UPDATED: Robby Gordon 2nd after Stage 1; defending champ Roma meets disaster (VIDEO)

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With two weeks of hard terrain ahead, the competitors of the 2015 Dakar Rally didn’t push too hard in Sunday’s opening stage from Buenos Aires to Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina.

But a good start is a good start, and America’s Robby Gordon had himself one. The former NASCAR and IndyCar standout, along with co-driver Johnny Campbell, took the No. 308 HST Gordini to an apparent third-place finish in Stage 1 behind Mini pilots Nasser Al-Attiyah and local hero Orlando Terranova.

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But later on Sunday, race officials hit Al-Attiyah with a two-minute time penalty that relegated him to seventh. According to AFP, he was penalized for traveling at 68 km/h in a portion of the stage that had a limit of 50 km/h.

As a result, Terranova has been elevated to the top of the standings by 42 seconds over new second-place man Gordon.

“It’s exactly where we wanted to be,” said Gordon, who according to his team lost a minute on course because of him and Campbell having to secure a loose door on the Gordini.

“For us, the first stage was good, very conservative. We easily had a minute in our hands there but just didn’t push it. I think we’re going to be good.

“Johnny did a great job and we didn’t push anything. I feel good about where we’re at and where we’re headed and it’s going to be a good rally this year.

“We’ve worked very hard over the last year. Last year was an embarrassment and this year, we’re going to be on it from Day 1.”

Following Terranova and Gordon in the Top 5 are Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers in third (+ :50), Mini’s Krzysztof Holowczyc in fourth (+ :54), and Renault’s Emiliano Spataro (+ :56) in fifth.

Al-Attiyah, as a result of the penalty, is now down 1 minute, 38 seconds overall. This adds to a tough day for the Mini camp, which saw its reigning champion, Nani Roma, come to a stop early in the stage with a breakdown. Terranova himself said he saw Roma’s stricken Mini at the sixth kilometer.

Roma wound up losing more than six hours on course, and his hopes of a successful title defense already appear to have been obliterated.

Before he was penalized, Al-Attiyah called Roma’s drama “a big surprise.”

“We saw Nani stopped on the side of the road, but they [Roma and co-driver Michel Perin] were still inside their car,” the quick Qatari said. “It might have been an electric problem. A stroke of bad luck, that’s the way it is…It’s a big surprise, but it can happen.”

Peugeot’s triple threat of Carlos Sainz, Stephane Peterhansel, and Cyril Despres had a quiet opening to this year’s event. Sainz leads the Lions in eighth place (+1:44), while Peterhansel runs 10th (+2:13). Despres, a multi-time Dakar cycle champion that’s making his four-wheel debut, has dropped more than 10 minutes to the leader and runs 33rd.

“It was a bit stressful to tackle the first special when you don’t know how strong you are,” Peterhansel said. “You have to [avoid] early mistakes on fast courses that require good braking timing. We eased into the race without taking too many risks, gently, keeping a watchful eye on all the dials…

“We’re trying to learn about the car. We had no clue how far we could go. I wasn’t really at ease when taking risks and driving, I can still do better. I didn’t really go on the attack. We didn’t drive as much as we would’ve liked, let alone on courses as fast as this one.”

Coverage of the 2015 Dakar Rally starts Monday afternoon on NBCSN. Get your full Dakar TV schedule here.

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.”