Jeff Gordon in midst of his own drive to end hunger for a fifth Sprint Cup championship

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With three races remaining in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, four-time champ Jeff Gordon has become a torch bearer for quite a few people:

First, with teammates Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne all eliminated from the Chase, Gordon is Hendrick Motorsports’ lone hope for a seventh Cup championship in the last nine seasons.

Second, after 13 years of chasing that elusive fifth Cup crown, Gordon is bound and determined to finally realize his “Drive For Five” effort this year, an effort that has been ongoing now for the last 13 seasons since his last title in 2001.

Third, for many of NASCAR’s long-time fans, Gordon is essentially the last link to the old-school racing of NASCAR in the early-to-mid 1990s, when he won three championships in four seasons.

Many fans who still recall Gordon’s infamous battles with the likes of the late Dale Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Terry and Bobby Labonte and others are likely pulling for Gordon to show some of today’s young whipper-snappers that old-timers can still get it done.

Perhaps more than any other driver since the late Earnhardt finished second to Bobby Labonte in 2000, Gordon knows that to many fans this season, he’s a sentimental favorite to win the championship.

“Maybe sentimental certainly to the No. 24 fans, I know we are,” Gordon said Friday at TMS. I think a lot of people would look at it as, ‘Oh, he is 43 (years old) and he hasn’t won a championship since 2001’.

“It is all about how you feel about what you are bringing to the track every weekend, and I feel really good about that. I think people have recognized how competitive our team has been this year. I think those things make us one of the favorites.”

Gordon is not only atop the Sprint Cup standings heading into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, he’ll also start the race from the front row, alongside pole-sitter Matt Kenseth.

With two races remaining in the Eliminator Round, which will set up the final four drivers to compete in the winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks, Gordon’s confidence is higher than it’s been in a long time.

“It is,” Gordon admitted. “And it’s just been this team and the cars that I’ve been driving this year that have helped build that. We’ve been really strong and we started early on in the season running well. And we’ve just been able to fine-tune on that as the year has gone on. That builds chemistry and communication.

“You back that up with good performances and wins and getting in the position that we’re in now and yeah, you’re confidence is high. And mine is. It’s awesome. It feels good to be feeling this good in this position at this stage of the season.”

But Gordon is also a realist. He knows that one false move, one significant mistake – or someone else’s mistake – could knock him off from the top of the Chase mountain Sunday or in next Sunday’s final race of the Eliminator Round in Phoenix.

That’s why Gordon, who has been a symbol of confidence and consistency this season, won’t settle for anything less than a win Sunday or next week, thus assuring he’ll be in the championship-deciding race at Homestead.

“To me, our focus is about going out there and winning the race,” Gordon said. “We’re not really thinking about anything else other than doing that.”

Gordon came close to winning last week at Martinsville, but couldn’t quite catch Hendrick Motorsports teammate and race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., leaving Gordon to settle for a runner-up finish.

“Last week was a good performance,” Gordon said. “Obviously we would be very comfortable right now if we’d gotten that win, but we didn’t.

“And so now, it’s all about coming here and executing and doing what we’ve been doing all year long which is approaching each race working on the details and trying to get the job done. Whether that’s a 5th or that’s a 1st or whatever we end up with out of here, we’ve got to come out of here with a solid finish.

“Whether we win or not, there is definitely added pressure than what we’ve seen in the past. But I think if we just execute and do our jobs the way we are capable of, then that will take a lot of the pressure off.”

In an ironic twist, Gordon, who has The Drive to End Hunger as one of his major sponsors, is hungry for his fifth championship, and the first since 2001 – 13 long seasons ago.

“I’m extremely hungry,” Gordon said. “What I’m hungry the most about is just knowing that I’ve got a great car and a great team that’s capable of winning this championship.

“And being in the position we’re in, and knowing that Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) had never a championship. He came close with Mark Martin. And how hard he works and how good this team is.

“Not winning a championship since 2001 and never under this format, all those things are just motivation. But the primary motivation is just know that we’re good enough to do it and having that confidence to go out there and execute.”

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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.”