A chaotic and crazy pair of Verizon IndyCar Series races in Toronto – both on Sunday – makes for interesting analysis as always from our NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, who offers the latest edition of “Ten with Townsend” on MotorSportsTalk (archive).
Since Toronto, Bell raced in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (finished fourth in his GT Daytona class AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) and called the Red Bull Global Rallycross event at Charlotte. As always, we thank him for his time and insights:
-First of all, how challenging is it to fill air time during a rain delay when you don’t know how long it will be and whether or not the race will get going?
It gets a little tough when we head down the road of discussing the caloric value of beer!
-How bad do you think the conditions were Saturday?
It’s easy for all of us armchair quarterbacks to say, but I would have liked to see them attempt.
-Was it kind of a case of damned if they did, damned if they didn’t for racing then?
Possibly. Outside of that, I think a little civil engineering on Shoreline should be a priority before next year. Some minimum circuit standards should be a requirement at every venue we visit. That should start months before the event. Don’t get me started on catch fencing.
He got there on strategy but when the green dropped he showed why ECR hired him. He flat drove away from the field. If they can sort out their qualifying issues, then there’s no reason why we can’t see more of that at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma.
-Are you liking what you saw out of Tony Kanaan this weekend given he hasn’t had such a good weekend on street courses in a long time?
He seems very strong, and the more I wonder what Dario Franchitti does on a race weekend, the more I realize how valuable he is as a coach to TK. I’m sure (Scott) Dixon is peering over their shoulders regularly now.
No, clearly anything can happen like we saw at Toronto. I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store for us at Mid-Ohio.
-How do you think Helio and Will will hold up mentally? They’ve both been in this situation before of being in title contention late, but unable to close it out.
I think they’re both strong now. They’re battle tested in previous seasons and focused on learning from so many lessons. Nobody has more experience now battling down the stretch than those two. But cracks have been known to form… could this be the year where all goes right down the stretch for Penske? It has that feeling….
-Who really needs to prove themselves in these final four races as we head towards the end of the season?
Right now Sato, Rahal, Briscoe, Andretti, all seem to come to mind.
-More fun – riding shotgun with PT on the streets of Toronto? Or watching Toronto Mayor Rob Ford ride shotgun with PT?
I think we should have had PT room with Mayor Ford for the weekend. They seemed like fast friends and I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall with the rest of the viewers. Who knows what could’ve happened.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”