Muscle Milk wins bizarre ALMS race at Baltimore

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The American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT started with a bang, and finished with a thrilling conclusion to salvage something on an abnormal day.

Some of the series pre-eminent teams: Muscle Milk Pickett Racing (P1), Level 5 Motorsports (P2), Corvette Racing (GT) and Flying Lizard Motorsports (GTC) all won their respective classes, and Performance Tech Motorsports grabbed its first PC class victory.

How they did, however, was another story. It was an odd race, and officially the shortest in ALMS series history at approximately one hour and 15 minutes. The race start was delayed after a red flag for a start-line crash involving more than six cars.

Muscle Milk’s pair of Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf won their sixth straight 2013 race in its HPD ARX-03c, to secure the P1 class championships. On the start, however, Graf felt as though Chris Dyson had jumped the start in the Dyson Racing Lola Mazda cope. Dyson, unsurprisingly, felt differently and neither minced their words in TV interviews.

Once Luhr was in the car, he emerged behind Dyson’s co-driver Guy Smith and would make the winning pass on Smith, to the inside in the Turn 3 hairpin with just more than 10 minutes remaining. Smith stayed within three or four tenths for the rest of the race but lost more than three seconds lapping through GTC traffic.

The P2 1-2 was next up with Level 5’s second car of Guy Cosmo and Marino Franchitti beating the fellow HPD ARX-03b of ESM, Cosmo’s old team, and the No. 01 driven by Anthony Lazzaro and Scott Sharp. Each car pitted with just more than 24 minutes remaining to ensure Franchitti and Sharp hit the minimum drive time. These two were the survivors after the start-line dust-up.

GT runners finished fifth through ninth overall, with the two Corvettes leading the two BMW Team RLL Z4s and the No. 91 SRT Viper. It was a great battle between the Corvettes and the BMWs all day and the winners, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, took their second win of the year. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner’s No. 4 Corvette was second with the No. 56 of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand third. Corvette actually led overall for just more than a lap but lost the lead as the P1 leaders cycled through.

PC had three different leaders just in the last 10 minutes, in what was a chaotic finish. Colin Braun led in the No. 05 CORE autosport car but needed a pit stop within the final 5 minutes to hand to Jon Bennett, to ensure Bennett hit his minimum drive time amount. Dane Cameron, in his first PC start of the year, inherited the lead in the PR1/Mathiasen entry but had apparent suspension failure exiting Turn 4. That allowed Performance Tech to sneak through and for Tristan Nunez and Charlie Shears to take their first ALMS win. Braun and Bennett were classified second.

Lastly GTC had a great battle from second through fifth behind the winning No. 44 Flying Lizard entry driven by Dion von Moltke and Flying Lizard team principal Seth Neiman, who secured his first ALMS race victory as a driver.

Behind von Moltke, the polesitting No. 22 Alex Job entry of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil finished second ahead of the surging No. 11 JDX entry of Jan Heylen and Mike Hedlund. Heylen nearly passed Bleekemolen for second on the front straight heading to the checkered flag.  Just behind the podium finishers were the No. 27 Dempsey Del Piero car driven by Patrick Dempsey and Andy Lally, with the No. 30 NGT car of Sean Edwards and Henrique Cisneros fifth.

The second Flying Lizard car, the No. 45 driven by Spencer Pumpelly and Nelson Canache, finished seventh with some issues after entering the weekend as the class points leaders.

Next up for ALMS is its first trip to Circuit of the Americas on Sept. 21, a joint weekend with the FIA World Endurance Championship in Austin, Texas.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”