Preview: Showcase weekend ahead for Indy Lights, TUDOR and PWC at Long Beach

0 Comments

Beyond the headlining Verizon IndyCar Series’ Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Long Beach also hosts several other major race events.

While the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, drifting competition and Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks are also on the docket, we’ll provide quick previews of the other three championships we primarily cover on MotorSportsTalk, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge, racing at Long Beach this weekend:

source:
Photo: Carlin

INDY LIGHTS (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, SDD)

A 12-car field isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered for Indy Lights’ second marquee event of the year, beyond the Freedom 100, but there’s still one key storyline heading into Long Beach: Carlin vs. the world.

Trevor Carlin’s squad left no doubt of its ability after a dominant double win on American debut in St. Petersburg, with Ed Jones winning both races flag-to-flag from pole. At St. Petersburg, they were welcomed with open arms. However, the rest of the field will be shooting for both Jones and Max Chilton, who have a clear target on their back this weekend.

This is a big weekend for American rookie Spencer Pigot, a Mazda Road to Indy veteran who will finally have the chance to make his Long Beach track debut with Juncos Racing. Pigot spent four years combined in USF2000 and Pro Mazda, but neither championship saw the Team USA Scholarship winner compete at what is essentially the MRTI home track – Mazda headquarters are based in nearby Irvine, and Team USA Scholarship founder Jeremy Shaw is a longtime California resident. Pigot’s a Floridian but no doubt appreciates the magnitude of Long Beach, and either he or teammate Kyle Kaiser would be keen to win this weekend.

Jack Harvey will lead the Schmidt Peterson quartet, with the likable Englishman looking to improve upon his pair of runner-up finishes in St. Petersburg. Teammates RC Enerson, Ethan Ringel and Scott Anderson will look to improve upon midlevel weekends in St. Petersburg.

The final four in the field – Andretti Autosport’s Matthew Brabham and Shelby Blackstock, and Belardi Auto Racing’s Felix Serralles and Juan Piedrahita – enter as relative underdogs, although Brabham will no doubt be keen to improve upon a tough St. Pete weekend in another one-off appearance.

source:
Photo: IMSA

TUDOR CHAMPIONSHIP (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, IMSA.com)

The TUDOR Championship heads to the streets of Long Beach for the second time, but the 10th time overall based on predecessor history. GRAND-AM ran for one year in 2006 before the first ALMS race occurred there in 2007, and ran until 2013.

Noteworthy here is the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing entry going for its third consecutive win at Long Beach, albeit spread over that 10-year period. Scott Pruett won with Luis Diaz in 2006, and with Memo Rojas last year; he’ll have a chance to make it a three-peat with fellow Californian Joey Hand in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford on Saturday.

Elsewhere Action Express Racing has finished every lap thus far in TUDOR Championship competition since the series’ inception at the 2014 Rolex 24; that’s now north of 10,000 miles in an impressive achievement. Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa always pack a punch in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP.

The Taylor brothers will also be ones to watch, while both the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda and DeltaWing will make their track debuts. The latter car has Rojas and Katherine Legge on board; Legge won her first U.S. race in 2005 at Long Beach in Formula Atlantic.

Besides the nine Prototypes, eight GT Le Mans cars make up the balance of the field. A pre-race BoP change may negate Corvette Racing’s fuel strategy advantage achieved at Sebring; nonetheless, Corvette always finds a way to persevere. Meanwhile Porsche, Ferrari and BMW look to break up the reign of dominance from Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, who have won the opening two races in their No. 3 Corvette C7.R.

source:  PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, world-challengetv.com)

With no less than 40 cars expected, Pirelli World Challenge packs a veritable smorgasbord of FIA GT3-spec car awesomeness in Sunday afternoon’s “Roar by the Shore” presented by Replay xd.

Thus far Olivier Beretta (R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) has won twice, with Kevin Estre (K-PAX Racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports McLaren 650S GT3) and Ryan Eversley (RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT) securing the other two wins. Johnny O’Connell enters this race as defending race winner and will look to repeat in the team’s new Cadillac ATS-V.R. Ryan Dalziel is also a strong win contender in his EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R. Beyond those five there’s still other win contenders.

The GTA subcategory has seen Dalziel’s teammate Michael Lewis dominate thus far with three wins from four starts, although DragonSpeed’s trio of Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3s are also threatening. Christina Nielsen (TRG-AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3), Bryan Heitkotter (AE Nissan GT Academy Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3) and Henrique Cisneros (MOMO NGT Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) are three others to watch in GTA.

GT Cup presented by MOMO thus far has also seen one driver win three races, in the form of Colin Thompson. Sloan Urry and Lorenzo Trefethen have also been close to winning, with Phil Fogg Jr. adding the other win this year.

More important for PWC even more than showcasing its diversity of machinery is keeping their single race clean. Cautions dominated the afternoon both Saturday and Sunday in St. Petersburg, with more than half of the 100 minutes of racing under yellow flag conditions there due to accidents. If even 40 of 50 minutes are green at Long Beach, that will be deemed a success.

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
0 Comments

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.”