Q&A: “Josef, the Indy Car Driver” book author/illustrator Chris Workman

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One of the elements that made Josef Newgarden’s Road America weekend busier than a normal one was the fact his children’s book – “Josef, the Indy Car Driver” launched during the weekend.

Newgarden, driver of the No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series is the subject and featured driver in the book, written and illustrated by Chris Workman.

Workman is the owner of Apex Legends, a content creation and publishing company that looks to find and create the next generation of race fans. NBCSN lead F1 and IndyCar announcer Leigh Diffey has written the foreword.

The hardcover picture book is available via ApexLegends.com/store and Amazon. A donation to Racing for Kids will occur for every book sold at the store.

We caught up with Workman at Road America. Here’s his thoughts on the creative process as the book launched:

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NBCSports.com: What was the buildup process to getting the book created and launched?

Chris Workman: “We’d done an IndieGoGo campaign last fall, and that was to get some interest around the book, get some pre-sale and so forth. This is the official launch, this weekend.”

NBC: Of course now to premiere it here after what’s happened the last couple weeks (Newgarden’s accident at Texas and pressing on through the pain) has to be a bit surreal!

CW: “It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I was watching via timing & scoring and saw him drop to 22nd, quickly went to Twitter and we thought, well this is unreal. I’ve been in contact with him a little bit, but his big focus was getting ready.

“When I heard he was going to be here, it was just amazing.”

NBC: What was the idea behind the book? Was this your idea? His?

CW: “It was my idea I brought to him. My first book was on Le Mans in the ’60s, so I wanted to do something more modern and current, and just look at the overall landscape of drivers in IndyCar, Josef immediately came to mind. He won Alabama last year.

“So I began to approach him about the concept, and he was immediately on board. He saw it as something different, as a unique way to get fans engaged and educated.

“I chose Road America. I was going to do Alabama – Barber – or Toronto initially because he won there. But once Road America got back on the schedule it was like coming home. It was the first race I ever went to. I grew up in Milwaukee. It’s very personal to me to tell the story for kids getting excited and motivated about racing here, because you couldn’t tell the story at a cooler track when all was said and done! All the stars aligned.”

NBC: We get to see Josef in a team dynamic on a regular basis. How was he to work with for you? What was the feedback and process between you two?

CW: “He was primarily like, ‘I like what you are doing, and I want to respect your creative process.’ So run stuff by him and his manager. ‘Hey guys is this correct?’ But for the most part Josef was relatively hands off on the formation of the story. He immediately bought into the idea of his telling about how he became a driver, because he wants to help other kids realize the path of going from – in his case, a motorized scooter – all the way from racing in his neighborhood to becoming a racing driver. We wanted it to be attainable. There’s two parts about his career, then the race, then join it together.”

NBC: Does Josef work because he’s one of the drivers sellable and appealable to the next generation?

CW: “The biggest challenge for the book was trying to make it current so the fans can recognize it and see turn on TV, and see similar to what’s in the books, with legs. It’s funny to see how the paint schemes have turned up, how they actually are versus what I predicted. Some I got right, some not! Dixon in a dayglo yellow would have been a complete unknown. That was challenging.

“But in Josef’s case, the fact he’s around for a while and Direct Supply is huge here, and supported him, gives that some legitimacy. Odds are good there will always be a Direct Supply car – at least in Wisconsin – so year-to-year there is continuity.

“He’s such a kid at heart!”

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.”