NHRA: Beckman blazes to second Funny Car win of season at Kansas; Crampton, Enders-Stevens also win

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Despite issues with rain all weekend, the NHRA was finally able to get in all rounds of final eliminations in Sunday’s Kansas Nationals finals at Heartland Park in Topeka, Ks.

Winners were Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Richie Crampton (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock).

Beckman (3.984 seconds at 316.45 mph) defeated 16-time Funny Car champ John Force (4.002 seconds/324.51 mph) in the final round in an event that was spectacular when it came to speed.

As the NHRA said in its post-race media release, “Just how quick were the Funny Cars at Topeka? There were 19 three-second runs in the entire 2014 season and just this weekend there were a total of 15. Beckman accounted for five of those.”

“I have all the respect in the world for John Force,” Beckman said. “It makes a difference when you race him. You’re getting a chance to play against Babe Ruth.

“It’s so unique in our sport, that a guy [who is] the best there has ever been in this sport, can still mix it up with us. I’ve said this before, I can’t wait to tell my grandkids I got to compete against John Force. This trophy will be extra special because it was John Force we beat in the final.”

It was Beckman’s second win of the season, 17th of his career and second in Topeka.

Ironically, it was Force’s former crew chief, Jimmy Prock, that led Beckman to the win over the rest of the field, including his own boss.

“We had an outstanding week of racing,” said Beckman, who set the record for the most three-second Funny Car runs by a driver in a race weekend. “That’s a function of the Jimmy Prock tune-up, (the car) is so much fun to drive.”

While Beckman moved into third place in the NHRA Funny Car standings, teammates Ron Capps and defending world champ Matt Hagan remain 1-2.

In the final round of Top Fuel, Crampton (3.738 seconds at 318.09 mph) earned his second win of the season and fourth career victory, beating Larry Dixon (3.787 seconds at 308.28 mph).

“It’s huge to get two wins so early in this sophomore season; it’s surreal,” said Crampton, who won in Las Vegas in April. “Being undefeated in finals is pretty special. It says a lot about crew chief Aaron Brooks and the team.

“I am glad this event went ahead and I am glad we were able to put our Lucas Oil dragster in the winner’s circle.”

There had been some concern that the race would not be held after the Topeka City Council rejected a bid to purchase Heartland Park two weeks ago.

But NHRA stepped in to oversee most activities and to assure a successful event would be held.

Antron Brown, who lost in the second round of eliminations to Dixon, remains atop the Top Fuel points standings with a 53-point lead over teammate and defending champ Tony Schumacher. With the win, Crampton moved into third place in the standings.

In Pro Stock, 2014 season champ Enders-Stevens (6.584 seconds at 209.33 mph) earned her third win of the season, defeating Greg Anderson (6.591 seconds at 209.14 mph).

“The last time we did this was Norwalk last year — low e.t. of every round of qualifying and eliminations,” Enders-Stevens said. “It’s definitely a feat, especially with Pro Stock being as competitive as it is.”

Enders-Stevens added a bit of good-natured talk about her rivalry with Anderson.

“I know he doesn’t like to lose to me,” she said with a smile. “He doesn’t like to lose to anybody; he has a very competitive spirit. He got us last weekend in Atlanta, so I was happy to pay him back a little bit – but all in good fun.”

With the win, Enders-Stevens takes over the top spot in the Pro Stock points standings. Former points leader Jason Line drops to second, while Anderson remains in third.

The next NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event – the ninth race on the 24-race national schedule – is in two weeks, June 4-7, with the Toyota Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Richie Crampton; 2.  Larry Dixon; 3.  Brittany Force; 4.  Doug Kalitta; 5.  Spencer Massey; 6. Tony Schumacher; 7.  J.R. Todd; 8.  Antron Brown; 9.  Steve Torrence; 10.  Shawn Langdon; 11.  Leah Pritchett; 12.  Clay Millican; 13.  Kyle Wurtzel; 14.  Kebin Kinsley; 15.  Luigi Novelli; 16.  Dave Connolly.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Jack Beckman; 2.  John Force; 3.  Matt Hagan; 4.  Del Worsham; 5.  Tim Wilkerson; 6.  Ron Capps; 7.  Chad Head; 8.  John Hale; 9.  Courtney Force; 10.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 11.  Alexis DeJoria; 12.  Tony Pedregon; 13.  Cruz Pedregon; 14.  Brian Stewart; 15.  Robert Hight; 16.  Todd Simpson.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders; 2.  Greg Anderson; 3.  Larry Morgan; 4.  Chris McGaha; 5.  Jonathan Gray; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7.  Shane Gray; 8.  V. Gaines; 9.  Drew Skillman; 10.  Rodger Brogdon; 11.  Bo Butner; 12.  Allen Johnson; 13.  Deric Kramer; 14.  Dave River; 15.  Mark Hogan; 16.  Jason Line.

FINAL RESULTS:

Top Fuel: Richie Crampton, 3.738 seconds, 318.09 mph  def. Larry Dixon, 3.787 seconds, 308.28 mph.

Funny Car: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.984, 316.45  def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.002, 324.51.

Pro Stock: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.584, 209.33  def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.591, 209.14.

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS: 

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Larry Dixon, 3.767, no speed def. Leah Pritchett, 3.787, 321.73; Spencer Massey, 3.751, 326.56 def. Clay Millican, 3.865, no speed; Brittany Force, 3.780, 325.53 def. Steve Torrence, 3.773, no speed; Tony Schumacher, 3.719, 325.45 def. Kebin Kinsley, 4.059, no speed; Antron Brown, 4.081, 232.11 def. Luigi Novelli, 4.126, no speed; Richie Crampton, 3.762, 316.52 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 3.909, no speed; J.R. Todd, 3.739, 326.24 def. Dave Connolly, 5.870, no speed; Doug Kalitta, 3.751, 28.71 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.781, 317.49;

QUARTERFINALS — Crampton, 3.710, no speed def. Massey, 3.731, 327.82; Kalitta, 3.761, no speed def. Todd, 3.764, 322.04; Force, 3.772, no speed def. Schumacher, 3.748, 325.92; Dixon, 3.771, 329.91 def. Brown, 3.795, no speed;

SEMIFINALS — Dixon, 3.736, 329.18 def. Kalitta, 5.476, 97.90; Crampton, 3.720, 327.59 def. Force, 3.806, 322.58;

FINAL — Crampton, 3.738, 318.09 def. Dixon, 3.787, 308.28.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.984, 318.24 def. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.124, no speed; Chad Head, Camry, 4.057, 313.51 def. Todd Simpson, Chevy Camaro, 12.319, no speed; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.042, 320.13 def. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 5.598, no speed; John Hale, Charger, 4.083, no speed def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.434, 198.52; John Force, Camaro, 4.034, 324.12 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.039, no speed; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.984, 321.58 def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.035, no speed; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.988, no speed def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.040, 308.35; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.027, 321.58 def. Robert Hight, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.000, no speed;

QUARTERFINALS — Worsham, 3.984, no speed def. Wilkerson, 4.005, 315.42; Hagan, 4.014, 315.93 def. Head, 4.783, no speed; Beckman, 3.972, 322.04 def. Hale, broke; J. Force, 4.023, 320.66 def. Capps, 4.340, no speed;

SEMIFINALS — J. Force, 3.997, 324.83 def. Hagan, 4.255, 310.48; Beckman, 4.169, 319.45 def. Worsham, 4.331, 216.03;

FINAL — Beckman, 3.984, 316.45 def. J. Force, 4.002, 324.51.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Jonathan Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.606, 208.71 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, foul; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.669, 207.88 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, foul; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.616, 208.75 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.651, 207.46; V. Gaines, Dart, 6.632, 206.73 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 7.334, 143.05; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.605, 208.46 def. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.673, 207.37; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.588, 209.04 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.830, 195.34; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.579, 209.10 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.855, 201.58; Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.605, 208.62 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.616, 207.75;

QUARTERFINALS — McGaha, 6.591, 208.59 def. Nobile, 6.622, 208.01; Morgan, 6.610, 208.55 def. Gaines, foul; Anderson, 6.609, 208.68 def. S. Gray, 6.642, 207.88; Enders, 6.586, 208.78 def. J. Gray, 6.607, 208.68;

SEMIFINALS — Anderson, 6.598, 209.04 def. McGaha, foul; Enders, 6.579, 208.94 def. Morgan, 6.609, 208.68;

FINAL — Enders, 6.584, 209.33 def. Anderson, 6.591, 209.14.

UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 628; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 575; 3.  Richie Crampton, 547; 4.  Spencer Massey, 530; 5.  Doug Kalitta, 502; 6.  Larry Dixon, 476; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 473; 8.  J.R. Todd, 411; 9.  Clay Millican, 395; 10.  Steve Torrence, 392.

Funny Car: 1.  Ron Capps, 580; 2.  Matt Hagan, 575; 3.  Jack Beckman, 531; 4.  Del Worsham, 507; 5.  John Force, 502; 6.  Robert Hight, 460; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 456; 8.  Tim Wilkerson, 447; 9.  (tie) Alexis DeJoria, 395; Cruz Pedregon, 395.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders, 719; 2.  Jason Line, 661; 3.  Greg Anderson, 654; 4.  Chris McGaha, 542; 5. Rodger Brogdon, 493; 6.  Larry Morgan, 452; 7.  Drew Skillman, 424; 8.  Vincent Nobile, 421; 9. Shane Gray, 401; 10.  Allen Johnson, 369.

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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.”