Red Bull GRC: Speed wins chaotic, mud-soaked first race at New River

Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull GRC
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. – After only making it to the finals of Round 6 of the Red Bull Global Rallycross season courtesy of winning the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Scott Speed then proceeded to complete a near last-to-first win in the first of two finals itself at MCAS New River, and secure his first final round win of the season.

The win came in miserable conditions. What had been a picture perfect day turned on a dime with a lightning warning, then heavy rain shower coming in to dump water on the facility and forced an evacuation of the near fully packed grandstands.

Once the rain had subsided even though the track was still wet, the race started after 5:30 p.m. ET and local time (during the live NBC TV broadcast), on a quick turnaround with teams having scrambled to then switch onto BFGoodrich wet weather tires and without a recon lap to see the proceedings in advance of the race.

What followed was then a major test for the 10-car field, and the chaos went throughout the field with mud flying everywhere along with parts of broken cars – thus creating quite a night of work for the majority of the crews before tomorrow’s second race of the MCAS New River doubleheader.

Speed's car. Photo: Tony DiZinno
Speed’s car. Photo: Tony DiZinno

Alas, Speed, driving the No. 41 Special Operations Warrior Foundation Volkswagen Beetle GRC for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, launched out from seventh in the 10-car final round field up to second by the end of Lap 2, where he ran behind then-race leader Tanner Foust, his teammate in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle.

But Foust’s day ended with a mechanical – another potential engine issue – on Lap 5 and it promoted mudslinging veteran Brian Deegan in the No. 38 NOS Energy Drink Ford Fiesta ST for Chip Ganassi Rallycross into the lead.

Deegan was poised to secure his first Red Bull GRC win of the year but for the fact he had to take the Joker lap on the 10th and final lap of the final. The Joker hasn’t been a huge time benefit this weekend and with Deegan needing to take it, he lost a bit of ground.

Speed then took the normal line past the jump to go through the final double-apex left-hander into the lead, and the race win by 2.171 seconds.

“We made up a lot at the start, then were crusing around, just trying to keep a good position,” Speed told NBC Sports post-race. “A race like this it is easy to end up in a crash. Deegan used the grass, it was legal, then we made up all the time we lost. We took the joker early, and used that to our advantage in the last lap, last corner.”

Deegan later explained he had had a turbo loss earlier in the race, so he was driving wounded. His CGR teammate Steve Arpin finished third in his No. 00 Jacob Company Ford.

“It actually came down to the first lap. I had an OK start, was like fifth, then dove into the mud section, but there was a Honda stopped in front of me,” Deegan said. “I hit him, that ripped intercooler off, and I lost my turbo first lap. These cars without one are half power. So I raced with a slow car. The straightaway was like losing four car lengths. Salvaging the result was fine but we wanted a win! I think we would have been half a track ahead. Dirt’s my thing, man.”

Arpin added, “My car was in good shape until I went side-by-side with Speed in the dirt. He plastered my windshield with mud. Hit stacks of tires. I just held it to the floor. Boom hit another stack. Had no turbo. It was carnage! But we had a winning car today.”

Patrik Sandell made it from 10th on the grid up to fourth in the No. 18 Kobalt Tools Ford for Bryan Herta Rallysport, courtesy largely of staying out of trouble during the race. Sandell was only promoted into the final after a five-second penalty assessed to Sverre Isachsen in the No. 11 Subaru Rally Team America WRX-STi for a blend lane violation in the LCQ; that dropped Isachsen from third to fifth in the LCQ, and thus the only car out of the final.

Austin Dyne completed the top five in his No. 14 AD Racing Ford but like many others, had quite a bit of damage by the end of the race, and was a lap down.

Sebastian Eriksson limped his No. 93 Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Civic Coupe home in sixth while all of Joni Wiman, points leader Foust, Jeff Ward (SH Rallycross) and Bucky Lasek (Subaru) were non-finishers.

Miki Weckstrom, meanwhile, was declared the winner of the GRC Lites race in his No. 45 Olsbergs MSE X Forces entry after five completed laps. That race got called early owing to the lightning storms, and was not restarted. Blake “Bilko” Williams and Parker Chase completed the podium, the latter of whom secured his first in GRC Lites.

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.”