Airspeeder isn’t just trying to promote flying cars, but is also aiming to drive an urban air mobility (UAM) revolution.
The series is about much more than racing for Airspeeder
While more traditional series such as Formula One wrestle with the challenge of adopting more sustainable practices, Airspeeder is facing no such issues. As a brand-new concept and series, Withinshaw says that Airspeeder is essentially working from a blank sheet of paper, which gives it the freedom to integrate sustainable solutions into its model as it develops.
“It’s a cost to change for a lot of the traditional motorsports,” he notes. “But because we are new, we didn’t have to rewrite anything. We get to write the book with a clean slate of paper in front of us. We don’t have any legacy problems that we’ve had to overturn, we can kind of build the solutions as we go, which has been great.
“We’re not here just to promote sustainability, we’re promoting a whole new sport. And finding partners that want to be able to join the sport and the ideology of being a sustainable series while promoting a new industry is a bit tougher, but we’ve done really well to find a lot of them already.”
It is frequently said that sport offers a route to drive innovation and bring about societal change, and this is precisely what Airspeeder is planning to do through its world championship, which starts in 2022. By its very nature, Airspeeder will leave race locations virtually untouched, as its competition will take to the skies, rather than requiring tarmac and other race surfaces
to be laid down.
“We don’t actually require a lot of physical infrastructure,” notes Withinshaw. “It will be a really light footprint that we leave in the locations that we race. We aim to race in remote locations, beautiful, exotic environments, and leave it relatively untouched.
“We don’t need to lay down tarmac, we don’t need to lay down a lot of roads. It’s all digital or removable physical infrastructure. So we’ve got an ability to be able to leave the places that we race untouched, and that’s the best of both worlds.”
Due to the nature of the series, Airspeeder will not need to use resources putting down tarmac for events
In addition, Airspeeder is creating its sport for broadcast, which will limit the number of people attending races in person and help keep the series’ carbon footprint low. Initially, the championship plans to race in remote locations, but as it develops, it aims to move into cities, where there will naturally be more crowds.
“It’s a sport that’s been designed for broadcast, and we think that we can get some really exciting entertainment value, angles and shots and media production from these vehicles in a way that’s never been done before,” explains Withinshaw.
“We don’t require a lot of audiences in our model to be able to be there on site to be able to do that. We will have small audiences, but not large footprints. It comes down to just making it a nonimpact on the environment, a decision to be able to keep it light. So not only can we have an amazing experience for our viewers through digital broadcast, but we can also, again, reduce that footprint.
“In the future, when we start moving into maybe more urban environments, where if we can race over water, say over the bay of Monaco, for example, that would be fantastic.”
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Sustainability is listed as one of Airspeeder’s three key pillars, alongside building a new industry for flying cars and inspiring the next generation. Withinshaw says part of that final goal means getting a lot of female pilots involved in the sport in order to address the gender gap that has long existed in traditional motorsport.
“While each of these are really important pillars,” Withinshaw notes, “they all sit together to under what we call ‘flying car
racing’ as the prime reason for what we’re doing. For us, it wasn’t about a marketing play. It’s not about a B2B proposition. It’s
just inherently part of who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Looking ahead to 2022 and beyond, Airspeeder has scheduled its first events for next year, when unmanned race cars will take to the skies in rural locations globally. In the long term, there are plans to introduce new teams from different parts of the globe and expanding the calendar. As early as 2023, Airspeeder aims to have pilots in its vehicles.
It’s a sport that’s been designed for broadcast, and we think that we can get some really exciting entertainment value, angles and shots and media production from these vehicles in a way that’s never been done before.
“What I love about what we’re doing is there’s a sense of that blank sheet of paper,” says James Warren, Airspeeder’s head of communications. “It’s just proof that by doing the right thing and by being in tune to these requirements or responding to these requirements, we’re not taking anything away, we’re putting something into the world that’s exciting.
“And, you know, doing what’s right ecologically can be a lot of fun as well.”
“That’s when it’s going to get particularly exciting,” adds Withinshaw, “because at that point I think we can stand up and say: ‘We’ve done it, we’ve achieved it, we’ve now brought motorsport into the sky.”
This feature was originally published in BlackBook Motorsport’s special report on sustainability, titled Racing with Purpose, in December 2021. Access the full report here.