Hinchcliffe turns 27 today, and continues to grow in IndyCar


We wish a happy 27th birthday today to IndyCar’s lone full-time confirmed Canadian for 2014, James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda for Andretti Autosport. As Hinchcliffe ticks another year off this year, we figure it would be a good time to look back and see how he’s grown in the series over the last three years.

As a rookie in 2011, Hinchcliffe entered with limited preseason testing and had to gather a budget to compete for Newman/Haas Racing. Despite missing the opening race of the season, Hinchcliffe entered into as good a situation as was possible: a team with a winning, championship pedigree for nearly 30 years, an excellent engineer in Craig Hampson and one of IndyCar’s most well-regarded drivers, who always seems to suffer the worst luck and timing with teams, in Oriol Servia as a teammate.

Hinchcliffe flourished, with the sixth-best qualifying average in the field behind only the three Team Penske and two Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers. Although he failed to secure a podium, he finished 12th in the standings, and won Rookie-of-the-Year honors in a stacked field that included JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Ana Beatriz, Sebastian Saavedra and James Jakes.

In 2012, if under less than ideal circumstances, Hinchcliffe was picked as Dan Wheldon’s replacement at Andretti Autosport. Wheldon had signed to drive the GoDaddy Chevrolet piloted by Danica Patrick before his fatal accident in the 2011 Las Vegas season finale. Still, again, Hinchcliffe improved with his first few podium finishes and ending eighth in the series standings.

This past year was a breakout year, with three wins scored either by a last stint pass (St. Petersburg), a last turn pass (Brazil) or a lasting dominant impact (crushing win in Iowa). Hinchcliffe, too, was reunited with Hampson as engineer after a year with Tino Belli in 2012. Still, as the season wore on, the Andretti advantage seemed to wear off in the second half, although Hinchcliffe’s consistency improved from a results standpoint following a roller coaster first half.

“It was a little bit of everything,” he explained in a phone interview a couple weeks ago when in Milwaukee at a David Hobbs Honda dealership event. “The second half had a couple things where sure, there was some luck involved, but the results were a moving target. Plus the three Ganassi cars got so much better so that moved them up from where they had been.”

Hinchcliffe also, for the first time, had the challenge of weighing his options as a free agent. He could either return to Andretti, but was also linked to switches to either Ganassi or KV Racing Technology.

“It was a unique position, being in that position for the first time,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to try and get done, and to be honest, the process wasn’t something I enjoyed. Rumors tend to distract you from going racing.

“But I’m glad to have made the decision I did to return. We did have other options. But it’s important to keep the group together for another year.”

It’s important to note that the contract Hinchcliffe signed for 2014 with Andretti is just for one year. If, for instance, Ganassi opts to go with a short-term solution to replace Dario Franchitti with a veteran who may or may not “move the needle” from an overarching marketing standpoint, Hinchcliffe’s name could pop up again for that seat come 2015.

But armed with another new engineer – Nathan O’Rourke, who moves over from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing – and a new engine for 2014, the goal is a sustained, season-long championship challenge. That will undoubtedly help to boost his stock even further, after three years in IndyCar and six in the open-wheel ladder system before that.

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

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.”