4 drivers, 1 champion: Red Bull GRC title to be settled Wednesday in Vegas

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In a town that has seen plenty of high-stakes poker games over the years, the 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross championship has come down to its own version of the final table.

Points leader Joni Wiman, Ken Block, Nelson Piquet Jr., and Scott Speed are entering this week’s season finale at Las Vegas with a chance to win the series title.

Wiman, the Finnish rookie, has not yet won this season but has used the strength of three consecutive podium finishes to seize the top spot in the standings by 12 points over Block. Former NASCAR and Formula One combatants Piquet and Speed are not too far behind, with Piquet down 28 points and Speed down 29.

Out of those four, however, only Wiman controls his destiny: A second-place finish and the title is his.

“A win is not a must,” Wiman said recently. “It’s a bonus, but we are racing for a championship and not for winning one race. Of course I want to win the race, but it’s more important to bring home the championship now.

“Of course, I will pass if I have a good chance. But I just need to avoid the risks and not break the car. That’s what we’ve tried to do all season. That seems to work.”

Meanwhile, Block has to put a tough Round 9 at Seattle behind him. The king of the Hoonigans was the points leader at the time and made it to the final. But at the start, he tagged the wall going into the joker and then made contact with Tanner Foust.

Unable to recover, Block finished ninth that day and fell out of the points lead, while Wiman assumed it with a runner-up finish behind race winner Sverre Isachsen.

“Unfortunately with what happened in Seattle, it took the sort of destiny out of my own hands and put it just to fate,” Block said. “It is what it is. I’m just gonna go out there and the team and I will do the best effort that we always do.

“We’ll try to win the event and whatever happens with Joni happens. Hopefully, we can be in a good position and the cards will fall where they may.”

As for Piquet, he’s seeking his first championship in any form of racing since 2004, when he captured the British Formula 3 title. Piquet lost the points lead himself during the doubleheader weekend in Los Angeles, but feels like he may be in a more advantageous spot than Wiman going into the finale.

“In a certain way, I’m in a better position because I can take more risks,” he said. “I think Joni’s in the position I was a few weeks ago. He needs to be careful but he needs to be fast at the same time. And I’m over here, and now I’m the one taking risks – everything or nothing.”

Then there’s Speed, who will finally get to drive the new VW Beetle in Vegas (Foust, his Andretti Autosport teammate, debuted the car himself in Los Angeles). For Speed, the championship isn’t so much a concern as is being able to work on developing the Beetle, which he described as the team’s future.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to go out and hopefully win another race, call it four races won, and whoever wins the championship – well, we’ve done our job as a team,” said Speed, who’s won three times in 2014 – most among the remaining title contenders.

“We can’t help the unfortunate things that have happened [to us] this year. We’re going to do our job this weekend, hopefully come across with another race win, and move on.”

But while he says he’s not thinking about the title, you better believe that if Wiman, Block and Piquet falter, he will push his new Beetle for all its worth.

LAS VEGAS ENTRY LIST – SUPERCARS
00-Steve Arpin (Fort Frances, Ontario), Royal Purple Racing/OMSE2 Ford
07-Nelson Piquet Jr. (Brasilia, Brazil), SH Racing Rallycross Ford
11-Sverre Isachsen (Hokksund, Norway), Subaru Rally Team USA
14-Austin Dyne (Los Angeles), Barracuda Racing Ford
18-Patrik Sandell (Ostersund, Sweden), Olsbergs MSE Ford
27-Emma Gilmour (Dunedin, New Zealand), Hyundai/Rhys Millen Racing
31-Joni Wiman (Pohja, Finland), Olsbergs MSE Ford
34-Tanner Foust (Dana Point, Calif.), Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross
38-Brian Deegan (Omaha, Neb.), Rockstar Energy Drink Ford
43-Ken Block (Park City, Utah), Hoonigan Racing Division Ford
59-Pat Moro (Dublin, Oh.), Chevrolet Sonic Racing/PMR Motorsports
67-Rhys Millen (Huntington Beach, Calif.), Hyundai/Rhys Millen Racing
77-Scott Speed (Mount Holly, N.C.), Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross
81-Bucky Lasek (Dundalk, Md.), Subaru Rally Team USA

CLICK HERE for a full spotter’s guide.

LAS VEGAS TRACK SCHEDULE – ALL TIMES EASTERN

Tuesday, November 4 (TODAY)

  • 1:15 p.m. ET: Supercar Practice
  • 2:25 p.m. ET: Lites Practice
  • 3:20 p.m. ET: Supercar Practice
  • 4:30 p.m. ET: Lites Practice
  • 5:30 p.m ET: Supercar Qualifying
  • 6:20 p.m. ET: Lites Qualifying
  • 6:50 p.m. ET: Supercar Heats (Round 1)
  • 7:30 p.m. ET: Lites Heats (Round 1)

Wednesday, November 5 (TOMORROW)

  • 5 p.m. ET: Lites Warmup
  • 5:30 p.m. ET: Supercar Warmup
  • 6:10 p.m. ET: Supercar Heats (Round 2)
  • 6:55 p.m. ET: Lites Heats (Round 2)
  • 7:30 p.m. ET: Driver Introductions
  • 8:10 p.m. ET: Supercar Semifinals
  • 8:50 p.m. ET: Lites LCQ
  • 9:20 p.m. ET: Supercar LCQ
  • 9:50 p.m. ET: Lites Final
  • 10:35 p.m. ET: Supercar Final

TV/ONLINE INFORMATION

Wednesday night’s finale will be live-streamed on RedBull.tv and RedBullGlobalRallycross.com starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. The entire broadcast will then be archived and made available for on-demand viewing at RedBull.tv.

Additionally, NBC-TV and NBC Sports Live Extra will broadcast the finale on Sunday, Nov. 16 at 1:30 p.m. ET.

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.”