IndyCar’s championship contenders ready their thoughts, minds for Sonoma finale

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SONOMA, Calif. – Selected quotes follow from the six drivers eligible for championship contention at this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Sonoma Raceway:

ON TITLE HOPES

Juan Pablo Montoya: “I’m pretty excited. I’m pretty excited. I think we got everything we need to be doing to put ourselves in this position. Sunday, whatever is going to happen is going to happen with double points.”

Graham Rahal: “Well, I think we got to win. That’s the best-case scenario. We finish third, fourth, fifth, it becomes obviously a bit more difficult. You’re banking on Juan finishing 12th or worse. I don’t think that’s likely.”

Scott Dixon: “As far as the championship goes, I wouldn’t call it exactly wide open, but we need a few things to work in our favor. It’s been a bit of an odd year. We’ve had fast cars, but probably not the results that we wanted, especially early on with the first three or four races.”

Will Power: “Yeah, it hasn’t been a very smooth year, I would say, considering we’ve been quite fast, very good in qualifying. From my perspective, really basically I have to win. I need to get the bonus points. These other guys have to have a really bad day.”

Helio Castroneves: “In the end of the day, it’s another great season. But really looking forward to have one win at least. Probably I’m the only one in this group that didn’t get a win. Really want to finish this season in a good way.”

Josef Newgarden: “Well, I said it earlier in the week. We basically have to win the race. Juan has to break first. Then if Graham would break, that would be great. Then Scott can break down, Will, Helio, then we might win. It would be the craziest story in the history of racing, but it’s possible. Like Helio said, if there’s a chance, you got to go for it.”

ON QUALIFYING WELL

Montoya: “You know, I mean, with the cautions and the way the race normally plays out, we had a penalty last year in qualifying, started 19th, and finished third, so…”

Power: “I feel this year you’d be better to qualify in the back, knock your front wing off, then you have a really good chance of winning.”

ON TIRE DEGRADATION 

Rahal: “The way tire degradation is, particularly this year, I think the new tires seem to have a lot of outright pace initially and might fall off a bunch. With that being said, I mean, it pretty much opens things up.”

Dixon: “This weekend I think degradation is going to be the biggest thing. Whether it’s going to be there or not. I think two or three, maybe four years ago, the race here, we had high degradation on the red tires. They were very fast, but they fell off a little bit, which the race actually turned out phenomenal.”

ON RETURNING TO ACTION A WEEK AFTER TRAGEDY AT POCONO

Newgarden: “It’s the tough part about the sport, it almost seems wrong, but it’s the right thing to do. You got to keep going. That’s what Justin would want. That’s how I would view it, too, if something would happen to me. I don’t want anyone to slow down. Keep doing your thing, enjoy it, love it.”

Castroneves: “People don’t realize for us, we’ve been doing this a long time. It’s our most comfortable position.”

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.”