IndyCar set to hit the big screen with Will Smith’s “Focus” (VIDEO)

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The Verizon IndyCar Series will have an on-screen, feature film presence in the upcoming Warner Bros. Pictures film, “Focus.”

Focus stars Will Smith and Margot Robbie, but it will also feature IndyCar team owner Bryan Herta and 2014 series rookie-of-the-year Carlos Munoz making their feature film debut.

Here’s more from INDYCAR on the collaboration, and a behind the scenes making of video, above.

Race fans will recognize the familiar sound of a Verizon IndyCar Series car when heading to theaters Feb. 27 to catch the opening of “Focus,” a Warner Bros. Pictures film starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie.

Scenes with Verizon IndyCar Series cars were shot at NOLA Motorsports Park, which hosts the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana on April 12, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Indianapolis 500-winning team owner and former Indy car driver Bryan Herta of Warren, Mich., and Carlos Muñoz, the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year from Colombia, made their feature film debut.

“We were approached about providing cars for the movie and two other drivers had conflicts, so I thought, ‘What the heck; I’ll drive it,'” said Herta, who resides in Valencia, Calif. “I hadn’t driven an Indy car since ’06 or the new car ever, so I thought it would be fun to get in the car and see what it feels like for first-hand knowledge.

“Obviously, movie driving is a little different than racing, but it was still good to get out there and feel the downforce, the power and all those sensations again,” he continued. “I think the contract said we couldn’t go over 100 mph. I’m not going to say we didn’t though.”

Muñoz, 23, who resides in Miami, said he’s eager to point out the racing scenes to his friends on the big screen.

“After those days, I knew for sure I wanted to be a Hollywood star,” the Andretti Autosport driver laughed. “It was my first time with such an experience and probably my first and last time in a movie. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie and how our scenes turned out. I think it’s great for INDYCAR to be featured in such a manner.”

Leading up to the movie opening, several Verizon IndyCar Series race markets will play host to private screenings organized by Warner Bros. Show cars will be present at screenings in Tampa, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Indianapolis and Detroit. Drivers Ed Carpenter and Jack Hawksworth will be on hand to introduce the movie in Detroit and Milwaukee, respectively. Bryan Herta Autosport driver Gabby Chaves and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe will attend the Indianapolis screening.

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal and his fiancée, Courtney Force of NHRA fame, will join the star-studded red carpet premiere at the famed TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Feb. 24. Rahal, son of Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, and Force, daughter of NHRA legend John Force, announced their engagement and the joining of two of racing’s most well-known families in November. The No. 15 Midas Indy car, which Rahal drove in 2013, is featured in the movie.

“Aligning the stars and cars of the Verizon IndyCar Series with the stars of a major motion picture like ‘Focus’ made a lot of sense to us,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent company of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Warner Bros. and the entire ‘Focus’ production staff have been great partners throughout this process, and we look forward to positioning our brand with more of these opportunities in the future.”

“Focus,” written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Crazy, Stupid, Love.”) centers around Nicky (Smith), a seasoned master of misdirection who becomes romantically involved with novice con artist Jess (Robbie). As he’s teaching her the tricks of the trade, she gets too close for comfort and he abruptly breaks it off. Three years later, the former flame – now an accomplished femme fatale – shows up in Buenos Aires in the middle of the high stakes race car circuit. In the midst of Nicky’s latest, very dangerous scheme, she throws his plans for a loop and the consummate con man off his game.

Denise Di Novi produced the film, with Charlie Gogolak and Stan Wlodkowski serving as executive producers. The cast also includes Rodrigo Santoro (the “300” films) and Gerald McRaney (TV’s “House of Cards”).

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, a Di Novi Pictures Production, A Zaftig Films Production, “Focus.” The film is being released in theatres and IMAX® and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment company. http://www.focusmovie.com

“Focus” has been rated R by the MPAA for language, some sexual content and brief violence.

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.”