NHRA Funny Car driver Ron Capps seeks win, new record this weekend at Englishtown

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For the last few races, the buildup to one of the more significant milestones in NHRA history has been who would win the 100th national event by a female driver?

Now that Funny Car driver Courtney Force earned that distinction this past Sunday at Topeka, Kansas, another milestone could be on tap in this weekend’s 45th annual Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.

You might say Funny Car driver Ron Capps is on a mission at the fabled Englishtown track. It was there two years ago that Capps recorded the fastest elapsed time in a Funny Car in NHRA history: 3.964 seconds.

But if Capps – a previous Funny Car winner at Englishtown in 2006 – has his way, he’s going to lay down an even quicker time than that this weekend.

And this time, he wants it to become the NHRA elapsed time record (his 2012 mark, while it remains the quickest in the sport’s annals, was not “backed up” in succeeding runs that weekend, thus denying Capps of the national record.

“It was fitting that it happened at such a historic racetrack, and I’ve got a lot of other great memories there,” Capps said in an NHRA media release. “To win there, you have to have a great crew chief and a great team.

“Obviously, the driver has to be on his game to leave on time and keep the car in the middle of the track. That place can go from the most extreme record-setting conditions, like we saw on that 3.96, to hot and humid and tricky.”

In a way, Capps has some unfinished business to take care of this weekend.

“That 3.96 is going to get broken this year, and it could be us on Friday night if the conditions are right and we’re at the back of the pack on the second qualifying session,” Capps said. “(But Englishtown is) a track that’s very, very unforgiving for a crew chief that doesn’t have his act together.”

Capps doesn’t have to worry about that. Rahn Tobler was his crew chief in 2012 and remains in that same position today. If anyone can send Capps down the 1,000-foot dragstrip and break that elapsed time mark, it’s Tobler.

Although he hasn’t won a race yet in 2014, Capps has unquestionably been knocking on the door, having reached the semifinals in five of the last six races, including last weekend at Topeka.

“It’s funny because even before our string of semifinal finishes, Rahn Tobler had been playing around a little with the tune-up,” Capps said. “A great part of having him as our crew chief and our crew being together for several years is that we don’t veer too far away from having a really good car.

“We can try to be the best in qualifying, but we usually have a good car for Sunday when he can make great decisions.”

This weekend’s event brings to an end a run of three consecutive weekends of racing for the NHRA pros. But after next weekend off, they’ll have four straight races to contend with.

That’s why Capps wants to go into the upcoming off-weekend with momentum from a win and a potential record.

“I love it because it’s a chance for a team like mine to make a run in the points,” Capps said. “I don’t think many teams can keep their heads above water like ours can.

“It’s our time to keep our noses down and make a move in the standings. We have a week off after Englishtown, and then it’s four in a row, and we can move up to second or third. It can be a great time for our team.”

Qualifying begins Friday with sessions at 4 and 6:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions are Saturday at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m.

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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.”