Legendary team owner Carl Haas dies at age 86

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Carl Haas, one of the architects of one of North American open-wheel racing’s most successful teams, Newman/Haas Racing, has died at the age of 86. His Haas Auto business page confirmed he passed away on June 29 at his home.

Haas partnered with actor Paul Newman for what seemed a fantasy at the time in the early ’80s.

What seemed an odd couple – a successful businessman never without his trusty cigar and an actor who was bitten by the racing bug and preferred talking about it to any acting talk – turned their combined team into a legend in IndyCar after being Can-Am rivals a decade earlier.

Carl Haas and actor Paul Newman on February 1, 1993 at the Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona, United States. (Photo by Steve Swope/Getty Images)
Carl Haas and actor Paul Newman on February 1, 1993 at the Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona, United States. (Photo by Steve Swope/Getty Images)

The team was consummated in 1983 and by 1984 it won a CART title with Mario Andretti. Three more CART titles followed by Mario’s son Michael Andretti in 1991, then F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell in 1993 and likable young Brazilian Cristiano da Matta in 2002.

Bourdais' first title in 2004. (Photo by Aubrey Washington/Getty Images)
Bourdais’ first title in 2004. (Photo by Aubrey Washington/Getty Images)

Once CART dissolved and the Champ Car World Series briefly rose from its ashes, Newman/Haas reeled off a memorable four in a row title run with Sebastien Bourdais from 2004 (right) to 2007. Mike Lanigan, now a co-owner with Bobby Rahal and David Letterman, was a minority partner from 2007 through 2010.

But the team fell on relatively harder times once the Champ Car and IndyCar (then Indy Racing League) merger occurred in 2008.

Poised to be the best team in Champ Car once more, Newman/Haas was stuck learning the then-IndyCar equipment in 2008 even though both Graham Rahal and the late Justin Wilson won races that year. Rahal’s win at St. Petersburg was the first of his career and made him the youngest winner in series history; Wilson’s win at Detroit proved the last of its 107 career wins in open-wheel.

Rahal regularly overachieved in 2009 but lost sponsorship at year’s end, the team pressed on through 2010 primarily with Hideki Mutoh as its only driver while 2011 brought a brief resurgence with Oriol Servia an impressive fourth in the points and James Hinchcliffe rookie-of-the-year, 12th in points.

That year marked the end of the road, though, for the team as sponsorship was too hard to come by and the new Dallara DW12 never made it to the team (a good reflection from veteran IndyCar scribe John Oreovicz, here).

Haas was much more than the team co-owner of Newman/Haas, though.

Carl began as a race car driver and joined SCCA in 1952, an organization he would later serve as a board member and subsequently chairman. In 1985, Carl received SCCA’s highest honor – The Woolf Barnato Award and in 2007 Carl was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame.

Haas started his Carl Haas Automotive Imports, Inc. business in 1960, a high quality, venerable parts business in Lincolnshire, Ill.

That’s become a fixture of the automotive and racing industry in the 50-plus years that have followed, as have Hewland gearboxes.

By 1967, he’d become Lola Cars’ exclusive importer in America and that created a long lineage of success and partnership between the two companies. Lola’s demise occurred a few years ago, unfortunately.

Haas, of course, was also in the news earlier this year – once Gene Haas’ team started the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, it became the first U.S. team in Formula 1 since Carl Haas’ Beatrice Haas Lola team that ran in 1985 in 1986 – the latter year finishing eighth in the Constructor’s Championship having scored six points with Alan Jones and Patrick Tambay.

Haas also ran teams in Formula 5000, Can-Am, Super Vee and NASCAR, although Haas’ at-track presence wound down in the later years of the team. The Can-Am team was where Haas raced against Newman.

Newman died in September 2008, barely a month after Wilson’s win at Detroit.

His life was one devoted to racing and the automotive industry and he left one heck of a mark.

We offer our thoughts and condolences to wife Bernadette (Berni) and their family following this news.

Per the Haas site, in lieu of flowers, a contribution can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association at 8430 W. Bryn Mawr, Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60631 (847/933-2413) or The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp at www.holeinthewallgang.org.

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.”