2015 Rolex 24 Preview: GTLM class

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We continue our look at the field for the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona, and now shift to the GT categories. The GT Le Mans class is wide open with 10 cars entered, even despite the loss of the two factory Vipers.

2014 RECAP

WINNERS: No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR, Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, Richard Lietz

PODIUM: No. 55 BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE, Bill Auberlen, Andy Priaulx, Joey Hand, Maxime Martin, No. 91 SRT Motorsports SRT Viper GTS-R, Dominik Farnbacher, Marc Goossens, Ryan Hunter-Reay

POLE: No. 91 SRT Motorsports SRT Viper GTS-R, Marc Goossens

2015 FORECAST

ROAR RECAP: Aston Martin and Porsche traded places at the top of the Roar, with the Aston now with a more favorable performance outlook after shedding its high-downforce package which it was saddled with a year ago. BMW, Corvette and Ferrari were never session leaders, but were close enough to the pace to where they aren’t out of it.

RACE OUTLOOK: More attrition than normal struck the GTLM class a year ago, and so the leading Porsche was rarely hassled en route to the win in its North American debut with the new 991-spec 911 RSR. They won’t have it easy this time around. Corvette has a year’s worth of development on the C7.R, the Aston Martin is on par, there’s two race-winning capable Ferraris and even BMW – notoriously bad in terms of straight-line speed – could be reliable and consistent enough in the hands of its two cars to pose a threat. If P will go to a DP and PC almost certainly to CORE, GTLM is a far more wide-open category.

WIN CONTENDERS: Ever so slightly, Porsche’s defending champion lineup of Tandy, Pilet and now LMP1 factory ace Marc Lieb could be in good shape to defend. Corvette, undoubtedly, will figure into the equation with either of its two cars, and as mentioned above either BMW could factor into win contention on consistency and reliability more than outright pace. You could strongly suggest at least six, if not eight of the 10 GTLM runners have a realistic shot at winning.

PODIUM SPOILERS: The second Porsche features Earl Bamber and Fred Makowiecki in their Daytona GTLM debuts, and both should star in their first outings in the pre-eminent GT class. Risi is poised to bounce back after its disastrous 2014 race; Aston Martin can actually challenge and AF Corse has a lineup that should contend most of the race. Team Falken Tire is the wild card, the team in its Rolex 24 debut even though most of the players have achieved success in this race elsewhere on the grid. Getting their tires in the right temperature range will be key; seems hard to believe, but this will be Falken’s first 24-hour race with this particular program since entering the American Le Mans Series in 2009.

CLASS ENTRY LIST (10 cars)

  • 3 Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Ryan Briscoe, Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R
  • 4 Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Simon Pagenaud, Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R
  • 17 Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers, Patrick Long, Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR
  • 24 John Edwards, Lucas Luhr, Jens Klingmann, Graham Rahal, BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE
  • 25 Bill Auberlen, Dirk Werner, Augusto Farfus, Bruno Spengler, BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE
  • 51 Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo, Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander, AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia
  • 62 Giancarlo Fisichella, Pierre Kaffer, Davide Rigon, Olivier Beretta, Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia
  • 98 Darren Turner, Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Stefan Mucke, Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE
  • 911 Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, Marc Lieb, Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR
  • 912 Jorg Bergmeister, Earl Bamber, Fred Makowiecki, Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR

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.”