I’m not sure whether Steve Arpin is familiar with The Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat” song.
But heading into last year’s Red Bull Global Rallycross season opener at Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., his car was.
And it only barely made it to shore mere days before the Chip Ganassi Rallycross team was preparing for its series debut.
A far cry from the usual more well-oiled machine you expect from a Ganassi team going into its first race of the year.
“God last year, this time of year, I was sitting there tracking a boat!” Arpin told NBC Sports going into this weekend’s season opener at Phoenix’s Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBSN).
“The crazy part about it was containers got mixed up – it was a bunch of heads of lettuce arriving in what we thought we were race cars!
“But yes, now, it’s a night and day difference. We were a start-up team last year. It was tough but we entered with a great relationship with M-Sport. I’m glad they took the time for us. They didn’t send us pieces of junk.”
The M-Sport baseline for the team’s two Ford Fiestas, the ENEOS No. 00 car driven by Arpin as well as the then-Rockstar No. 38 car of Brian Deegan (plus No. 360 360fly for Jeff Ward for two weekends), was needed because nearly all the CGR team – based in Charlotte – was new to rallycross racing.
“We had a lot of first-year growing pains,” Arpin explained. “The majority, all but one guy, everyone was from NASCAR… and everyone had zero rallycross experience. So we were learning new cars, and building a notebook from nothing.
“As everyone knows, a lot more things don’t work than do. I thought we came out of the gate strong, but we didn’t progress as fast. We self-criticized and evaluated everything we did right and wrong to make it more efficient.”
Arpin pinpointed the team’s weakest point in 2015 – its launches.
“Our biggest flaw last year was serious launch issues,” he said. “At some point both Deegan and/or my car died, either in the main, a semifinal or heat. The problem with that, from that point of the weekend on, it really hurt us for progression. You have to make it through the first corner strong. When other guys are back on the line, it tends to be an issue!
“I think there’s a couple races we could have been in victory lane last year, or even been on the podium more so than we were. The start issue was the root of evils.”
As it was, Arpin enjoyed a relatively successful first season in the Ganassi No. 00 Ford. He ended sixth in the points standings with one podium (third at Daytona race two) and seven additional top-five finishes, plus a runner-up finish in the non-points X Games at Circuit of The Americas.
Over the offseason, some parts have been sent back to Europe for repairs and freshening but the chassis have remained stateside.
They’ve had good testing this offseason and look for more podiums and a win. Deegan will now be in for the full season, except with a big change in the energy drink department – he’ll now be in the No. 38 NOS Energy Drink entry.
“We’ve had good solid test,” Arpin said. “We worked on a lot of things to be better overall. At the same time, every other team has to improve too.
“This is suspenseful! We’ve got our wholeshots, but then there’s also the VWs, the Subarus, and the other Ford guys… and no one has any idea who will do what. And those buggers have been so tight lipped!
“Deegan will be full season this year and that will help us. We feed off each other so well. There’s some areas where he is faster, and some where I am.”
There’s a lot of excitement around the team and Arpin is also keen on delivering more programs for ENEOS.
“But walking around the shop, you can tell – everyone has that extra pep in their step.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”