James Hinchcliffe describes how inspired he was by Justin Wilson

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It’s the night of the lone Texas Motor Speedway same night doubleheader race in the 2011 IndyCar season.

The battle was for 18th or 19th place. Maybe 21st.

James Hinchcliffe doesn’t remember which spot it was.

But that night saw the “Mayor of Hinchtown” race Justin Wilson cleanly and fairly in what was one of the Canadian’s favorite racing moments of his career.

It didn’t matter the position, but the level of respect Wilson showed the rookie on track even as both drivers were fighting ill-handling race cars stuck out to him.

“He and I were both struggling so bad,” Hinchcliffe told MotorSportsTalk at Sonoma this weekend. “I don’t even remember the number were racing for.

“It was my first mile-and-a-half race. He sees my struggling with my car, I see him struggling with his. But we had this great race.

“Afterwards we had a great laugh about how hard we were driving for 18th, 19th, whatever it was. He was such an awesome guy to be around.”

Unlike some of Wilson’s longtime on-track competitors – Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia and Will Power come to mind – Hinchcliffe and Wilson only had three full-time seasons together on-track from 2011 to 2015.

Wilson missed the second half of 2011 with a back injury and also most of 2015 due his part-time status.

Hinchcliffe and Wilson only shared the track once in 2015 – the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis – the race before Hinchcliffe’s accident in practice for the Indianapolis 500 sidelined him for the rest of this season.

Coincidentally, Wilson wound up as Hinchcliffe’s replacement in Andretti Autosport’s fourth car this season, albeit in the car that only ran part-time.

Still, Hinchcliffe’s memories of Wilson date back even further than their racing days together.

They go back to when the then-teenager, then-Atlantic driver announced Champ Car World Series races in 2006 and 2007, as color commentator alongside sage North American open-wheel talent scout Jeremy Shaw, for Champ Car’s international feed.

Wilson was on the verge of an emotional – if draining – second straight Mexico City win to close out the 2006 season. With only one good hand, he led and strategically defended against Bourdais all race.

On the final lap though, Bourdais channeled his inner Paul Tracy and “chrome horned” Wilson out of the way at the top of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course en route to his seventh win in 14 races of his third straight title year. Wilson was left with a solitary win at Edmonton.

And yet the guy pissed off about the bump-and-run, externally anyway, wasn’t Wilson. It was Hinchcliffe up in the booth.

“There’s a lot of memories, but the one that always stood out to me was Mexico City in ’06 with Bourdais,” Hinchcliffe explained. “Justin hadn’t won a ton of races at that point, and Bourdais had already been a champion a couple times over.

“Justin leads the whole race and the last lap Bourdais just chucks it down there at the hairpin, bounces over a curb, punts him out of the way. Basically, he did what Regan Smith did to (Alex) Tagliani at Mid-Ohio. It was a very NASCAR-esque move.

“At that point, I didn’t even know Justin that well. But I was so mad for him! I’m thinking, ‘This move is a joke… how is Race Control not doing anything for him?’

“He gets out of the car and gives one of the most impressive interviews I’ve ever seen. It was super calm. He was totally accepting of the situation. He wasn’t angry at Seb, he wasn’t angry at Race Control… he was just there in the moment. It was the ultimate gentleman reply to what had happened.

“I remember right then and there thinking, I hope one day I can respond like that in a similar situation, with that kind of poise and professionalism. It really was inspiring to a young driver.”

Hinchcliffe also made a particularly valid point about how important it was for the IndyCar community to gather so soon after Pocono this past weekend at Sonoma.

“We were talking about this this morning,” Hinchcliffe explained. “It’s the polar opposite to Dan (Wheldon), where we had the entire offseason to grieve about it, think about it, and dwell on it. And now, we’re five days later forced to get right back to work.

“On one hand you feel almost guilty for being here and doing it, but on the other… and I know this sounds cliché… but ask any driver that has the ability to tell you, if that was you, would you want to be racing this weekend and the answer would be yes 100 percent of the time.”

Soon enough, Hinchcliffe will get his chance to do so, as he finishes his own recovery process before the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

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.”