Langdon (TF), Capps (FC), McGaha (PS) and Ray (PSM) pace first day of NHRA Four-Wide Nationals qualifying

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Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were the fastest qualifiers Friday for Sunday’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

Langdon, the defending 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel champion, drove his Al-Anabi Racing dragster to a stout best run of 3.753 seconds at 321.81 mph.

Langdon was No. 1 qualifier for this event last season and hopes to finish what he started in Sunday’s final eliminations. He has yet to reach a final round in this season’s first five races.

“I don’t know what it is, but I like it,” Langdon said of zMAX Dragway, where he won the 2012 NHRA fall event there. “I wish we could race all 24 here.

“There are some tracks that you go to that it just seems to work your way, and there are some tracks that you go to that you just can’t seem to do anything right. zMAX, fortunately, has been one of those tracks where I was able to get my first victory, and the Al-Anabi car has just run good every time we’ve come here.

“The Four-Wide last year we had a great-running car and smoked the tires in the final. We just like the track. We’re able to make good runs, and we’re able to really put the power down to the track here. It’s a great racing surface.”

J.R. Todd, who took over the Kalitta Motorsports Optima Batteries Top Fuel dragster two weeks ago at Las Vegas, was the fastest in the first qualifying session earlier in the day, but his 3.781 seconds/325.06 mph mark was good enough to keep Todd second in Friday’s qualifying.

Although he won the conventional two-lane fall 2012 race at zMAX, Capps has never won the four-wide configuration. On Friday he paced all Funny Car drivers with a 4.059 second pass at 320.58 mph.

Robert Hight was second fastest in Funny Car at 4.074 seconds at 311.99 mph.

In Pro Stock, McGaha led the field with a run of 6.523 seconds at 213.10 mph. Not only was that an outstanding achievement, it also occurred in the first time McGaha has ever raced in the Four-Wide Nationals.

“That was an experience,” McGaha said. “I guess I got fortunate as I got to go out on lanes one and four so the end lanes helped a lot. I noticed when I got up there it takes some guys longer to stage. We will see how I do when I run lanes two and three (on Saturday).”

Ray is in pursuit of his second No. 1 qualifier spot of the season, having done so last month at Gainesville, Fla. His best run Friday of 6.816 seconds at 197.02 mph topped all other Pro Stock Motorcycle riders.

“When you come out to the Four-Wide Nationals, the conditions are really different,” Ray said. “Being the first pro category, you can get a greener track than you would like.”

Matt Smith, who won the PSM season championship in 2013, set a new track record with a run of 198.32 mph in his second qualifying effort Friday.

The final two rounds of qualifying take place Saturday at 1:15 pm ET and 4:15 pm ET.

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Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the Fifth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway, fifth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Two more rounds of qualifying will be contested Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.753 seconds, 323.35 mph; 2. J.R. Todd, 3.781, 325.06; 3. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.793, 324.98; 4. Brittany Force, 3.800, 325.61; 5. Tony Schumacher, 3.815, 321.73; 6. Doug Kalitta, 3.816, 322.42; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.818, 322.81; 8. Antron Brown, 3.823, 319.45; 9. Spencer Massey, 3.827, 321.42; 10. Pat Dakin, 3.841, 313.15; 11. Leah Pritchett, 3.856, 318.77; 12. Clay Millican, 3.904, 270.54; 13. Richie Crampton, 4.941, 97.52; 14. Bob Vandergriff, 4.949, 145.08; 15. Terry McMillen, 6.484, 106.58; 16. Sidnei Frigo, 6.543, 104.17.

Funny Car — 1. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.059, 314.24; 2. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 311.99; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.079, 308.57; 4. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.080, 311.70; 5. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.084, 312.06; 6. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.086, 314.75; 7. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.088, 310.91; 8. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.097, 284.56; 9. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.113, 308.43; 10. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.119, 303.84; 11. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.145, 306.05; 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.167, 261.42; 13. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.206, 286.80; 14. Blake Alexander, Charger, 4.317, 220.80; 15. John Force, Mustang, 4.441, 204.08; 16. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.690, 195.28.

Not Qualified: 17. Chad Head, 4.968, 157.95.

Pro Stock — 1. Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.523, 213.10; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.524, 213.13; 3. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.531, 212.59; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.534, 212.79; 5. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.538, 212.69; 6. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.542, 212.73; 7. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.546, 212.49; 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.550, 212.39; 9. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.560, 212.63; 10. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.564, 211.93; 11. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.577, 211.46; 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.577, 210.80; 13. Robert Patrick, Ford Mustang, 6.616, 209.43; 14. Justin Humphreys, Pontiac GXP, 6.690, 208.36; 15. John Gaydosh Jr, GXP, 7.327, 145.45; 16. Larry Morgan, Mustang, 15.375, 66.92.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.816, 197.02; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.825, 196.24; 3. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.843, 197.91; 4. John Hall, Buell, 6.846, 196.07; 5. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.871, 198.32; 6. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.873, 195.19; 7. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.873, 193.29; 8. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.874, 195.31; 9. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.875, 194.02; 10. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.892, 195.59; 11. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.900, 194.10; 12. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.926, 192.69; 13. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.933, 197.48; 14. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.954, 193.99; 15. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.956, 194.46; 16. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.998, 191.08.

Not Qualified: 17. Freddie Camarena, 7.030, 193.88; 18. Elvira Karlsson, 7.060, 188.33; 19. Joe DeSantis, 7.164, 186.54; 20. Justin Finley, 7.273, 186.69; 21. Junior Pippin, 7.331, 164.03; 22. Katie Sullivan, 7.765, 125.29.

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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.”