Aaron Telitz comes home to Road America, cleans up in Pro Mazda

Photos: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

When drivers or teams get the opportunity to race at their home track, there’s plenty of extra motivation that comes with it.

For Aaron Telitz, getting the opportunity to return to a track where he grew up racing, Road America, but in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series – the second rung of three on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder – was something he was looking forward to all year.

_9SG0711-LHe had an estimated 70 family and friends, including a number of college buddies, all planning to be in attendance.

Once on track, he promptly devoured the competition in the pair of 40-minute races at a rate of destruction on par with eating a Johnsonville double brat from St. John the Baptist concession stand, or downing two Spotted Cows at Siebkens just down the road.

The 24-year-old native of Birchwood, Wis., near the slightly bigger town of Rice Lake, had Road America in his veins from growing up. He’d raced there in Skip Barber National cars but had been away from racing there for several years before returning this year.

“The Skip Barber cars, it’s like Talladega here, you can pass back and forth like twice on the front and back straightaway,” Telitz told NBC Sports post-race.

The Telitz family and friend brigade. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The Telitz family and friend brigade. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Telitz was in need of a good weekend, too. With Team Pelfrey teammate Pato O’Ward having controlled the opening seven races of the season, winning six of them, Telitz was more than due to break the run of form delivered by the 17-year-old Mexican.

He then delivered a near perfect weekend in the No. 82 Rice Lake Weighing Systems entry for Team Pelfrey.

From pole in both Saturday races, Telitz led every lap and swept the two races – a total of 37 combined laps (18 in race one, 19 in race two) controlled around the 4.014-mile road course. He also set the fastest race lap in the second race, but wasn’t able to do the same in the first race.

With O’Ward off the podium in both races, Telitz also closed the points gap from 55 entering the weekend down to 28 leaving it.

The first race, Telitz could thank a great start and then ability to hold on for the remainder of the race.

“It was a good start. My car was great early on,” Telitz said. “The first few laps, I pulled out a big gap while they were battling, which helped me. Then about halfway through the race, my car got crazy loose, I was just sliding everywhere. I was just holding on, hoping that no one was going to catch me because I knew I wasn’t going very fast. It was just all about managing it from there, a little bit of nerves, I went a little bit slow just to bring it home.”

The second race was much hotter, following several other sessions and races on track, and Telitz trusted Team Pelfrey’s Tom Knapp to make the right setup changes.

Additionally, Telitz and I wound up being guest analysts in the IndyCar Radio booth for the first of two Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races, which gave Telitz an opportunity to see how the track evolved from that vantage point.

“We made quite a bit of changes and the track got different and we just happened to nail it,” he explained. “My car was awesome on the cold tire laps, I could put the car anywhere I wanted to put it and put a huge gap on everyone and we just went off from there.

“I was able to watch that and see that the track had gotten hotter, hot as it had been all weekend and watching how much each was sliding around or Shelby Blackstock spinning out. So I could see their cars were really loose and it was getting greasy out there. So I went out and told Tom Knapp that and we made some adjustments for it potentially being a greasy track and I think we nailed it.

“Tom Knapp is a genius. It’s crazy how good he is at making the cars fast. Our cars are just incredible everywhere we go. The yellow car has been in victory lane all the time and it’s all due to Tom Knapp. He’s just crazy good with the cars. They’re fast, they take the corners well, he just does everything great.”

Second race podium. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Second race podium. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

But Telitz shouldn’t sell himself short, either, because he did everything great this weekend at a weekend where the pressure was at its highest.

“I don’t know if the car is the best it’s been. I don’t think that was it,” he said. “It’s more that I just know the track real well and have run a bunch of laps here. So, I think that’s an advantage over those that haven’t driven here and don’t know it’s characteristics. So that was a big bonus.

“And having Pato struggle was good for me in the points, obviously, but as a team it would have been cool to see him sitting here (on the podium) as well.”

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.”