Red Bull GRC: 2015 Midseason Review

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The Red Bull Global Rallycross season heads into the second half of the season starting with this weekend in Washington, D.C.

Just as in the first half, there will be four weekends with six races apiece – including two doubleheaders.

Here’s a quick recap of the first half:

Top driver: Ken Block, Hoonigan Racing Division

Block has come out firing in his No. 43 Monster Energy Ford Fiesta ST after coming up just shy of the 2014 title. He’s already eclipsed his final round win total, three (Ft. Lauderdale, MCAS New River, Detroit race one) to two, in just six races. And he was poised for another top-three result in Detroit race two before Block was, in his estimation, unfairly penalized by race officials after first-lap contact in a domino-effect type of wreck. Other than contact in Daytona race one, Block has been the driver to beat in a field now almost fully occupied by Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar race-winning teams.

Surprise driver: Sebastian Eriksson, Olsbergs MSE

Eriksson is delivering a season reminiscent of his teammate, Joni Wiman, last year through the opening six races. Eriksson was a late arrival to the team – named after Mitchell DeJong’s plans fell through – however he’s been entirely consistent thus far. The young Swede pushed Wiman in GRC Lites in 2013, and thus far exceeded him in the opening half of 2015 with one final round win and four podiums in six races. He also captured the Bronze medal at X Games in Austin. Eriksson, 26 points behind points leader Block, has the best chance to unseat him as the year progresses.

Mr. Consistency: Austin Dyne, Bryan Herta Rallysport

The son of series head Colin Dyne, young Austin’s made several strides in this season of Red Bull GRC, now driving with Bryan Herta Rallysport. Dyne is yet to win a final but he’s also not had a single bad final either. Results between second and seventh in each of the six starts, without missing a final and being knocked out in the LCQ, has him third in the standings, and poised to win at least once later in 2015.

Other notes

  • Tanner Foust and Scott Speed of Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross have a win apiece this year – Foust in Daytona and Speed a Gold Medal at the non-points X Games – but through various mechanical issues they’ve struggled for consistency. Speed posted back-to-back runner-up finishes in Detroit so that provides him a boost heading into the second half of the year.
  • SH Rallycross driver Nelson Piquet Jr.’s GRC season hasn’t gone as well as his FIA Formula E season, where he won the title. Two third place results are his best finish.
  • Bryan Herta Rallysport’s Patrik Sandell broke a yearlong string of bad luck in Detroit race two to get on the board. He’s been a threat all year but unable to piece it all together in most races.
  • Chip Ganassi Racing’s program has been exciting to watch for most of the year as it remains in search of its first GRC win. Steve Arpin and Jeff Ward, teammates, dueled at Daytona with Arpin scoring his first regular season podium there. Brian Deegan posted two top-fives in Detroit but is yet to podium.
  • OMSE driver Wiman, the defending champion, still ranks fourth in the points but continues to struggle for overall pace. Strangely, he’s still never won a GRC final.
  • Subaru Rally Team USA has endured a tough season to date with Sverre Isachsen and Bucky Lasek having only made five of a possible 12 final round appearances, and not having yet scored a single top-five finish.

GRC Lites

It’s been a mixed bag of winners and a tight points battle in the GRC Supercars feeder championship, GRC Lites.

In six races, only Austin Cindric has won twice, with Oliver Eriksson, Alex Keyes, Tanner Whitten and Miles Maroney having also scored a win this season. Keyes is the only one of those five who has struggled from a consistency standpoint.

So championship-wise, it’s a five-way fight heading into the second half of the season.

Cindric leads Alejandro Fernandez, who is yet to win, by four points, with Maroney, Whitten and Eriksson also within striking range.

GRC Supercars Points

43-Ken Block, 260
93-Sebastian Eriksson, 234
14-Austin Dyne, 195
31-Joni Wiman, 185
41-Scott Speed, 180
07-Nelson Piquet Jr., 178
00-Steve Arpin, 161
18-Patrik Sandell, 157
34-Tanner Foust, 139
11-Sverre Isachsen, 76

GRC Lites Points

77-Austin Cindric, 247
126-Alejandro Fernandez, 243
24-Miles Maroney, 242
15-Tanner Whitten, 231
16-Oliver Eriksson, 216
61-Alex Keyes, 131
42-Nur Ali, 121
88-Harry Cheung, 98
07-Collete Davis, 82
6-Geoff Sykes, 62

Remaining TV Schedule

  • Washington, D.C., Aug. 15, 3 p.m. ET, NBC (LIVE); GRC Lites, Aug. 19, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
  • Los Angeles I, Sept. 13, 4 p.m. ET, NBC (LIVE); GRC Lites, Sept. 16, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN
  • Los Angeles II, Sept. 13, 4 p.m. ET, NBC (LIVE); GRC Lites, Sept. 16, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN
  • Barbados I, Oct. 4, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC (LIVE); GRC Lites, Oct. 7, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN
  • Barbados II, Oct. 4, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC (LIVE); GRC Lites, Oct. 7, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN
  • Las Vegas (race Nov. 4), Nov. 8, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (TD); GRC Lites, Nov. 11, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN

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.”