NHRA: Erica Enders ignores trash talk, leaves opponents in her dust

(Photo courtesy Elite Motorsports)
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In a sense, Pro Stock driver Erica Enders’ NHRA career has been similar to that of a heavyweight boxer: it’s been one battle after another, fighting and punching her way to the top for over 20 years.

Ever since she started racing in 1992 at eight years old, Enders has had to endure countless trash talk and downright insults from fellow drag racers – almost exclusively male – for just one singular thing: her gender.

Rather than respect and appreciate Enders’ determination, her natural talent and the goals she hoped to achieve one day, fellow male racers would belittle her just because she was a female.

And then there was the ultimate threat that Enders presented to her male counterparts: the potential of being beaten by “a girl.”

“It got to a point where I was so stressed out,” Enders said. “I’d put my head down on my desk and cry and wonder why I do this, why I work with people that just tear me apart and make me feel like crap.

“I have an education and could probably go get another job and make equal or better money. But that’s not what I want. I’d never be happy. I go to bed thinking of this and I wake up thinking of it. I’m living my dream.”

As her career evolved, in addition to having to put up with the trash talk, Enders oftentimes drove for teams that didn’t have the most competitive equipment, leaving her to be more of an also-ran than a championship contender.

But since joining Elite Motorsports prior to the start of the 2014 season, Enders has truly been living her dream. She went out and became the first female Pro Stock champion in NHRA history last season.

“I didn’t have a real easy road through Pro Stock, it’s been way more valleys than peaks, a lot of issues throughout the years,” she said. “I just stuck with it, had a no-quit attitude and finally got surrounded by the right people. That’s why we’re having the success we’re having.”

This season, with two races remaining in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, Enders is closing in on her second straight Pro Stock title.

And while there is still some trash talk to endure, she takes comfort in knowing that she’s the best driver in the class.

“It’s been a tough road,” she said. “It gave us the underdog status for a few years, and now that we’ve proven ourselves and were able to win the championship last year, it’s definitely different to be chased rather than to chase.”

Enders’ win this past weekend at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, was yet another affirmation of just how good of a driver she has become. It was her eighth win of the season, setting an overall NHRA record for most wins in a single season in any class by a female racer.

“We as a team try to focus on just one round, one at a time, not getting ahead of ourselves, not focusing on who’s in the other lane and what’s going on,” she said. “We just do our best and have fun. I don’t really care if they throw darts at us or wave pom-poms. We get to do what we love for a living and it’s a true blessing.”

All the past trash-talking – and even the small amount that still lingers today – has only served to inspire and motivate Enders even more.

That’s why she is bound and determined to win a second championship in 2015 to not only prove that 2014 wasn’t a fluke, but to also show she truly belongs among the best drivers in the sport, regardless of gender.

“There’s a little bit of animosity between a lot of teams out there, but that’s just natural with competition,” she said. “It’s more than winning and losing here and it’s more than just points, it’s our livelihood.

“We pour our blood, sweat and tears into this, it costs a lot of money and we’re on the road 300 days a year and we’re away from our families, so it’s all about business when it boils down to it.

“We’re just going to keep having fun and keep doing our best and let our scoreboard do the talking.”

With races remaining at Las Vegas next weekend and two weeks later in the season finale at Pomona, Calif., Enders is close to locking up her second consecutive Pro Stock championship.

She leads her closest challenger, former champ Greg Anderson, by 154 points – which is the equivalent of more than the most points a driver can earn in any single race (150 points).

“It’d be a huge bonus to go back-to-back (championships),” she said. “I’d by lying if I told you I didn’t want to do that. I want to do that more than anything in the world.

“I think that solidifies the fact that our hard work has paid off and we belong here. It hasn’t always been fun and easy, but we’re here together now and we have the right people and I believe with all my heart that we can go back-to-back.”

But she’s not taking anything for granted, either. The lean and hungry years she experienced earlier in her career taught her that lesson very well.

“By no means is it over yet,” Enders said. “I know there’s only eight rounds of racing left, but there are a lot of bonus qualifying points to be gotten. We still have to go out there and do our job.

“We’re not going to change the way we race because of our point lead. We’re just going to stay focused and we want to win the final two – and the championship – and that’s what we’re going to set our goals at.”

And as for the trash talking that still exists, she’ll continue to turn a deaf ear to it.

“It’s really not worth talking about,” Enders said. “It’s like high school with money, it’s crazy. I don’t have time for it and my guys don’t have time for it. (Opponents) can talk all that they want, we’ll just continue to work hard. When they’re talking about us, we’ll be working and we’ll just leave it at that and just keep plowing away.”

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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.”