Red Bull GRC: Speed’s pole highlights Friday at New River

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. – Scott Speed dominated proceedings in the opening day of Red Bull Global Rallycross action at MCAS New River, and has secured the pole for the first of two races at this weekend’s doubleheader round (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, NBC).

The driver of the No. 41 Special Operations Warrior Foundation Volkswagen Beetle GRC led a Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross 1-2 in qualifying after also pacing practice earlier in the day. Tanner Foust in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Drink Volkswagen is second.

Daytona Round 4 winner Steve Arpin is third in the No. 00 Jacob Company Ford Fiesta ST for Chip Ganassi Rallycross, however the likable driver suffered a late session mechanical issue that saw his car brought back to the paddock on a flatbed. Joni Wiman and Sebastian Eriksson in the pair of Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Civic Coupes were fourth and fifth with Austin Dyne completing the fast six in his AD Racing Ford.

It was an abnormal day for Patrik Sandell, the usual pacesetting Swede stuck back in seventh in his No. 18 Kobalt Tools Ford for Bryan Herta Rallysport.

Conner Martell of DirtFish Motorsports has the GRC Lites pole for the first race of its two races. Oliver Eriksson is second ahead of Alex Keyes.

In other thoughts from the day at New River:

Spoke with a few U.S. Marines for a post later this weekend. In brief, the Marines are thrilled Red Bull GRC is back for an encore at New River after a successful debut event last year.

Also caught up with Oliver Eriksson, the GRC Lites points leader of Olsbergs MSE X Forces. The 17-year-old is enjoying a good start to his 2016 season after winning last year’s division title.

Craziest thing I noted today, also on an Olsbergs MSE front? The Hondas have a crazy lean on the right rear BFGoodrich tire through the kink, Turn 1, compared to the remainder of the Supercars. Both Wiman and Sebastian Eriksson are almost tilted at a 45-degree angle on the right rear tire and it’s spectacular to watch; it’s also completely counter to how the Fords, Volkswagens and Subarus look through there. With this being a predominately left-hand turn track, the load will be heaviest on the right side BFGs this weekend.

Jeff Ward of SH Rallycross/DRR in his No. 07 MET-Rx Ford said he was closer to the pace in qualifying than he has been, albeit still back in eighth. Ward says he races better than he qualifies so he’ll be hoping to improve on Saturday. Ward sustained some cosmetic right front damage after landing hard on a jump earlier in the day, but the crew fixed it and got him back out for qualifying.

Watched the action from three different grandstand vantage points today, one outside the final double apex left-hander, one right at start/finish (this is for VIP guests only) and one at the kink. All three offer really good viewing opportunities and will be a treat for Marines, fans or VIP guests who will be in attendance.

You can view the stand views in order, below.

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More tomorrow.

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.”