Ed Jones keen to bounce back at Road America after Indy heartbreak

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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He still leads the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship by 29 points heading into this week’s races at Road America, but make no mistake: this is a pivotal weekend for Ed Jones of Carlin.

The Dubai-based Englishman will look to add his first Road America win to the two he’s achieved already this season at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, two other permanent road circuits.

Jones, who’s lost 17 points to Dean Stoneman in the last two races, will need to correct course on that to avoid losing the early season grasp he has on the Indy Lights points lead, on the road to securing the $1 million Mazda advancement scholarship for winning the top step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. The Indy Lights champion moves up to the Verizon IndyCar Series next season and is guaranteed at least three races, including the Indianapolis 500.

The driver of the No. 11 Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels Dallara IL-15 Mazda is also going to need to rebound after the cruelest of defeats – by an IMS oval record 0.0024 of a second to Stoneman in last month’s Freedom 100, the most recent Indy Lights race.

“It was my fault,” Jones said immediately after the race. “I feel like if I had gone outside, maybe I would have held a little more momentum and maybe would have been able to hold him off. But unfortunately I made the wrong call and that’s what cost us. It’s straining, especially since the team gave me a car to win the race, we were battling at the front the whole time, and to lose it by such a small margin is a case where I can’t think of things much worse.”

Jones attempted to analyze the moments leading up to that last lap, in the one-lap dash for home when he restarted third, got into first by Turn 1 but then came out the wrong side of the side-by-side bout with Stoneman at the line.

“I didn’t realize I was so close with Dean and I had a bit of a moment in the last corner as well, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to touch him on the outside. I was a bit occupied,” Jones laughed.

“The car got a little bit loose mid to exit. I was kind of expecting to hit him, but fortunately I didn’t. I wasn’t sure if I had enough room. I could see I was gaining on him.

“Throughout this weekend we had a really weird thing with the gears. Our fifth and sixth are so close together and it’s always hard to decide which one to be in. I chose sixth maybe a hundred meters off the last corner. I was coming and coming, but just not enough.”

Perhaps the only solace – if any – Jones could take away from the loss there was that the Freedom 100 hasn’t been a harbinger of title success.

In the last five years, the only two drivers who’ve won the Freedom 100 and the title in the same year were Josef Newgarden (2011) and Gabby Chaves (2014). Both are now full-time regulars in IndyCar. Additionally, 2012, 2013 and 2015 Freedom 100 winners Esteban Guerrieri, Peter Dempsey and Jack Harvey have not started an IndyCar race.

For Jones, he’s still able to think big picture going into this weekend.

“It’s going to take me a few days to get over that, but yeah throughout the race I saw other guys drop off and those were the two guys behind me in the championship (Santiago Urrutia and Kyle Kaiser). Obviously Dean is up there as well now.

“I thought, I was trying for the win, but I wasn’t going to take too many unnecessary risks because of how things fell on that last lap after the safety car. I actually got a good run and I took the lead.

“We have to think of the big picture and I did for a little bit under the safety car period. I’ll probably be thankful I didn’t throw it off.”

Jones has tested at Road America before and as he makes his track race debut there this weekend, should be well poised and determined to get back to his winning ways from earlier this year.

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.”