Mazda Road to Indy 2013 Season Review

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We’ve done some fairly extensive reviews on the three major series, NASCAR, Formula One and IndyCar, we cover here on MotorSportsTalk. Over the next couple weeks we’ll hit the rest in brief fashion to put a period on 2013 and look ahead to 2014.

Here’s a brief recap of the three Mazda Road to Indy series, which make up the ladder system leading into the IndyCar Series:

FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS

An 18-year-old rookie, Sage Karam, extended Sam Schmidt’s streak of consecutive championships to four in a row after turning a last-minute signing into a title-winning season. Presumptive preseason title favorite and series sophomore Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport) won two of the first three races to open the campaign, before he and Karam both got beat at the series’ marquee event in Indianapolis. There, Peter Dempsey passed those two and Gabby Chaves in a four-wide finish that was arguably the best finish of the year in the racing world in 2013 to capture the Firestone Freedom 100.

Karam meanwhile, grabbed his first two series wins on the ovals in Milwaukee and Iowa, before Munoz returned to the top spot at Pocono. When the series returned to road and street courses, Jack Hawksworth re-asserted his authority with wins in Toronto and Baltimore, sandwiching Chaves’ first and only win at Mid-Ohio. Karam took a decisive win on an odd weekend in Houston and coupled with Munoz and Hawksworth losing points, Karam fought Chaves for the title in Fontana. Although Munoz edged Chaves there in the season finale, Karam’s tenacious start to climb from ninth to fourth in the opening laps was enough to secure the crown.

At the moment, the high school student is working to compile the budget needed to advance into IndyCar in 2014. Munoz already has a confirmed IndyCar seat with Andretti, while Hawksworth has tested twice (RLL, Coyne). Off track, the series was purchased from IndyCar by Dan Andersen of Andersen Promotions, and the organization has already announced a new chassis for 2015 and gained Cooper Tire as both a new tire partner and presenting sponsor. Despite a rough car count in 2013, things are actually looking up for Lights heading into the future.

PRO MAZDA

There were basically two classes in the Pro Mazda Championship in 2013: Matthew “Matty” Brabham, and everyone else. The 2012 USF2000 champion advanced a step on the ladder and put in an authoritative, dominant season in winning a record 13 of 16 races for Andretti Autosport – easily enough to win the title. Brabham will move up to Indy Lights in 2014 with Andretti and already has tested twice.

Series sophomore Diego Ferreira and fellow USF2000 grads Shelby Blackstock and Spencer Pigot, both rookies, grabbed the three other race wins and were more or less fighting for second on a regular basis. Few others stood out.

The Andersen group had taken over operations of Pro Mazda, renamed from Star Mazda, late in the winter with Cooper Tire replacing Goodyear as tire partner and presenting sponsor. Car counts ranged from 10-16 and rose toward the higher end of that number at year’s end, with an eye to going north of 20 in 2014.

USF2000

For another season, the USF2000 National Championship boiled down to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates. Brabham and Pigot had engaged in a fight for the 2012 crown and series sophomores Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico were the 2013 protagonists. Hargrove prevailed despite a 6-4 win deficit to Alberico; the Canadian’s luck was simply better as Alberico had several races where he didn’t survive past the first lap or two. Still, both have already been confirmed to jump to Pro Mazda in 2014 with the same team.

Danilo Estrela and Garett Grist added a win apiece, while French F4 star Alexandre Baron turned up seemingly out of nowhere the last two race weekends and winning two of the four races contested in Monterey and Houston. More than a dozen drivers scored podium finishes in the field that often topped 30 cars. Car counts should remain strong in 2014 for yet another Andersen-run series.

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.”