MRTI: Pigot claims Pro Mazda, Latorre USF2000 titles Saturday in Sonoma

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SONOMA, Calif. – Following a frantic Friday in Sonoma that set up Saturday’s championship showdowns, the drama could not have been higher for the Mazda Road to Indy at Sonoma Raceway. And the races that followed in USF2000 and Pro Mazda, respectively, could not have lived more up to the billing. Indy Lights also set the stage for its three-way title bout on Sunday.

PRO MAZDA (Race 2 Results)

One of the most chaotic, surprise and eventful races in Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires history ended with American Spencer Pigot breaking through for his elusive first championship on the Mazda Road to Indy, driving for Juncos Racing.

Pigot and title rival, and prior points leader Scott Hargrove, started on the front row from Saturday’s final round of the season from Sonoma Raceway. Pigot was contacted by Hargrove’s Cape Motorsport with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Neil Alberico on the first lap, which was an unfortunate coming together between the two Rising Star Racing-supported drivers.

Nonetheless Pigot kept his head down, stayed focus and was able to recover from being knocked outside the top 15.

“I had a decent start, I was right with Scott going into turn two and I got hit from behind,” Pigot said. “I was sure someone was going to hit me. I’m glad the car stayed together! But you never know what’s going to happen in racing or with the car, so I knew the only thing I could do was pass everyone in front of me as fast as I could. I just put my head down and was able to pick off one or two guys each lap.”

Needing something of a miracle, Hargrove, who’d led from there, suffered a gearbox issue following a restart with four laps to go. Hargrove fell like a stone from the lead until he was just in front of Pigot.

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Photo: Pro Mazda

Exiting Turn 7, Pigot attempted to pass Hargrove at Turn 8, but the two nearly collided at that point. Pigot somehow avoided the stricken Canadian and was able to make it home a surprise P5, and with enough points to claim the championship.

“We’ve had our fair share of disappointing ends of championships, my supporters and my family, and we knew it had to change sometime,” Pigot said. “Today, we had both good and bad luck but luckily the good was at end. I’ve been second twice but I haven’t won a championship since Skip Barber so I’m glad to finally be on top.

“This is going to be my third Mazda scholarship – I definitely wouldn’t be here without the support of Mazda and the support they give to all the young drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy so I’m going to be very happy to take that money off of them and go shopping to drive one of those beautiful new Dallara IL-15s.”

As for the race? Almost overlooked was another of Pigot’s Juncos teammates, Jose Gutierrez, earning his first career win (Kyle Kaiser had done so on Friday). Nicolas Costa continued his strong second half of the season with P2, and Shelby Blackstock secured another podium in third. Gutierrez ran second to Hargrove most of the race, but took the lead once Hargrove hit trouble. Rookies Jack Aitken and Joey Bickers sandwiched Pigot in fourth and sixth, respectively.

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From L to R: Enerson, Latorre, Eidson. Photo: USF2000

USF2000 (Race 2 Results)

Florian Latorre is the 2014 Cooper Tires USF2000 champion – the Frenchman delivered the title on the strength of a determined drive in the final round of the season Saturday in Sonoma.

Latorre had the pole over title rivals RC Enerson and Jake Eidson, but Enerson moved to the lead off the start. While Enerson held the point for most of the 15-lap race, Latorre made it past on Lap 11 through and exiting Turn 7, and was able to pull away from there to confirm the victory and the championship.

“After Barber I was 32 points back I think? So I had to finish all the races, get some good points and for me the goal was to take very good points,” Latorre said.

He added, “My parents gave everything for me, for my career, and this is a way to repay them. I should take the scholarship to Pro Mazda next year.”

Enerson was second with Eidson third, so the final race of the year finished in championship order. Following Friday’s dramatic second-to-last race of the year, this was a quieter affair.

“We were off on the car setup today, not a lot of front grip in the car. We just didn’t have enough for him today,” Enerson said.

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Photo: Indy Lights

INDY LIGHTS (Race 1 Results)

Jack Harvey continued his permanent road course dominance (he swept Mid-Ohio earlier this month) with a flag-to-flag triumph in the first of two Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races. In the process, he more than halved the 23-point gap to prior leader Gabby Chaves, who finished second.

Behind the top two, Harvey’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Luiz Razia was third. Razia missed an opportunity to take more points away from Chaves.

Zach Veach, who entered only seven points behind Chaves, struggled after starting and finishing seventh.

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.”