Karam’s Mid-Ohio spin triggers frustration, skepticism from IndyCar paddock

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – For the second straight race, Sage Karam was one of the biggest stories in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

And for the second straight race, something Karam did on track undoubtedly created talking points.

On Lap 66, Karam spun from the right-handed Turn 4 up the hill into the left-handed, banked Turn 5, in a lazy spin that brought out the third and most crucial full-course caution of the race.

A handful of cars, including race winner Graham Rahal, pitted just before the yellow came out.

Karam’s spin is subject to a post-race review from INDYCAR.

Karam explained his view of the spin, because it seemed somewhat controversial at the time after Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan pitted on Laps 63 and 64, respectively.

“It was just a very sketchy corner, you’re carrying a lot of speed in there,” Karam told MotorSportsTalk in a post-race interview.

“I was on my in lap actually. I was gonna pit that lap. I guess my brakes were getting a bit hot, the team said. They wanted me to go to the front on the brake bias. I was looking down and I was turning the front brake bias about two clicks.

“I just lost track of the apex, I didn’t lose track of the apex, I just lost track of my speed going to the apex. Bounced off the curb, going too fast, dropped a wheel on the exit and looped it. I almost did the same thing yesterday.

“Just unfortunate because the car was really really fast. If a different yellow fell our way, not necessarily my own yellow, I think we could have had a good race.”

INDYCAR’s outgoing president of competition and operations, Derrick Walker, told Trackside Online’s Steve Wittich that there will be a thorough investigation into the spin.

“Sage ran off the track, and it’s something we always look for, is whether there is any team tactics involved,” Walker told TSO. “When full course yellows changes the strategy a little bit for people.

“So, as a standard procedure we look at these all the time, and now our new procedure is if we’re looking at it and it could potentially result in a penalty, and I’m not saying the one could, we always want to announce it so nobody is surprised if it comes up later on.

“I don’t think it’s there, but what we do is we take all the video, and all the car data, and radio communication and we try to piece it all together just to make sure. No accusation that he did, but standard procedure for us actually.”

The spin and subsequent yellow wound up benefiting Rahal, but hurting a number of others, including but not limited to points leader Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden.

Rahal was pleased, rather humorously, considering not even 24 hours earlier he was irate at Karam for alleged blocking during qualifying.

“My buddy!” Rahal joked in the post-race press conference.

“I had no clue who it was, or where it was. I was being held up by Montoya and Newgarden. The guys told me Wilson came in. We can’t lose to Wilson. We have to cover.

“So I was expecting them to peel in the pits with me. Two lapped cars held us up. Don’t know why, but they didn’t.”

Montoya was understandably miffed.

“When everyone else pitted they had to save fuel from that point. It was hard for them to make it without a caution,” Montoya told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis post-race.

“And you know, it’s kind of weird that all the Ganassi cars pitted and Sage spins. So it is what it is. I don’t know if it was on purpose or not, but I hear the spin was really dodgy.”

Montoya’s answer to the question on whether there was foul play was: “Karma is a bitch, so we’ll see.”

Further frustration occurred from Bourdais, who was caught out by another yellow, when the second yellow for debris on Lap 21 flew.

“When the debris came out and the yellow closed the pits, it was game over,” the KVSH Racing driver told MotorSportsTalk.

“For me, I keep on suggesting to IndyCar, give us a chance to pit. It only seems fair,” Bourdais said.

“Yellow for debris, it’s hard to juggle around. Make it to pits you don’t. Then you go full course cautions and deal with things.

“Closing the pits like that cycles guys to the front and kills the frontrunners time and time again.

“It is what it is. It’s nothing to bitch at. It’s just frustrating when you’re at the front and get hosed.”

Bourdais’ team co-owner, Jimmy Vasser, also expressed some thoughts – particularly about Karam.

“It was a very strange spin, and it was very convenient timing right after Dixon and Kanaan pitted,” Vasser told MotorSportsTalk.

“We got hosed twice. The first one with the debris, I don’t know why they waited to go yellow.

“Then this one, when that happens, it’s a chance for manipulation.”

“But, hey, everything is awesome.”

If you’ve read Marshall Pruett’s post-Rule 9.3.8 satirical opinion piece on RACER.com, you’ll really appreciate that last line.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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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 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 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 car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

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. – McLaren Racing

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.”