A.J. Foyt returns to Road America after 21 years, drivers ready for its challenge

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After a 21-year absence, team owner and former driver A.J. Foyt will return to the legendary Road America road course for this weekend’s Kohler Grand Prix.

Foyt has not been back to the 4.048-mile, 14-turn high-speed track since 1995, when his car was running in the CART IndyCar Series.

Foyt switched to the upstart rival Indy Racing League the following season. The IRL is now the Verizon IndyCar Series and will bring Indy car racing back to Road America’s home in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, for the first time since 2007.

Sebastien Bourdais won that race under the Champ Car World Series banner and hopes to pick up where he left off nine years ago.

Foyt or his drivers competed eight times at Road America, with the best finish being an eighth-place showing by Mike Goff in 1991. Foyt’s best finish as a driver there was 10th in 1988.

But Road America also brings back bad memories for Foyt, who nearly died in a crash there in September 1990. He suffered severe injuries to his feet and legs when the brakes failed on his Lola, sending him head-on into a dirt embankment.

It took him eight months and several surgeries before he was able to climb back in a race car (for the 1991 Indianapolis 500).

But Foyt isn’t looking back at the past. He’s ready to start a new chapter at Road America with drivers Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato.

This will be Hawksworth’s second go-round at Road America, having competed in a sports car race there in 2014 (finished 12th).

“I love Road America,” Hawksworth said in a team media release. “It’s very quick, has a variety of corners and is the only track we go to that is over four miles in length.

“I had a fantastic time racing there in 2014 made even better by the fact that I had a very quick car.”

But Hawksworth also understands there’s a big difference between a sports car and his Indy car.

“The Indy car has a lot more grip and downforce so certainly braking will be later and the corner speeds higher,” he said. “It’ll just be a case of adapting to the car and putting it on the limit.

“In terms of passing, it should in theory be easier as we have the push-to-pass system in Indycar racing. Road America has a lot of character, and it is technical like other road courses yet it still allows for a lot of passing and action due to the length of some of the straights and the big braking zones.”

Sato, meanwhile, will be returning to Road America after taking part in a test there last September.

“Road America is very impressive and a great fun track, as expected,” he said of his first impression of the venue. “I’ve heard so many positive stories about Road America since I joined the IndyCar Series, and I know everyone and as well as the fans wanted IndyCar to go back there.

“So it was a nice experience that we had a great crowd show up at the test day last fall, and I had a lot of fun driving this superb track.”

While drivers like Max Chilton and retired great Mario Andretti compare Road America to Belgium’s famed Spa road course, Sato sees a greater similarity with Italy’s Imola.

“It is as fast as I experienced at possibly Imola,” Sato said. “Both tracks are the classic narrow type of track but very fast with good elevation change.

“For the drivers, you need a lot of commitment because there are so many fast corners. From an engineering perspective, you need a good stable car through the high speed sections and performance under braking with such a low downforce car.”

Another reason that this weekend is important for the Foyt teams: Primary sponsor ABC Supply Co. is headquartered in Beloit, Wisc., about 135 miles southwest of Road America. The company plans on having close to 1,000 employees at this weekend’s race.

The race will be televised live on NBC Sports Network, starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.

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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.”