MRTI: Month of May showcase for all 3 Mazda series at GP of Indy

Ed Jones. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – Arguably the second most important weekend of the year for the full Mazda Road to Indy, second only to the Mazda championship finale weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course this weekend.

Another six-pack of races are on tap, with two apiece for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on the IMS road course.

It’s the only time Pro Mazda and USF2000 race at IMS while Indy Lights returns for the Freedom 100 on Carb Day, live on NBCSN.

Here’s quick primers on what to look for this weekend:

INDY LIGHTS

Five races, five winners. And the crazy thing is there are plenty of other talents who haven’t yet graced the top step of the podium.

Then look at the Indy Lights races the last two years at IMS, two with the old car and two with the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda, and there have been four different winners here too.

This year, in order, Felix Serralles, Felix Rosenqvist, Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones and Santiago Urrutia have all scored the wins. The four past Indy GP weekend winners include in order, Matthew Brabham, Luiz Razia, Jack Harvey and Sean Rayhall.

Jones and RC Enerson had a podium apiece here last year; Jones will look to battle back from a chaotic race he had here in the second race last year, after a battle with Harvey. The tension between those two was palpable and set the stage for their title battle as the year went on, before Pigot won.

Considering Rayhall won here for what was 8Star Motorsports last year, look for Rayhall’s de facto replacement, Scott Hargrove, to contend this week in the renamed Team Pelfrey outfit. Since a second-place finish at the St. Petersburg opener, the talented Canadian and Pro Mazda Indy GP weekend winner in 2014 has had a rough go of it. He seeks a bounce back this weekend.

Any of the five winners thus far this year will seek to be first to number two, while those besides Hargrove who could be a bet for their first win of 2016 also include Enerson, Zach Veach, Dean Stoneman and Shelby Blackstock. Rookies Zachary Claman De Melo, Andre Negrao, Neil Alberico and Dalton Kellett are improving with more time.

Jones leads Kaiser, 108-102, in the points entering this weekend with numerous others in striking distance.

PRO MAZDA

The Team Pelfrey juggernaut in Pro Mazda looks to roll on this weekend, with Pato O’Ward and Aaron Telitz having completed an unbelievable run of four straight 1-2 finishes to open the year. O’Ward’s been confirmed again at least through this weekend, a good sign for the 17-year-old Mexican’s future season prospects in the Gap Guard-suppoted entry.

Juncos Racing should be better here – Timothe Buret was quite quick and a race winner here last year while teammates Garett Grist, Will Owen and Jose Gutierrez nearly matched him for pace. Grist and Owen seek their best results of the year, with Grist looking to break into the top two. Weiron Tan (Andretti Autosport) and Santiago Urrutia (Team Pelfrey) also won here last year in a rare tripleheader weekend, with Tan winning the NOLA makeup round held on Thursday.

Cape needs a big weekend, with only one podium from a combined eight starts for rookies Nico Jamin and Jake Eidson to start the year. A four of Expert cars entered takes the car count up to 13 this weekend, although Jorge Cevallos of JDC Motorsports is not here this weekend.

USF2000

Parker Thompson broke through for not just his first career win, but a weekend sweep for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing in Barber. The points leader from Red Deer, Alberta will look to carry that momentum with him this weekend.

It’s a good bet if not Thompson that at least one of USF2000’s trio of talented Australian sophomores – Anthony Martin, Jordan Lloyd or Luke Gabin – could win as well this weekend. Gabin, who drives for JAY Motorsports, is in the same team which won here in 2014 with Adrian Starrantino. Martin is due for his first win at Cape; Lloyd, who won the season opener at St. Pete, looks for his second win with Pabst Racing.

The wild card of the weekend is the experienced Victor Franzoni, who returns to USF2000 at Indy this year after making his Pro Mazda debut last year. Franzoni races with the ArmsUp Motorsports team.

As ever, the Team Pelfrey and John Cummiskey Racing teams should be right there or thereabouts, with other teams due to step up if they nail the setup right. With a 27-car grid, USF2000 nearly equals the combined totals of Indy Lights (16 cars) and Pro Mazda (13).

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.”