Ten with Townsend: Milwaukee and Iowa debrief


Following an intense double dip of short oval races in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, including the thrilling Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway, we check in with our NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for the latest in the MotorSportsTalk original series “Ten with Townsend.”

As written all year on MST it’s been another busy year for Townsend between commentating and sports car racing duties; he’s banked a class podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on debut as well. A series archive is linked here and as always, we thank him for his time and insights:

-What did you think of Sage Karam’s driving at Iowa? Where was your take on the Sage vs. Ed post-race debrief? Do you think Sage was in the right or wrong with his driving?

Sage was wild and careless. Unfortunately there will come a time when it bites him, or someone else…hard. BUT until then we will all want to watch him, because his current style is fearless and unrelenting. Reminds me so much of Tomas Scheckter in his early years.

I think Ed ran down there fired up but took one look at the build on the young warrior and settled for a little jaw jacking…can’t argue with his logic.

-When you’re going through a tough season, as Ryan Hunter-Reay is, what does a win do for both his and the team’s confidence?

I think it’s just huge relief. Impressive that they just kept their heads down through the tough times and stayed focus on getting things right.

-How impressed have you been with Josef Newgarden this year? Is the time right for him to jump to a bigger team, in your estimation?

I’ve known he was capable of these results from his rookie season. I’m happy he’s seeing the results now because he probably deserved a couple last year. I’m not sure CFH qualifies as a little team anymore. From what I can see, they have everything a driver could ever want to go win races. Good people, equipment, preparation, testing, etc.. I’m guessing that a big fat paycheck is the only difference at this point…

-Were you surprised Graham Rahal was able to come back twice on Iowa? You’ve been in a single-car team situation before, so how incredible is it what they’ve done this year?

Graham has been the big story all year for his fantastic race craft in all conditions.. A strong team with strong resources but one car is tough from a data collection and optimization standpoint. But at some level you have to look back on Graham’s multi-car team seasons and say “If it ain’t broke…”

-How lucky is Juan Pablo Montoya to have only lost 12 points after his first lap crash? How does he bounce back from this and not let it snowball the final three races?

He’ll be fine.. He knows it was random bad luck.. He’s probably much more concerned with maintaining thrust on one his RC jets right now.. He just flat out knows how to race….in his sleep.

-Three races to go: is it still Montoya’s title to lose or do Rahal, Dixon, Castroneves and even Power have realistic shots?

I predict Dixon and Montoya down to the last lap.. Iceman cometh…as always…

-Milwaukee and Iowa – what has been your biggest surprise?

I was surprised there weren’t more wrecks at Iowa… They were leaning on each other pretty hard at the end..Kind of like the last 20 laps at Indy.

-Who needs to put up a big performance in the last three races heading into silly season and the offseason?

Sato, Hawksworth, Pagenaud, Marco, TK, Justin Wilson, just a few that come to mind…it’s probably easier to guess who doesn’t.

-When you’re calling a race on a short oval like Milwaukee and Iowa, how do you balance covering what you need to cover when there is so much going on you can’t possibly hit all of it?

Nobody better at telling the story than Mr Diffey…I just try and keep an eye out for the detail and the developing situations…but it is busy!

-Lastly, following the PT and Seabass feature in the pre-race show, was that some good-natured ribbing you wanted to give PT in the booth afterwards? What was your take on the piece?

I was sad to see my bad-ass idol go Oprah on me. As soon as we got off air he turned to me and said “you better shut the &^%^ up or else I’m going to punch you in the face!” That’s when I knew he was the same PT everyone loves.

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

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.”