Tony Stewart speaks for first time since getting injured

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For the first time since his sprint car accident that injured his right leg, Tony Stewart has broken his silence.

Oprah, having “at least one hot nurse,” weight loss, the media, sprint car safety, Kurt Busch’s new fourth team and his own recovery were all topics of conversation.

“Oddly enough I miss you guys, which tells me I’m not feeling good,” Stewart told reporters at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop in Kannapolis, N.C. to open the press conference.

Since his accident in Iowa several weeks ago, Stewart has been largely bed-ridden, watching in his words, “Oprah and way too much other TV” and beginning the recovery process after his pair of surgeries.

The first bit of news: Stewart hopes to be back in a race car by early February, ahead of the 2014 Daytona 500, but ideally after testing.

“Early February. That’s what they’re looking at,” Stewart said. “It’s something that’s part of this process. We do not want to do something too early. Have to try to guard against setbacks. It’s going according to schedule.

Asked later whether interim driver Mark Martin could stay on to test if Stewart isn’t ready in January, Stewart replied: “I’m all for Mark doing all the testing he wants to do! It’s like watching paint dry. If that scenario happens I hope he’d be willing to do that. You couldn’t ask for someone better. He’d pay more attention than I would.”

Stewart said almost from the off that you can’t be afraid to miss out on other opportunities; in his case, the sprint car racing he so loves to do on weekends he’s not at a NASCAR track.

“Bobby Labonte was riding his bike and missed a race. It’s just life, guys. People miss a race. You’ve gotta live life. You can’t spend your whole life guarding against something that could happen. We’re all here a short amount of time in the big picture. We don’t want to guard against this, or that. If I didn’t wear a helmet or seatbelts, then that would be dangerous.”

The biggest news from a team standpoint since Stewart’s injuries, other than his injury replacements (Max Papis, Austin Dillon and Mark Martin), has been the addition of Kurt Busch in a fourth Stewart-Haas entry for 2014.

Stewart scoffed at the suggestion that he or the team “deceived” Ryan Newman – as had been suggested by former driver Kyle Petty – and said his only concern throughout the process was the time needed to put together the crew and equipment needed for a fourth car.

“It wasn’t as dramatic as (Gene) made it sound,” Stewart said. “When Gene came to me about the fourth team, he told me on a Monday, then Thursday they had a contract ready. The biggest thing was Greg Zipadelli saying we could do this and getting it done in a time frame. To find someone like Kurt and make it happen has really been encouraging to me as his partner. It was just me getting caught up. I wanted to make sure we had the time. We have a lot to get done in a short amount of time. It may not be fun and may not be easy. That was what made me give 100 percent blessing. We never argued about it.”

One other thing Stewart let slip in the press conference was the unintentional confirmation of Rodney Childers as Kevin Harvick’s crew chief for 2014. Harvick joins Stewart-Haas as Newman’s replacement in the renumbered No. 4 Chevrolet.

“Welcome to, ‘Tony doesn’t remember protocol’” Stewart joked to the team’s PR manager.

Besides addressing the on-track items and his injury recovery process, Stewart was back to cracking jokes as the press conference continued. The following was his response when asked the one thing he missed at the tracks.

“The hot girls, no doubt,” he said. “When you’re laying in bed, there’s not much traffic. You know I thought that with three Cup championships, an IndyCar championship, a USAC Triple Crown, that I could surely get one hot nurse, and instead I got Eddie Jarvis to take care of me.”

There were other sidebars to the press conference – more on the fourth team, and more on sprint car safety – that Stewart addressed. We’ll hit those in separate posts.

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

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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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 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 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 car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

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. – McLaren Racing

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.”