IndyCar: Who moves next in the 2015 driver market?


With the recent announcements of Simon Pagenaud to Team Penske and James Hinchcliffe to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the dominos have finally started to fall in looking ahead to the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series grid.

There’s three or four potential drivers that could be next in line to announce their plans over the next several weeks, but they’re not slam dunks quite like those two were once word started to leak that those were the directions they were going.

A quick run through the points standings reveals that the top 10 drivers from 2014, are locked and loaded for 2015.

So in 11th place, Ryan Briscoe would seem to be next of the drivers who doesn’t have his or her plans settled yet next year.

The Australian returned to IndyCar full-time this year and was expecting a multiyear game plan with Chip Ganassi Racing. While CGR is planning to maintain its four-car lineup for 2015, team managing director Mike Hull told MotorSportsTalk this past weekend that the budget for the fourth car is the holdup at the moment.

Briscoe could well be replaced by rookie Sage Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights champion who showed both aggression and excitement in limited 2014 opportunities in IndyCar and sports cars. Unfortunately the way the situation has evolved, it seems one of the two drivers will come up on the short end of the stick.

If CGR makes a switch, and Briscoe becomes a free agent, the next most attractive seat remaining is the fourth at Andretti Autosport, Hinchcliffe’s 2014 seat.

The plan is to “rebuild” the seat from a commercial standpoint, per a high ranking Andretti official to MotorSportsTalk this week.

However, Hinchcliffe’s 2014 sponsor, United Fiber & Data, has said publicly it will stay with Andretti Autosport going forward.

If bringing budget is no worry, the fourth seat at Andretti is a landing spot for a veteran, and Briscoe or Justin Wilson would make the most sense in that slot.

Wilson, notably, just followed the Andretti Twitter account earlier this week. It may lead to nothing or it could be a sign of things to come.

Alas, for Wilson, who’s been stuck finishing 15th in the points in both 2012 and 2014 with Dale Coyne Racing, his opportunity at one of IndyCar’s best teams is long overdue.

Next up would be 2014 rookies Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawksworth, who would both seem likely to return to IndyCar for 2015. Hawksworth told me at Circuit of the Americas during the TUDOR Championship weekend he was optimistic of having a deal done within two to three weeks, so he could be the next domino to fall.

Takuma Sato and his management group are also working towards a return with A.J. Foyt Enterprises. Sato was unlucky more often than not throughout 2014 and his races were better than his final standing of 18th (behind Aleshin and Hawksworth) would indicate.

From there things get murkier as drivers with some level of IndyCar experience or potential rookies begin to fight things out for the remaining seats at play. It would be a surprise if a rookie is named to a seat before any of the 2014 drivers get their 2015 plans sorted.

It’s likely at least two to three more signings will be announced by the end of the month, at which point the driver grid will come clearer into focus.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing

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.”