Bourdais dominant, yet reflective in authoritative second win at Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE – Sebastien Bourdais summed up the challenge of the Milwaukee Mile immediately after his qualifying run earlier Sunday afternoon.

“It doesn’t take a lot to take a little bit out and have the car turn into a piece of evil crap,” Bourdais told MotorSportsTalk, oh so bluntly and oh so candidly.

“But I think we have a really good race car. We’ll see what happens because it was definitely not the qualifying run we were hoping for.”

Boy, were those words prescient.

Bourdais rather quietly climbed from 11th on the grid up to sixth by Lap 18 in Sunday’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers, driving the No. 11 Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet.

So he was starting to factor into the race, but hadn’t fully materialized among the leaders until Lap 81, when he was up to third place.

A gamble on pit strategy vaulted Bourdais into the lead almost by accident, as he missed pit in. But it put him P1 and into clean air by Lap 117.

And that’s when the can of “Seabass Whoop-ass” was unleashed on the field.

Bourdais launched into a virtuoso master class from there, as he led 117 of the final 134 laps en route to a dominant victory reminiscent of the old days in Champ Car.

The thing was, he didn’t just lead, but he was running at a clip faster than seemed humanly possible over the second half of the race.

Over the course of a stint, Bourdais would run anywhere from four to even eight to 10 mph per lap faster than the rest of the field.

A restart occurred on Lap 141 following the second caution flag of the race. By Lap 148, Bourdais’ gap to second was 6.9228 seconds; three laps later it was 10.3369.

It grew and grew from there to north of 20 seconds, and then a full lap, on the field.

A late caution nearly sabotaged Bourdais’ race, but even on older tires and still with the clean air, he held on for the final 18 green flag laps. Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal got into podium positions, but no closer to Bourdais.

All the while, Bourdais knew he had a dominant car, and was thankful to the team to be able to exploit it on the day.

“It’s one of those days where just everything works out,” he said post-race. “We knew we had a really good car this morning. In traffic we felt strong. We could run the bottom, move forward. They were bubbling up on the outside. I thought maybe we could do something today.

“In the meantime, I was like, ‘Boy, only did 10 laps, running in clean air, we’re going to be able to go quick.’ I was thinking, ‘Not so bad.’ Sure enough, another yellow came out. I’m thinking, ‘Boy, that’s not looking very good.’

“At that point I just said, ‘All right, I’m going to have fun in the car, enjoy the clean air, run quick, and we’ll see what happens.’ And that worked out pretty good.”

Bourdais chronicled the stint where he knew he had to push like hell, and essentially go into full rabbit mode, to ensure he banked enough of a gap to pit and not lose his track position.

“The next sequence was the crucial one. When I came out of the pits, boiling, on a mission. They all had to save fuel. They had significantly older tires than me. They didn’t have the pace at that time because they had to drive a pace to save fuel and make it. There was no more yellow to make their life any easier. At that point they were trapped in their own strategy.

“So I just run like hell and start passing one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Here we go, leading the race again. I was like, ‘Man, that’s just awesome.’

“Yeah, after that never looked back, I was pretty much in control from there. Not making mistakes. We didn’t have time to make an adjustment for the last stop, we were really free at the end. At that point I was running in front of the pack and I really didn’t need to do anything crazy to make anything happen.”

The win was Bourdais’ second of the season, second at Milwaukee (2006) and 34th of his North American open-wheel career, which tied Al Unser Jr. for seventh on the all-time list.

Reflecting back on it, Bourdais acknowledged how much tougher the competition is, and how much more on form he is now in his third full season back (fifth since 2011, and 10th overall) in the championship.

“I respect the stats because you put yourself on a very special list with very respected and great drivers,” he said. “But I don’t live for stats. I don’t look and contemplate myself. It’s not me.

“It’s a very competitive field. When you look who can win every weekend, it’s actually not so easy.

“Certainly I’ve dominated series and seasons when there were five, six cars that could really give me a run for my money.

“Now it’s like 15 cars can win every race. So you really got to step up your game. It’s a heck of a lot harder to win races, especially when you’re not in the big buck team anymore.”

Still, Bourdais has been on form this year and showcased the glory days once more on Sunday at a track where history is the word most commonly used to describe the place.

It’s another note Bourdais reflected on post-race, the fact his win came at the venerable Mile, his first oval win since that race nine years ago.

“It’s the roots of IndyCar,” he said. “It’s that special oval that nobody likes in the racing business except IndyCar because it fits our racing style. It’s something different.”

Bourdais dominating on an oval is also something different, but was something to behold on Sunday.

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.”