PWC: Road America beckons as thoughts for Palmer continue

Photo: PWC/K-PAX Racing

The show goes on for Pirelli World Challenge this weekend at Road America, which is back with its full complement of seven classes a month after its races at Lime Rock Park.

This weekend for PWC is its third straight last weekend in June event at Road America, but its third different type of event.

In 2014, the series returned to Road America after a several-year hiatus, as part of the NASCAR Xfinity Series (then called Nationwide Series) weekend. It rained a bit but the PWC races got in just fine.

Last year, this was a PWC feature weekend, with Maserati GranTurismo MCs entered in a support race.

Now, without calling PWC a “support race,” it’s now part of the Verizon IndyCar Series weekend – and as such, it doesn’t get the best time slots for its races. The Touring Car classes in particular get the short shrift, with Thursday at 4 and Friday at 6 their race times. There’s one GT and one GTS race apiece on Saturday and Sunday each.

There’s still 97 cars entered for the weekend across the seven classes.

It’s two cars that aren’t entered though, whose drivers likely will be on the thoughts and minds of the paddock: Andrew Palmer and Jorge de la Torre.

Both are recovering following their devastating accident at Lime Rock. While de la Torre was recently released from the hospital and will continue his rehabilitation in Texas, there has been little to no news on Palmer’s status.

Simply put, we continue to wish the best for both – Palmer in particular – as the paddock likely will do too this weekend in its first race event since Lime Rock.

Points-wise, in GT, just 24 points separate Alvaro Parente and Patrick Long, who combined have swept the last four races in May.

Parente, in the No. 9 K-PAX McLaren 650S GT3 that has a Flying Lizard Motorsports technical partnership, won both at Lime Rock after Long, in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, won both at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Four lackluster races have resigned the pair of Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.Rs to third and fourth in points although with a pre-Road America boost addition from 6000 to north of 8000 rpms, it could be a case where Johnny O’Connell and Michael Cooper get back on form this weekend.

Acura, meanwhile, is hit with a boost reduction from 4000 to north of 7000 rpms on its pair of G3-homologated Acura TLX-GTs. Both Ryan Eversley and team principal/driver Peter Cunningham, the latter of whom returns after graciously giving up his chassis for Eversley at Lime Rock with Eversley’s damaged at CTMP, will still look to shine this weekend on RealTime’s home turf, and with “PD’s” 25th annual Chicken Roast on the Friday among the weekend highlights.

Kyle Marcelli moved into fifth in points after two podiums at Lime Rock in his No. 2 CRP Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra and James Davison, who one won of three races at Road America last year (a Detroit canceled race was added on Friday), could be poised for success and his first win of the year in the No. 33 Always Evolving Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3. Same could be true for Davison’s teammate Bryan Heitkotter, who’s eighth in points in the No. 05 Nisan.

The emotional favorite, perhaps, would be Palmer’s teammate Adderly Fong in the lone No. 88 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3. Fong has finished fourth on two occasions and the Bentley has shown well at Road America each of the last two years.

Young guns are also interesting to note – Austin Cindric looks for success here (good feature from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Dave Kallmann on him here) along with fellow K-PAX teammate Colin Thompson, while Michael Lewis makes a welcome return to the series in a second Calvert Dynamics Porsche, with support from CURB Records among others. Meanwhile sports car veterans Andrew Davis (Calvert Porsche), Jon Fogarty (GAINSCO McLaren), James Sofronas (GMG Porsche) and Michael McCann (Viper), the latter of whom makes his first PWC start in eight years, round out the 17-car GT grid.

In the other classes…

  • Martin Fuentes has won eight of 11 GTA races and holds a commanding points lead.
  • Alec Udell and Sloan Urry are tied for the GT Cup lead (1054 apiece) so whoever emerges ahead of those two will take a momentum run going to Mid-Ohio.
  • GTS is a three-horse race between Lawson Aschenbach in the venerable Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R up against two GT4 car drivers, Brett Sandberg in the ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4 and Parker Chase in the PMG Ginetta GT4. Aschenbach leads the standings, 884 to 835 over Sandberg with Chase a further seven points back on 828.
  • TC points leaders heading into Road America are Toby Grahovec (TC), Elivan Goulart (TCA) and Will Rogers (TCB).

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

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing

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.”