A year on from Karam battle, Carpenter just wants any result at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – For all its use of “#IndyRivals” as a hashtag and marketing point, the Verizon IndyCar Series hasn’t had much in the way of actual rivalries to actually sell.

But 12 months ago in the cornfields of Iowa, two Americans did IndyCar’s marketing job for them, in Ed Carpenter and Sage Karam.

Carpenter, the now 14-year series veteran (albeit part-time for several of those seasons) had the experience, wisdom and veteran savvy of someone how knows how to race.

Karam, then a rookie, was the brash, unapologetic upstart unafraid to dice it up and occasionally overstep the line of racing sensibilities.

The contrast in styles nearly came to a head last year at Iowa, Karam racing Carpenter quite hard throughout the 300-lap Iowa Corn 300 to where Carpenter knew he needed to talk to Karam post-race. Karam was third, Carpenter sixth, and their battle upstaged the two Americans that finished 1-2 for the second straight year in Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden.

Anyway, flash forward to today and Karam won’t have a chance at an encore performance because he’s not in a car.

Carpenter, meanwhile, hasn’t finished that high in any race he’s started since – and considering Carpenter’s renowned, still, as one of IndyCar’s top oval racers, that’s something that needs to change.

This will only be Carpenter’s fifth race start since Iowa last year and he hasn’t even finished a race since then.

At Pocono last August, Carpenter retired with engine woes. Then in his two completed starts this year, he brushed the wall in Phoenix and retired with electrical gremlins at the Indianapolis 500. The Texas start, he said, went well before that race was temporarily suspended until August 27.

As Carpenter related to NBC Sports on Friday, it’s been a weird year or so since this time last year from a driving standpoint, even though the Ed Carpenter Racing team has been firing on all cylinders as a team.

“It’s getting frustrating!” Carpenter admitted, as he’ll start seventh today. “It’s been a weird year. Indy, we had some electrical issues. I was more disappointed last year because our cars weren’t set up right. This year, we just had issues.

“Phoenix, I made a mistake. We were on for a good run. Texas was good for us early. But I’ve yet to finish a race this year. It’s been either an issue, rain, or whatever. So I want to get a whole race in. I want to get back on a podium or win a race. It’s been too long.”

Upon reflecting on his battle with Karam last year, Carpenter said he has no regrets.

“I would do it all over again,” he said. “I felt like with the whole situation, I wanted to send a signal or message. And I did that. I don’t think anything bad came out of it.

“Perhaps some people didn’t like how I handled it. But so long as the emotion is controlled and genuine, it’s fine. I wouldn’t be mad at my guys for doing the same thing. If they did it with the right angle, so be it.”

Carpenter – the driver – also has to monitor teammate Josef Newgarden, who continues to progress and drive despite his clavicle and right hand injuries. The pair are in matching Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolets this weekend, only separated by their on-board camera mount color (Carpenter’s is red, Newgarden’s yellow) and helmet liveries.

“He’s definitely not 100 percent yet,” Carpenter said of Newgarden. “There’s still quite a bit of discomfort in his hand. But better than at Road America.

“It’s a different race here. He’ll be fine. It’ll be uncomfortable, but once he’s in the car it’ll be next to impossible to get him out. The adrenaline should get him through.”

Carpenter returns to the cockpit for the first time since Texas but in an oddity will be making his first race start since the Indianapolis 500 in May. Spencer Pigot has since taken over the reins of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on road and street courses, and was a career-best ninth last time out at Road America.

Carpenter, who tested with Newgarden’s de facto reserve and key team asset this year JR Hildebrand last week at Iowa, said the track is slightly different and the race complexion will be different being a day race (Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, NBCSN), but still expects it to be entertaining.

“Yeah it’s a little bumpier but its pretty insignificant in how it will affect our cars and the racing. The track is in great shape,” he said.

Things he also hopes will be in great shape? The position of his No. 20 Chevrolet on the pylon this Sunday afternoon, after the year-long dry spell without a finish.

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.”