New class of “NASCAR Next” talent unveiled

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12 young drivers from across the United States and Mexico were revealed as the 2014-2015 NASCAR Next class this afternoon at Richmond International Raceway.

Together, the dozen competitors have combined for 20 NASCAR-sanctioned victories. Five of the competitors were also part of last year’s NASCAR Next class, which featured current Nationwide Series phenomenon Chase Elliott.

The drivers are all between the ages of 15-25 years old and were chosen through an evaluation process that included input from industry executives and veteran racers.

All drivers must also be competing in an NASCAR touring or weekly series and have the desire and skills to one day drive in the top-tier NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“Over the last five years, our sport has undergone a tremendous shift, as we’ve seen an abundance of talented, young drivers begin to achieve their potential at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series level,” said NASCAR VP of industry services Jill Gregory in a statement.

“The NASCAR Next program is an instrumental platform to help draw attention to these young drivers – from media and fans to stakeholders and sponsors – and foster their growth within the sport.”

Your returning NASCAR Next competitors are:

• Gray Gaulding (16, Colonial Heights, Va., @graygaulding) – Youngest pole winner in both NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West. Recorded first series win at Phoenix last fall.

• Ryan Gifford (25, Winchester, Tenn., @ryangifford2) – NASCAR Drive For Diversity driver. Won last year in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Richmond. Top-10 finish in NASCAR Nationwide Series debut last August in Iowa.

• Ryan Preece (23, Berlin, Conn., @RyanPreece16) – Became youngest champion in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour history last season while running 43-race schedule in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series (finished fourth in national standings). Also made NASCAR Nationwide Series debut.

• Ben Rhodes (17, Louisville, Ky., @benrhodes) – Current points leader in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with three poles in four races, and a win at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway. Top-10 finish in NASCAR Camping World Truck series debut at Martinsville.

• Kenzie Ruston (22, El Reno, Okla., @KenzieRuston) – Finished sixth in last season’s K&N Pro Series East standings and has Top-10 finishes this season at New Smyrna and Daytona. Has the highest finish – both in a race and in the standings – for a female driver in K&N Pro Series East history.

 And here are those involved with “NASCAR Next” for the first time:

• Rubén García Jr. (18, Naucalpan, Mexico, @rubengarcia4) – 2012 NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series Rookie of the Year. Finished fourth in the standings last season. Earlier this season, he made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut.

Cole Custer (16 years old, Ladera Ranch, Calif., @colecuster00) – Two-time winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East last year. Opened K&N Pro Series West season this year with win from the pole in Phoenix.

• Austin Hill (20, Winston, Ga., @hillbroracing) – Won last year’s K&N East race at Dover. Has two Top-5 finishes in this season’s four races.

• Erik Jones (Pictured; 17, Byron, Mich., @erik_jones) –  Became youngest winner in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history last November at Phoenix.

• Jesse Little (17, Sherrills Ford, N.C., @jesselittle97) – Last season’s rookie of the year in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Made his first series start just 11 days after turning 15 in 2012.

• Dylan Lupton (20, Wilton, Calif., @LuptonDylan) – Last season’s rookie of the year in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. Picked up first series win at Evergreen Speedway in August.

• Brandon McReynolds (23, Mooresville, N.C., @Bmcreynolds28) – Currently second in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West standings. Has starts in four different NASCAR series.

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.”