Scott Dixon, Justin Wilson talk safety after incidents in Indy 500 practice

0 Comments

FORT WORTH – Justin Wilson sat on the pit road at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when a flash on a video board caught his eye.

Wilson looked up to see the image of James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Honda barreling into the outside wall in Turn 3 at around 125 G’s. Fire erupted from the right side of the car upon impact and as it slid away from the wall, the car flipped over without going airborne before coming to a stop.

“That was a big one,” Wilson thought to himself.

It was also the fourth crash in four days during Indianapolis 500 practice that saw a car hit the wall and become airborne or flip over, all under different circumstances.

“You knew it was a big impact because, usually things break at the highest load and in this case, it was right in the middle of Turn 3,” Wilson said during a media event at Texas Motor Speedway.

“The car straightened out and we knew it was a bad angle and a big impact. You’re waiting for him to get out and he doesn’t. That’s when you realize….we take the safety a little bit for granted these days, but that’s when you realize, ‘this could be bad.'”

The Monday morning incident sent a piece of the right-front suspension through Hinchcliffe’s upper-right thigh and put the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver in the hospital. Hinchcliffe is in stable condition, but will miss the Indianapolis 500 and is out indefinitely.

Unlike those involving Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter, Hinchcliffe was the only injured driver.

“It’s the unfortunate part of our sport,” said Scott Dixon, the polesitter for Sunday’s ‘500. “We’ve seen accidents similar to what we’ve seen in the past. There’s nothing really new there, obviously each accident is different in its own right and how it occurs and what’s caused them.”

Wilson, who is racing for Andretti Autosport in the month of May, didn’t sense any change in the atmosphere of the IMS paddock over the course of the four days.

“Helio’s crash got our attention, but that sort of thing’s happened in racing for years,” Wilson said. “Whether it’s sports cars at Le Mans or open-wheel cars on an oval track. Sometimes, you get at a certain angle and what holds you down going forwards is now lifting you up going backward. It’s just physics, unfortunately.”

Carpenter’s wreck on the morning of pole qualifying led to IndyCar mandating that all teams, whether powered by Honda or Chevrolet, would qualify in race trim.

“The attitude was pretty good,” Wilson said. “Hopefully, the changes we made right before qualifying was going to help that, but when when James’ crash happened, that was was when people realized, ‘we could get hurt doing this.'”

An IndyCar driver hasn’t been killed on the 2.5-mile track since Tony Renna in a tire test with Chip Ganassi Racing in October 2003. The last driver killed during the month of May was Scott Brayton in 1996 a week after earning the pole for the ‘500.

“Crashing at Indianapolis is not a new thing. Regarding safety, you kind of take it for granted,” said Dixon, who has been with Chip Ganassi since 2002.

“You do realize it’s part of the sport and the last thing you want to see is what happened to James. You can’t do anything when the car fails and you’ve got no chance to rectify it.”

Both drivers share the belief that a driver’s mindset – no matter what happens the previous week – changes after they enter the cockpit.

“Once you put that helmet on and put the visor down and start the engine, you don’t think about anything other than winning,” Wilson said. “It’s tough right now, but we know that IndyCar is about as safe as any motorsport in the world and we have a fantastic safety team … You never like to think the worst. We appreciate that it can happen. It’s racing, anything can happen.”

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.”