Mazda goes back to the future with retro liveries at The Glen

Photos: Mazda
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Mazda Motorsports is paying tribute to its past, as it will roll out retro liveries to commemorate the 25th anniversary of becoming the first and thus far only Japanese manufacturer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The No. 55 Mazda Prototype (Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez, Spencer Pigot) will be adorned in the same orange and green colors that were present on the Le Mans winner. The No. 70 Mazda retains the standard Soul Red and black colors for Joel Miller, Tom Long and Ben Devlin, but in the same design format as the No. 55 car.

The release from Mazda, as well as the new liveries, are linked below:

MazdaPrototype55

MazdaPrototype70

The two-car Mazda Prototype team will carry special liveries at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen International, July 1 – 3. The No. 55 Mazda will feature a vivid green and orange color scheme in honor of the 25th anniversary of Mazda’s rotary powered victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991. The No. 70 car will carry a similar design, but in the Soul Red, Silver and Machine Grey colors which represent the present and future look of the Mazda brand and Mazda Motorsports. The Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen is round six of 10 of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Mazda’s win with the iconic 787B race car was the culmination of 17 attempts at Le Mans, and represented Mazda’s ‘Never Stop Challenging’ ethos that remains with the Hiroshima-based automaker to this day. The unique pattern of the paint scheme was inspired by the primary sponsor of the 1991 winner, Renown, a clothing company which made argyle socks. Acknowledging our respect of the tremendous effort and heartbreak at Le Mans for our friends at Toyota last week, Mazda remains the only Asian manufacturer to win overall at the 24 Hours with the only car to win the famous French classic with an engine not driven by traditional reciprocating pistons.

For the 1991 race, the cars entered by Mazdaspeed Co. Ltd. were powered by 2.6-liter, four-rotor Mazda R26B rotary engines. The winning drivers in the No. 55 car were Johnny Herbert (Britain), Volker Weidler (Germany) and Bertrand Gachot (Belgium), who traversed 362 laps in the race. They defeated factory efforts from Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Peugeot and more. A second Mazda 787B finished sixth, while a third factory entry in a year-old 787 finished eighth.

A Hot Look and a Hot Team

The Mazda Prototype team has matched or improved their best-ever finishes in each of the last four races, including the first-ever podium finish in the Prototype category at Detroit, where the team finished third and fourth in class. After a successful two-day test at the newly repaved 3.4-mile Watkins Glen track, we spoke with 20-year-old driver Tristan Nunez about the upcoming race weekend.

You weren’t even born in 1991. What is your view of the throwback look? “I may not have been born when they won Le Mans, but being an age where technology is key, there are a lot of videos on the internet of that car! I’ve been watching the 787B for years – even before I got picked up by Mazda. It’s one of those cars that really captures your eye – and the sound that rotary motor made! It’s going to be an honor to run that paint scheme. I won’t see the car until it rolls off the trailers at the Glen, but I assure you it’s going to be an emotional moment for a lot of people, myself included.”

Describe the new paving on the historic upstate New York track. “The new surface is unbelievable. I’ve never driven a smoother track in my life. It sounds weird, but it’s so smooth you have to relearn the track. You don’t feel any bumps, which was really surprising. It has so much grip the car just hooks up around the corners so well. The Mazda Prototype really likes the track because we can run it really low, which is the secret to the aerodynamics of this car. I’m interested to see how we compare to the competition, but I think we have a good finish in the crosshairs for sure.”

Are there physical challenges that come with the new surface? “There are a lot of high speed corners at this track – a lot – plus some long-duration corners. It really puts a toll on your body with the amount of G-forces you’re pulling for a long length of time. Keeping up physically is very important, because it’s a six-hour race. Depending on the strategy, we’ll likely do two hours at a time, so I’ve been really working at the gym. You can’t have your body fail under those conditions.”

Ben Devlin and Spencer Pigot Will Join the Team at Watkins Glen

The Mazda Prototype team will feature an expanded driver lineup for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen. British racer Ben Devlin has been the go-to driver for the endurance races with the No. 70 team since 2014, and has driven Mazda-powered prototypes for many years. IndyCar driver Spencer Pigot will join the team in the No. 55 Mazda.

Pigot is the winningest driver in the history of the Mazda Road to Indy (24 wins) and was the 2015 Indy Lights champion, which earned him a Mazda scholarship to compete in three IndyCar races (including the 100th-running of the Indianapolis 500), which he parlayed into a contract to compete in all of the remaining IndyCar street and road course events this year with Ed Carpenter Racing. Pigot recorded his first top-10 IndyCar finish with a ninth-place tally yesterday at Road America. We spoke with Pigot about returning to the Prototype team for the third time this season.

Is this your first time racing at Watkins Glen? “Watkins Glen is going to be new for me. I’ve heard great things about it, but I’ve never been there. I’m really looking forward to that. With the Mazda Prototype team, I’ve got great teammates that have been there many times, so it’s good for me to learn from them and also it’s good preparation for when I go back there with IndyCar in September.”

Is it a challenge coming in as the ‘third driver’ on an established team? “It’s a unique place to be. It’s not something I’ve done in the past. Everything I’ve done, I’m the driver of the team and I’m in the car all season. But this situation is a new challenge, and I have to get used to the car and track very quickly. The team have been fantastic. The other drivers are all good friends of mine and we really work well together. It worked out that we’re all of similar size so there isn’t much that has to change inside the car, which is important. You don’t want to be the third driver who comes in to disrupt the team, disrupt the flow of what they’ve built throughout the season. I’ve been able to come in and fit right in. It goes back to all of the crew guys, the engineers and everyone at Mazda are very welcoming and friendly. And the drivers are very open to having me there. I think they see it as a positive. It gives them a chance to learn some things from me as I learn from them.”

Mazda Prototype Driver Lineup for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen:

No. 55 Mazda Prototype: Tristan Nunez, Jonathan Bomarito, Spencer Pigot
No. 70 Mazda Prototype: Tom Long, Joel Miller, Ben Devlin

— Each of the drivers will be wearing special driver suits that echo the uniforms from 1991. A set of the uniforms will later be auctioned to benefit Mazda’s “Drive for Good’ charitable and philanthropic program.

WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Points (After 5 of 10 races)

In the point standings for Prototype drivers, Bomarito and Nunez are tied for fourth place, while Miller and Long are tied for sixth place. In the manufacturers battle, Mazda is currently third in the Prototype category.

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.”