IndyCar: Herta focused on building future with Chaves before expanding

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Each of the last three seasons, Bryan Herta has entered the year with a different driver or engine than he did at the previous season opener.

And 2015 is no different. But ideally for the single-car Bryan Herta Autosport team, it will be the beginning of a longer-term, more continuous relationship between team and driver.

Alex Tagliani drove a Lotus powerplant for BHA for the team’s first full-time season in 2012. A year later, Tagliani entered with a Honda engine. Jack Hawksworth was the surprise pick to start 2014, emerging ahead of Tagliani’s replacements JR Hildebrand and Luca Filippi.

Now this year, it’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Gabby Chaves who’s starting the year in the No. 98 Dallara-Honda, and Herta hopes this is the start of a longer period together.

“For us, it comes down to getting the best guy in our car we can get,” Herta said during Wednesday’s INDYCAR teleconference. “I’m pleased with where we ended up. I think he’s a guy we want to try to hang on to for several years to come. We want to build and grow together.”

Chaves, for his part, has been performing for the better part of three years building to this stage. The Colombian American moved back stateside after a year in GP3, and ended second in Pro Mazda in 2012 and second in Indy Lights in 2013 before emerging as champion last year.

“The relief (of signing) is only temporary,” Chaves said. “As soon as the deal is done, you have to focus on what’s next. It’s been a long journey… there has been a lot of sacrifice to get here.”

Without the $750,000 scholarship from Mazda in hand, there’s no guarantee Chaves would have been able to move up, even after two tests (second was with BHA). Chaves thanked Mazda for that, and also extolled the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, noting the number of talented drivers who are recent IndyCar graduates and on the way.

“If I’m honest, without it, it would be very hard to make a deal happen anywhere,” Chaves said. “I’m thankful that program exists. It’s not only in Indy Lights but the whole Mazda Road to Indy coming together very strong, ever since my first year in Pro Mazda in 2012. You get familiarized with tracks, the people and the whole atmosphere. It just makes my transition that much easier.

“Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz have also demonstrated the quality of drivers that we’re feeding into IndyCar is very high. There’s … Zach (Veach), and you’d like to see Sage (Karam) have a ride as well. He’s a deserving champion. We want all these guys to have a ride. They’re the eventual future stars.”

As for Herta, he’s focused on Chaves solely for 2015. The team will add a second car for Jay Howard at the Indianapolis 500 – a first for the team – but chances of a second car for further races, or an Indy Lights program, are back burner items until 2016 most likely.

“We are running a second car in the speedway, which is a first for us,” Herta said. “We want to keep the focus on Gabby and do everything we can for him. We’d like to be a two-car team sooner rather than later. Maybe we run later in the year for a full two-car program next year.

“For Lights, we’re open to coming back. We wouldn’t exist wihout it. I really think the new car is a huge plus for the series. But from our standpoint, we needed to take a step back from it so we could step forward on the IndyCar program this year. Hopefully we come back to Indy Lights at some point in the future.”

Herta also praised John Dick, who he has hired as Todd Malloy’s replacement to engineer Chaves in his rookie season.

“John was with us at the Sebring test,” Herta said. “I’ve known him for many years. But I never worked with him when I was driving.

“When we were looking for the right combination… we wanted to sign a driver first, then make sure we find the people that fit him. Gabby is good with John. Frankly we wanted a lot of experience  around Gabby. He has been with IndyCar a long time, and will help Gabby as he’s learning.”

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.”