IndyCar drivers eagerly anticipating return to Road America

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Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon doesn’t mince words. He says what’s on his mind.

So, when asked if all of his fellow drivers are looking forward to the first IndyCar race at Road America since 2007, Dixon put it very bluntly: “I’m sure every single driver will say so. If they don’t, they are just flat-out lying to you.”

That’s just a microcosm of how eager drivers have been anticipating the return to Road America, which has been one of the premier permanent road courses not just in the U.S., but the world since it opened in 1950.

And now that the Kohler Grand Prix race weekend is at hand, many of them are acting like kids in a candy store, ready to be unleashed on the legendary 4.048-mile, 14-turn permanent road course.

Here’s a cross-section of what several IndyCar drivers are saying about a track that Andretti calls one of the best in the world:

Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet): “I haven’t raced at Road America in quite a while. We had a teammate test there last week and it will be interesting to see what did and didn’t work well for them. It’s a challenging track that tests both the speed and agility of our DeVilbiss Chevrolet. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s going to be fantastic to go back to Road America. We haven’t raced there in a number of years, but I’m excited to get out there and see how the Hitachi Chevrolet performs. It’s a big track, but track position, as usual, will be important.”

James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I’m so excited to go back to Road America. This has been my favorite road course in the country from the moment I first went there in 2004. It’s the kind of track that Indy cars are built for. I hope that it’s a great race and it stays on the calendar for a long time.”

Mikhail Aleshin (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda): “I’ve never been to Road America before but I watched some on-board camera footage and the track looks pretty cool. There are a couple of very fast turns which is always exciting.”

Max Chilton (No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): “After my first experience at Road America last Wednesday, I am super excited to finally get back this weekend to race it. It has a great flow to it and reminds me of my favorite circuit, Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. It’s old-school, fast, hilly and rewarding.”

Scott Dixon (No. 9 Clorox Chevrolet, 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion): “I know for a fact that Road America is on the top of all the drivers’ lists, and we have been waiting to come back for quite some time. I think my last visit there was in 2002 with CART, and it was great to be back at the track testing again last season. This course is just amazing to drive.”

Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet): “I can’t wait to get back to Road America this weekend. This is one of the best tracks in the U.S. in my opinion. I was able to test there last week with the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet and it felt really good to be back after so long. The track is just so much fun to drive and definitely one of my favorites.”

Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “Even though I haven’t raced there in a while, I enjoy the track at Road America. I find it very challenging. Some drivers have tested there and some haven’t. We had a teammate there, so what worked for them will give us a starting point and we’ll go from there.”

Takuma Sato (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “Road America is very impressive and a great, fun track as expected. I’ve heard so many positive stories about this circuit since I joined the IndyCar Series, and I know everyone as well as the fans wanted INDYCAR to go back there. It was a nice experience that we had a great crowd show up at the test day last fall. I had a lot of fun driving this superb track and I’m looking forward to racing there.”

Graham Rahal (No. 15 Gehl/D-A Lubricant Honda): “Road America is my favorite track and the favorite of many drivers. It’s the best track at 4 miles long, with elevation changes and many challenging, interesting parts. If you ask my dad (Bobby Rahal) or many drivers, they will tell you it’s the best, pure road course. It’s another track that I went to a lot as a kid when my dad was racing. It was definitely one of my favorites as a kid.”

Conor Daly (No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda): “I think every driver can’t wait to get there. It’s going to be an incredible race. We’ve always wanted to go back there for many years. I can’t wait to get out there. I’ve won two races there, finished second in a sports car there so I feel pretty good about it. We just have to do the same in an Indy car and try to get ourselves back on the podium.”

Gabby Chaves (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): “Road America is one of my favorite tracks. I haven’t been there since 2009. It’s where I won the Formula BMW Americas Championship, so I’m definitely very excited to get back there and to compete with Dale Coyne Racing. … I’m just really excited to see what we can do out there. It’s going to be a fun track to drive and certainly one of the most enjoyable circuits that we go to this year.”

Spencer Pigot (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It doesn’t get much better than driving an Indy car around Road America. We had a very good test there last week and I can’t wait to get back for the race with the Ed Carpenter Racing crew. It’s an amazing track and I think it’s going to provide some great racing for the fans.”

Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader): “I’m definitely excited to race at Road America. It’s a challenging circuit, but a really fun place with the Indy car. This event has been in the past and remains a classic event on our schedule.”

Marco Andretti (No. 27 United Fiber & Data/Snapple Honda): “We had a solid test at Road America last week and I am looking forward to getting the United Fiber & Data car back on track. This track is my favorite permanent road course to drive. I think it should be a great race with a lot of passing into Turn 5 and through Turns 12 and (Turn) 1.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I’m really looking forward to INDYCAR’s long-awaited return to Road America. Outside of Indy, this place has always been my favorite racetrack, so it’s been tough being away for so many years. It’s been 12 years since I last raced here, and I can’t wait to get the DHL Honda on track for the race this weekend.”

Jack Hawksworth (No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “I love Road America. It’s very quick, has a variety of corners and is the only track we go to that is over 4 miles in length. I had a fantastic time racing there in 2014 (in sports cars), made even better by the fact that I had a very quick car.”

Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet): “Since the return was announced last year, I think everyone, from drivers to fans, has been really excited to head to Elkhart Lake for the race. We had the chance to test there in September and get a feel for it, but I know there’s so much more to learn in a short time this weekend. You just feel the speed at the end of every straight and going into those long corners; it’s unlike anything else on the schedule.”

Alexander Rossi (No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda): “In the past, Road America has always been a race that I look forward to and this year is no exception. It is one of the flagship tracks not only in America, but globally, and I am so excited that the Verizon IndyCar Series is returning this year. We had a positive test there last week, so we will be doing everything we can to make sure the No. 98 car is at the sharp end (of the field). It is going to be an incredible event.”

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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.”