Red Bull GRC: Patriotism, high speed highlight trip to MCAS New River

Photo: Red Bull Global Rallycross
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Red Bull Global Rallycross will be all about the red, white and blue with its trip to the Marine Corps Air Station – or MCAS – New River this weekend in Jacksonville, N.C. for Rounds 6 and 7 of the season (Saturday and Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, NBC).

The event quickly proved a highlight on the full schedule last year, with its inaugural trip wowing military members and providing a great point of interaction for them with the Red Bull Global Rallycross paddock, drivers and teams. This year, further Marine interaction and a street party will kick off the weekend.

Last year’s race was only the fourth round of 12 in the 2015 season. This year, it’s a doubleheader, and already pushes the Red Bull GRC season – which only started a little more than a month ago – past its halfway point.

So beyond it being patriotic, it’s also a pivotal weekend to finish the first half and start the first race of the second half strongly. The track laid out at The Base is 0.713 of a mile, split 58.3 percent pavement to 41.7 percent dirt.

Thus far the top two drivers in the series are Tanner Foust and Steve Arpin, with Foust currently holding a 32-point lead over Arpin. The pair split the wins in Daytona, Arpin having secured his elusive first win in Red Bull GRC for Chip Ganassi Rallycross on Saturday in a chaotic final, while Foust bounced back on Sunday with his third win of the year for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross.

Arpin said the pressure to perform in front of the Marine Corps this weekend will be his driving focus as he looks to continue his hot start to the season in the No. 00 Jacob Companies Ford Fiesta ST.

“All I think about New River is it’s huge!” Arpin told NBC Sports after winning his first race at Daytona. “It’s gonna be our Super Bowl.

“I think first and foremost is, and I never knew how much of an impact this will be, until in the moment, but literally to have the opportunity to be there and see the smile and excitement we can put on the men and women face that fight for us. It was the most humbling feeling I’ve had in my entire life. I think of that more so than the racing. It should be such a great opportunity.

“That being said on the racing side of it, we know it will be a big fast track. One of VW’s strengths is big, high speed tracks. So we will try to find a bit more speed.”

Foust, and VARX teammate Scott Speed, will need to atone for a nightmare trip to MCAS New River last year. Both cars failed to make the final round with a series of mechanical gremlins sidelining them in the preliminary rounds.

“We did find a small component – literally a flywheel bolt made of bad material, and we had a bad batch,” Foust, driver of the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Drink Volkswagen Beetle, explained to NBC Sports. “So we had engine problems. And then I had a collision with Ken (Block) in Turn 1 that broke my car. It’s a great environment. We have a bit of work to do. But our Beetles are fast, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Speed, in the specially liveried No. 41 Special Operations Warrior Foundation Volkswagen, also seeks a bounce back after his challenging Daytona weekend, where he had an engine change, then a fire, then a switch to a backup car – but he still brought home a second place finish in Sunday’s second round of the weekend.

Two of last year’s top three finishers, race winner Block and third-placed Nelson Piquet Jr., won’t be back to defend their results from a year ago. So that leaves the races a bit more wide open.

Another Ford driver, Patrik Sandell, sits fourth in the points in his No. 18 Kobalt Tools Ford for Bryan Herta Rallysport. He was second here last year. Then-teammate Austin Dyne was fourth, and that marks his most recent top-five finish.

Piquet’s replacement at SH Rallycross/DRR – Jeff Ward – is due a good result after a frustrating start to the season in the No. 07 MET-Rx Ford Fiesta ST. Ward sits only eighth in the championship standings.

Arpin’s teammate at Ganassi, Brian Deegan, made his regular season debut with the team this race last year but failed to finish in the final. He’ll be keen to secure his first win for Ganassi in one of the two races.

Then there’s the Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Honda Civic pair of Joni Wiman and Sebastian Eriksson, who have been poised to break through with improved reliability as the year has progressed. Eriksson has made three trips to the podium while Wiman, the 2014 series champion, hasn’t yet this year but was fourth in both Daytona races.

“Being able to race in front of all of the servicemen and women who work and call the base (MCAS New River) home is truly special, and on top of that we get to compete with them on July 4th weekend,” Wiman said. “I am really looking forward to the first practice session so we can truly see how fast this course is.”

Of note, the Subaru Rally Team returns for the first time this year with Sverre Isachsen and Bucky Lasek. Rhys Millen (Hyundai Veloster) misses his first weekend of the year.

Coverage of both races is at 5 p.m. ET on NBC, each of Saturday and Sunday.

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.”