Hendrick Motorsports endures rough opening to Contender Round

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Any momentum that Hendrick Motorsports had following Jeff Gordon’s win last weekend at Dover was thoroughly erased in today’s Contender Round opener at Kansas Speedway.

Gordon’s 14th-place showing wound up being the best from the HMS camp, as he and all of his teammates – defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (pictured), and Kasey Kahne – all suffered through a tough Sunday.

Following an early race run-in with Jamie McMurray, Gordon lost gobs of track position and was unable to completely recover in the end.

“We were having a pretty solid day…until the 1 car got loose and into our left rear,” Gordon told ESPN. “He was just way over his head. I know he had a good car, he’s been running good, but he just got loose and got into me and got me in the wall.

“We had a little damage but we lost all that track position. It’s so hard to get it back at this place. We somewhat got it back on that last restart. I was just real loose. I’ve been a little loose, but not that loose and we fell back. We just kind of struggled and hung on there.

“A lot of people had trouble today, so today was a real survival day. We did that. I just feel like we could’ve finished a lot better than that.”

As for Kahne, he finished 22nd after running in the Top 5 with 40 laps to go. He made his final stop at Lap 228 of 267 only to have the caution come out a few laps later for Greg Biffle’s run-in with the wall.

Down one lap, Kahne took the wave around to get back with the leaders for the restart with 33 laps to go. But one lap later, Kahne got loose in Turn 1 and was unable to save his No. 5 Chevy from tagging the wall.

“I was catching the leaders again – the last half of a run, I was usually catching the leaders – and I was slowly reeling them in,” Kahne said about his late-race turn of fortune. “But something was happening with my tire. I was just ready to crash and just made it to pit road before it blew. And then we got behind.

“I tried to come from 19th and on the outside, I passed like five or six cars and was feeling good. Then I lost the back and hit the wall. My day was over at that point.”

As for Earnhardt and Johnson, they each were impacted by severe wrecks this afternoon. Earnhardt’s tire failure and crash before the halfway point ultimately relegated him to 39th, while Johnson’s crash at Lap 84 kicked him to a 40th-place finish – his worst run in the Chase since Homestead 2005.

Put it all together and all four Hendrick pilots are now on the advance bubble heading to the middle race of the Contender Round next weekend at Charlotte.

Gordon occupies the eighth and final Chase Grid position that will go to the Eliminator Round. He has an eight-point gap over teammate Kahne in ninth, while Earnhardt fell to 11th at 25 points behind Gordon and Johnson dropped to 12th (last among the remaining Chasers) at 27 points back.

And with the chaotic Talladega Superspeedway on the horizon for the next elimination race, Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 in Charlotte may now be HMS’ most important race of the season.

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.”