NHRA surprise: Enders switches to Dodge; Jeg Coughlin Jr. new teammate

(Images courtesy Geiger Media Global)
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In a surprise move, Elite Motorsports and two-time defending Pro Stock championship driver Erica Enders will compete with Mopar muscle under the hood next season.

In addition, after appearing in only a handful of races in 2015, five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. has joined Enders as a teammate with Elite Motorsports and will return to full-time status in 2016 and will also be powered by Mopar.

Enders and Coughlin will both run Hemi-powered Dodge Darts in competition.

“The Mopar brand is excited to announce that two proven champions, Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr., will fly the Mopar colors in the NHRA Pro Stock class next season,” Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar), FCA – Global, said in a media release. “We couldn’t ask for greater competitors or brand ambassadors to represent us at the drag strip.”

Not only is the power under the hood a change for Enders and Coughlin, the entire Pro Stock class will undergo a number of significant changes.

Two of the most notable changes are the switch from carburetors to Electronic Fuel Injection, as well as the elimination of Pro Stock’s well-known hood scoops.

After becoming the first woman in Pro Stock history to earn a championship in 2014, Enders doubled-down in an even more dominant fashion in 2015.

Earning six wins in 2014, Enders then set a new record for female drivers for wins in 2015 with a series-high nine en route to her second consecutive Pro Stock crown.

Enders now has 21 career Pro Stock wins, second-most by a female driver in NHRA annals. Only Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Angelle Sampey has more career wins (41).

In a sense, it will be somewhat of a homecoming for Enders, who earlier in her career (2006-07) raced under the Mopar banner with Dodge power.

“We’re entering a new era of Pro Stock and it’s going to be awesome to take a new Mopar-powered Dodge Dart into 2016 and beyond,” Enders said in a release. “We won the last two championships with carburetors and now the goal is to win the first one with fuel injection.

“The Dart Pro Stock cars look awesome and I’m already very familiar with Mopar because I’ve driven for them in the past. It’s an honor and a privilege to represent them moving forward, along with my teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr.”

Coughlin earned his fifth and most recent Pro Stock championship in 2013, driving a Mopar-powered Dodge Dart. He will join Enders as a teammate with Elite Motorsports, driving the Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar Dodge Dart.

Coughlin has 76 wins in his NHRA career, including 58 in Pro Stock. He’s also the only driver in NHRA history to win in seven different classes: Pro Stock, Comp, Top Dragster, Super Gas, Super Stock, Stock and Super Comp.

He’s also the only driver in NHRA history to win in four different classes in the same season (1997: Pro Stock, Super Stock, Super Gas, and Comp) and the only driver in the pro ranks to win from every qualifying position, No. 1 to No. 16.

“The 2016 season is a turning point for the NHRA and the Pro Stock class,” Coughlin said in a media release. “We’re really looking forward to the upcoming challenges. … It will be a great next chapter in our careers.

“Also, I am looking forward to working beside one of the greatest drivers in the NHRA, Erica Enders, and the greatest crew, including Rick and Rickie Jones, Mark Ingersoll and Brian ‘Lump’ Self, all talented and championship-proven crew chiefs. It will be a great year for the entire Elite Motorsports team.”

Elite Motorsports will still have some connection with Chevrolet, as two other cars — those of Vincent Nobile and Drew Skillman — will continue to be powered by Chevy, according to a team source.

In other news, Mopar also announced that it has extended a long partnership with former two-time champion Matt Hagan and Don Schumacher Racing in the NHRA Funny Car class.

“We’re also very proud to once again partner with Don Schumacher Racing and work together to bring home a fourth NHRA Funny Car crown in six years,” Gorlier said.

Schumacher first raced a Mopar-powered Funny Car more than 40 years ago, and since becoming a team owner has fielded Mopar cars from 2003 to the present.

“We had our most successful season competing in Funny Cars in 2015, and much of the credit goes to Mopar and all of its engineers and technicians who developed the new 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car body that we used,” Schumacher said in a release.

DSR Funny Car drivers Hagan, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr., combined to place a Mopar car in 23 final rounds on the 24-race 2015 NHRA schedule. All four drivers not only combined for 15 wins, all four placed in the final top-five season standings, as well.

Hagan also set the quickest run in NHRA Funny Car history back in August at Brainerd, Minn.

The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season opens Feb. 11-14 at the NHRA Winternationals, at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

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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.”