This is basically just me brainstorming and wanting to keep this for future reference – I thought I might as well make it public in case somebody else was interested. 🙂
Lots of car customisability – being able to buy replacements for each individual part. Each component has randomised stats, and you can tune them to reroll them slightly, depending on your mechanic skill.
Components also individually receive damage, and have to be repaired or will eventually break.
In this way, the ‘permadeath’ comes from finances – if you total your car and can’t afford to replace it, you’re stuck!
I’m undecided whether you would actually be the driver, or would hire one. If you have to hire one, then you’d need to pay them, and rely on sponsorship deals and prize money. Randomly, they might upset the sponsors with a bad publicity event, based on their stats.
If you do drive the car yourself, it might be interesting to have racing be turn-based. Each step, you adjust steering and acceleration/braking, then see how these decisions play out. Perhaps the permadeath in this case would be actual death from crashing?