NHRA: All you need to know about the 61st U.S. Nationals

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Here’s all the information you need to know about this weekend’s 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis:

MORE: NHRA: Year’s biggest race, the U.S. Nationals, ready to roll

WHAT: 18th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the last race in the NHRA Mello Yello Series regular season. At the conclusion of this event, the top 10 drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – will be locked in to begin the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, leading to 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.

WHERE: Lucas Oil Raceway, Brownsburg, Ind. From I-465, exit Crawfordsville Road (Hwy. 136). Head west for four miles past downtown Clermont. The facility’s main entrance is on the left, one-half mile past Raceway Road. From I-74 go south on Ronald Reagan Parkway, exit 68 and turn south. Turn east on U.S. 136 and entrance on the track will be on the right.

POINTS:  A special world championship points system is in effect at this event, where drivers in the Mello Yello Series categories will earn points based on a point-and-a-half system (150 points to win). A single racer in each category can earn a maximum of 208 points at this event. Teams also will get 15 points instead of 10 for making a qualifying attempt. Qualifying bonus points will remain at 3-2-1 for the five qualifying sessions and the standard 1-8 points will be given for qualifying positions. Drivers who set a national E.T. record will earn 20 points.

WHEN: Wednesday, Sept. 2 through Monday, Sept. 7.

SCHEDULE (All times Eastern):

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 2: Lucas Oil Series qualifying

THURSDAY, Sept. 3 – Lucas Oil Series qualifying and eliminations

FRIDAY, Sept. 4 – Lucas Oil Series (featuring Mopar HEMI Challenge): J&A Service Pro Mod Series qualifying at 6 pm, Mello Yello Series qualifying at 6:30 pm

SATURDAY, Sept. 5 – Lucas Oil Series qualifying and eliminations: Pro Mod Series qualifying at 2 and 5:30 pm; Traxxas Nitro Shootout Top Fuel rounds at 4, 5:25 and 7:45 pm; Mello Yello Series qualifying at 2:45 pm and 6:15 pm

SUNDAY, Sept. 6 – Lucas Oil Series qualifying and eliminations: J&A Service Pro Mod Series qualifying at 10:30 am, first round of eliminations at 2 pm; Traxxas Nitro Shootout (Funny Car) rounds at 12:30, 1:55 and 4:15 pm; Mello Yello Series qualifying at 11 am and 2:30 pm

MONDAY, Sept. 7 – Pre-race ceremonies, 9:45 am; Mello Yello Series eliminations begin at 11 am.

TELEVISION:

—Sunday, ESPN, qualifying coverage, 11 am to 1:30 pm ET.
—Sunday, ESPN2, qualifying coverage, 11 pm to 1:30 am ET.
—Monday, ESPN, final eliminations, 4 to 7 pm ET.

2014 U.S. NATIONALS WINNERS: Richie Crampton, Top Fuel; Alexis DeJoria, Funny Car; Shane Gray, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST CAREER U.S. NATIONALS VICTORIES: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel, 9; Bob Glidden, Pro Stock, 9; Don Garlits, Top Fuel, 8; Don Prudhomme, Top Fuel and Funny Car, 7; Warren Johnson, Pro Stock, 6; Dave Schultz, Pro Stock Motorcycle, 6; Ed McCulloch, Funny Car and Top Fuel, 6; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock, 6; John Force, Funny Car, 4; Larry Dixon, Top Fuel, 4.

EVENT HISTORY: The NHRA’s most historic and prestigious event has been contested annually since 1955. Originally known as “The Nationals” and often called the “Big Go” by drag racing historians and fans, the event was first held at an airstrip in Great Bend, Kan., the event made stops at Kansas City, Mo., Oklahoma City and Detroit before eventually moving to Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Raceway in 1961.

FAST FACTS: The Traxxas Nitro Shootout will offer $100,000 to the winners in special bonus events for qualified Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers. … Tony Schumacher is an 11-time U.S. Nationals finalist in Top Fuel (winning nine). Schumacher’s first career NHRA start came at the U.S. Nationals in 1996 and the then rookie posted a runner-up finish to Cory McClenathan. … John Force, 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Series world champion and winner of a record 143 events, has won the U.S. Nationals four times, his last coming in 2002. …  Four women have earned Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victories, including Shirley Muldowney once in Top Fuel, Ashley Force Hood twice in Funny Car, Alexis DeJoria once in Funny Car and Angelle Sampey twice in Pro Stock Motorcycle. … Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Jim Head and Ed McCulloch have won the U.S. Nationals in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, while Antron Brown has also won the race in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle. … Eight female drivers representing all four Mello Yello Series categories are expected to compete in the U.S. Nationals. … Several high-profile drivers are looking for their first victory in the world’s most prestigious drag race, including two-time Indy runner-up Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel, defending world champ Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman and Tony Pedregon in Funny Car and defending world champ Allen Johnson in Pro Stock.

TRACK HISTORY: In 1958, Tom Binford, Frank Dickie, Rodger Ward, Howard Fieber and 15 Indianapolis-area businessmen and racing professionals invested $5,000 each to fund the development of what would become Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The group purchased a 267-acre farm about seven miles from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and developed a multipurpose auto racing facility. The original intention was to design a 15-turn, 2.5-mile road course. Nearly as an afterthought, and as an insurance measure against economic problems, the investment group decided to incorporate a quarter-mile drag strip into the long straightaway of the 2.5-mile road course design. Constructed with assistance from the NHRA, the drag strip was the first of the three courses to be completed, with the facility’s first event held on the strip in the fall of 1960. During the 1960 U.S. Nationals in Detroit, a handshake agreement between Binford and NHRA founder Wally Parks promised that the event would move to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 1961. The NHRA purchased the entire facility in 1979. The first major improvement came in 1983 with the construction and dedication of Parks Tower, the four-story drag strip tower. In 1998, new grandstands, suites and a tower complex on the front straightaway were completed at the oval track at a cost of nearly $2.5 million, which included the repaving of the entire oval surface as part of a three-phase facility improvement project. In 2001, NHRA and Lucas Oil Raceway constructed a new drag strip racing surface, replacing the strip with a 660-foot concrete pad and laying new asphalt on the remainder of the track and shutdown area. In 2006, new soft barrier walls were added to the oval. In 2007, the track announced its first track entitlement with O’Reilly Auto Parts. In 2011, the track announced a new track entitlement with Lucas Oil Products. The track – formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park – is now known as Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. During the winter of 2008, a new main track office building was constructed near the track entrance.

NHRA TRACK RECORDS:

–Top Fuel – 3.740 sec. by Shawn Langdon, Sept. ’13; 328.54 mph by Tony Schumacher, Sept. ’14.

–Funny Car – 3.998 sec. by Matt Hagan, Sept. ’14; 322.73 mph by Courtney Force, Sept. ’14.

–Pro Stock – 6.538 sec. by Jason Line, Sept. ’11; 211.13 mph by Mike Edwards, Sept. ’12.

–Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.815 sec. by Andrew Hines, Sept. ’10; 196.76 mph by Hines, Sept. ’10.

EXISTING NHRA NATIONAL RECORDS:

–Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ‘15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

–Funny Car – 3.901 sec. by Jack Beckman, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.; 329.58 mph by Matt Hagan, Aug. ‘15, Brainerd, Minn.

–Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders-Stevens, May ‘14, Englishtown, N.J.

–Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., April ’15, Charlotte, N.C.

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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.”