Team Penske trio has mixed fortunes in Brickyard 400

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After Brickyard 400 qualifying on Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski referred to a NASCAR win at Indy as “the last thing left on the Penske bucket list.”

But team owner Roger Penske – whose teams have won 15 Indy 500s and, thanks to Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup title – will have to keep waiting for a Brickyard trophy.

It was a mixed bag for the Captain’s men in yesterday’s main event. Joey Logano finished fifth behind winner Jeff Gordon and the Joe Gibbs Racing trio, but Keselowski (12th) and IndyCar pilot Juan Pablo Montoya (23rd) faltered after starting toward the front end of the grid.

Logano and his team stayed out under the first, competition caution of the day at Lap 20 to take the lead. He eventually pitted from second place under green on Lap 33, revealing the strategy of pitting earlier than his fellow leaders in order to gain track position as the pit cycles played out.

“We didn’t have anything compared to the 24 car [Gordon], so our strategy was to stay out there and just cycle forward every time you can,” Logano said. “The 15 [Clint Bowyer] timed it out perfect. He got a caution [Lap 97] while he was on pit road. We stayed out one time and led a bunch of laps and got some track position that way.

“That was a good call, but unfortunately we weren’t able to hang on to where we were, and from there, it was just trying to keep your track position. If you ever lose it or if you ever make one mistake in this race your day is over.”

As for Keselowski, he ran in the Top 5 early on but dropped back to ninth when he got checked up behind Gordon on a restart at Lap 26.

Eight laps later, he went off-strategy by going in for service, but made contact with Kyle Busch on pit road. Keselowski then fell a lap down, and while he eventually went back on the lead lap via the lucky dog, he didn’t have enough time to fully recover.

“With 60 laps left, we went from 30th to 15th in probably 40 of those,” said Keselowski. “We got up to 12th there at the end and that was just as far as we could get. I was faster than some of the guys in front of me, but we needed more laps.”

Montoya’s day went south quickly as he fell into the lower reaches of the Top 20 on his first stint. Then, on Lap 32, he made contact with Paul Menard that sent Menard into the wall.

It didn’t get much better for the former Indy 500 champion, who finished 23rd.

The run-in with Montoya cost Menard two laps for repairs and relegated him to a 34th-place finish. Even more importantly, the poor result knocked the winless Menard out of the Chase Grid. He’s now eight points behind the 16th-place cutoff held by Austin Dillon.

“We’re running for a spot in the Chase, and some part-time racer left-rears us and puts us in the fence,” Menard’s crew chief Slugger Labbe said to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Then you’re done.”

“…It probably knocked us out of the Chase (for the Sprint Cup), but…We’ve just got to fight back in six more races.”

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.”