Here’s several Sunday morning news and notes from the Circuit of the Americas leading up to today’s United States Grand Prix (LIVE on NBC at 1 p.m. ET, also on NBC Sports Live Extra).
GATE OPENING DELAYED A HALF HOUR
The opening of the gates was delayed slightly due to what track officials deemed a “suspicious incident.” But after a check, it was alleviated and the gates opened a half hour after the intended 7:30 a.m. opening, with fans already filing in in droves.
Here is the official release text from the track:
Circuit of The Americas™ in conjunction with local law enforcement officials today investigated a suspicious incident in the Turn 1 area of the racetrack. During routine security checks prior to the venue’s opening, public safety officials, including representatives of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), responded to the incident and found nothing wrong.
As a precaution, Circuit of The Americas delayed opening the entire facility to patrons until 8 a.m. CT while follow-up security checks were completed. Patrons are now entering the facility and operations are proceeding as normal.
So that marked the “official interruption” of the morning. But there was an unofficial interruption, as well.
The Westboro Baptist Church, who picket against what they consider any “homosexual activity,” are doing likewise here to Formula One in Austin.
On my ride in to the track via shuttle, a fellow media member noticed them on the side of the road with signs that read “Formula 1” and a word very similar to flags. It won’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.
BUT A BIG CROWD EXPECTED NONETHELESS…
Track officials announced 78,886 fans on Saturday after 58,276 on Friday, thus providing a two-day total thus far of 137,162. A number anywhere in the 110,000 to 120,000 range today – and it will be possible with one-day ticket sales available, unlike in 2012 – will give track officials the 250,000-plus weekend total they are anticipated. There’s already a huge crowd on the hillside in Turn 1.
OBLIGATORY GRID GIRL MENTION
Austin-based Rae Cosmetics, with CEO and founder Rochelle Rae, was announced as Official Cosmetic Partner for F1 and the circuit earlier this year. They are playing a major role with the Grid Girls for this weekend’s race.
“We were reflecting on last year’s Grand Prix and realized the culture of the Grid Girl globally was something that we were working toward, but hadn’t reached,” Rae said. “It’s surreal to be a part of a team that is shaping a tradition and concept that represents the United States and Texas to the rest of the world.”
More information is available at VeritasAustin.com. In the meantime, the lead photo to this notebook piece should suffice…
HAT TIP TO KATHY MALECK
A hat tip for one of the stars of the event behind the scenes, race F&C (Flagging & Communication) Chief Kathy Maleck. Her contributions were recognized by the FIA and Charlie Whiting in a surprise ceremony in race control, Saturday morning.
This weekend marks her 80th grand prix weekend, most for anyone from the U.S. in the role. She has also worked U.S. races at Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and Phoenix – just not Watkins Glen.
Her CV includes working F1 races in 12 countries on four continents, with the topper a 1985 ‘World Tour’ to Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, US, Canada, Australia and The Netherlands. Aside of F1, among her roles is Operations Coordinator for the Pirelli World Challenge Championship and Field Staff Manager for SCCA Pro Racing.
It’s an unpaid position and a volunteer assignment, but one where Maleck has earned much respect from her peers. To that, we say thanks.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”