Karam: “I’m so excited to be back at Indy”

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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, a past champion in both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series who finished ninth in his first Indianapolis 500 with DRR in 2014 at age 19, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month. Here’s his first entry, filed after a weekend in the commentary booth and before today’s first full day of practice. He’ll run the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing. 

Hi everyone, this is Sage Karam from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the “greatest race track in the world.”

It feels so good to come back for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. The atmosphere around IMS this year is off the charts, dripping with excitement for the 100th race. The fans are very fired up, as is shown by every reserved seat being sold for the May 29 “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

I know the drivers, teams and sponsors are extremely excited for this month too.

I’ll be driving the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for the Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing team from right here in Indianapolis. Dennis Reinbold’s family has been involved in the Indy 500 since 1927 when his grandfather, Floyd “Pop” Dreyer, was a mechanic on the Duesenberg. Now that is some history at IMS.

GasMonkey

This will be my third time in the Indy 500 and, at age 21, I’ll be the youngest driver in the 33-driver field for this 200-lap classic. It’s such a thrill to back to Indy each year. It’s the biggest race in the world, and I want to continue racing at this great track for many years to come.

In my rookie race (2014), I drove for the same team as this year; the DRR-Kingdom team is very experienced at Indy. In that first race, I started 31st and drove up to sixth in the middle of the race. I was definitely a rookie, but I tried to be smooth; all the while, the crew kept talking to me about being patient.

Unfortunately, we got caught out on a yellow flag period and we were slotted back to 24th. But we fought our way back up to ninth at the checkered flag. It was a good rookie performance and I won the “Hard Charger Award” that year.

Last year, it was a very short race for me with Chip Ganassi Racing. I was hit in the first turn on the first lap and was out of the race. It was very frustrating after spending all month preparing for the 500-mile race.

Now, I’m back with the crew from my rookie performance, and I know these guys very well. So it’s like I’ve come back home and am ready to perform on May 29.

I think I can win, and there are no doubters on this team. It’s possible the 500 will be my only IndyCar race this year, so I want to make the most of this opportunity.

Last year, I learned so much with the Ganassi squad and working with three-time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti. Dario helped me take some big steps, inside and outside of the car.

You learn about how to make time for all your obligations, such as media, training, studying videotape and working in the engineering office. When things got tough, Dario would talk to me about his first year in the sport – he had some tough times as well – and offered me life-lessons about driving, racing and the world.

I can’t thank Dario enough for the guidance last year. I still think about what Dario told me last year. In 2015, I ran 12 IndyCar races and it was a steep learning curve.

But I believe I have matured a great deal from the 2015 season, and I’m ready to put in a solid two weeks before the 100th Indy 500.

In fact, in the winter, I moved from Indianapolis back to my hometown, Nazareth, Pa. Yes, the same as the Andrettis. My father, Jody, was Michael’s trainer when Michael drove in Indy cars and I got the racing bug at age 4 in go-kartings from the Andrettis.

This winter I trained with my dad, and assisted him with his high school wrestling team. In fact, we had a state champion for the first time at the high school. So we are very proud of that fact.

I’m at my best when I train with my dad, and I wanted to get back to that situation. When I was living in Indianapolis I didn’t know many people, didn’t do so much off-the-track, and eventually got bored with the solitude. Now, I’m returning to the Indy 500 in the best shape of my life (at 163 pounds).

I hope to have a strong and productive week of practice at Indy and prepare for this weekend’s qualifications. The goal is to be in the top nine on Saturday and then run for the pole on Sunday.

I’m so excited to be back at Indy. And I’m thankful for the opportunity and chance this team has given me to make it happen.



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

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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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 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.”