What to Watch For: IndyCar at Long Beach (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

Photo: IndyCar
0 Comments

LONG BEACH, Calif. – One of IndyCar’s most legendary races is about to go live, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

PREVIEW
QUALIFYING REPORT

Here’s what to watch for from the third round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season:

REDS VS. BLACKS 

Consensus is that Firestone’s red alternate tires are the better bet here at Long Beach for a likely two-stop race, although some teams and drivers may try to pit early for a three-stopper to go off sequence and leapfrog the race.

The top eight drivers are starting on the reds with Ryan Hunter-Reay in 11th, Graham Rahal in 17th and Marco Andretti in 21st and last all starting on reds. The other drivers that are starting on the primary blacks may opt to pit early to get off the blacks and onto the reds.

I’m not a strategist, but I think this is likely going to tell the tale. Firestone has a live tire tracker during the race that is pretty solid and I’d recommend using – check the @FirestoneRacing Twitter first.

ABOUT THAT STRATEGY, THOUGH

Two-time Long Beach winner Will Power (2008 and 2012) laments the fact that with the pits closing on yellows and with the race a more likely two-stopper that you occasionally get hosed for being “too good.”

“Well, actually, I think it’d be nice to have 3 stops. If you have a problem you can come back. Leading, 2 stops, it’s simple,” Power told NBC Sports on Friday.

“Of course last year was straightforward and I wasn’t in it. Same with St. Pete. Those are the ones I like a lot.

“The problem is the pits are closed. I think it’s such a travesty. It’s not sport. It’s about luck. I couldn’t imagine how many more I’d won if the pits were left open. It’s something I believe they need to fix. Find a way to leave the pits open… you go to the back if you do a good job.

“It’s confusing for fans. Mid Ohio, the whole field inverted. They flipped around. It’s something they need to look at.”

Things ain’t changing this race, but do watch if Power proves a soothsayer if a yellow comes out at an inopportune time – particularly around a pit stop cycle.

CAN HELIO END HIS DROUGHT?

Helio Castroneves has won eight pole positions since his last race win in the series, Detroit race two in 2014.

He’s got the best pit position at the end of pit out, and he’s hungrier than ever to end that drought.

If his No. 3 AAA Team Penske Chevrolet crew can keep him ahead of Scott Dixon, the defending race winner, on pit stops, he’s got a great chance to end the 29-race dry spell. And it’s been 15 years since he won here the only time, in 2001.

HONDAS TO FIGHT?

James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato are the highest starting Honda runners in seventh and eighth, and Hunter-Reay and Rahal will be fun to watch from 11th and 17th given their pace in the morning warmup.

Most of the Honda drivers I’ve spoken to this weekend have felt comfortable in their car in race pace, but it’s still going to be a challenge for them to overcome the six cars from the Penske and Ganassi camps, with Chevrolets, if things go as normal.

THE COYNE WILD CARDS

Last year Conor Daly made his team debut with Dale Coyne Racing and Francesco Dracone was still in IndyCar in Dale’s second car.

Daly, who’d barely got any seat time before a last-minute call-up, proceeded to deliver the most memorable – and impressive – 17th pace finish in recent memory. Dracone? At least he finished.

Flash forward 12 months and with Luca Filippi and Daly starting 12th and 13th, the pair of Coyne Hondas have been beyond respectable this weekend and may well prove a top spoiler from deeper in the field.

If this race ends up becoming a strategic chess match, look for Dale to pull the ‘ol rabbit out of a hat again to leapfrog one or both drivers up the field – as he did at St. Pete.

Daly enters the race as Honda’s top lap leader thus far this season, with the 15 laps he led at St. Petersburg.

HERE’S YOUR GRID

AND HERE’S SOME PRE-RACE FUNNY FROM T-BELL

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra, with the driver’s start your engine command and race start expected at 4:38 and 4:45 p.m. ET, respectively.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
0 Comments

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 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 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 car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

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. – McLaren Racing

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.”