NHRA: Antron Brown wins 3rd race of year, now No. 1 in Top Fuel points

(Photos courtesy NHRA, Jerry Bonkowski)
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JOLIET, Illinois – Antron Brown took a big step towards repeating as NHRA Top Fuel champion with his win in Sunday’s K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.

Brown (3.777 seconds at 321.19 mph) earned his third win of the season, defeating J.R. Todd (3.798 seconds at 322.11 mph).

“We’re loving it right now,” Brown said. “We’re starting to go in the right direction. We’re peaking at the right time but we haven’t peaked yet.

“We wanted to come here, come home with the win and are fortunate we made all the right calls, did all the right moves and hopefully there’s a lot more for us to come and to our goal is to get better and better and better. That’s what’s going to set us up for the championship.”

MORE: Results and standings from K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals

Brown ties Doug Kalitta for most visits to victory lane thus far in 2016, with each driver having won three races apiece in the first 13 national events of this year’s 24-race season.

In addition, it was Brown’s 57th career win in NHRA competition (41 in Top Fuel, 16 in Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as his fifth win at Route 66 Raceway (3 in Top Fuel, 2 in PSM).

“This place is just really, really special to us,” Brown said. “This is the boss’s (Don Schumacher) hometown. There’s lots of family and friends that come out here and you want to do well in front of them.”


Brown also vaults past Kalitta into the top spot in the Top Fuel point standings, now having a razor-thin two-point edge over Kalitta, who lost in the quarterfinals to Brown’s teammate, Tony Schumacher.

But perhaps the most spectacular stat of all: Brown has now won 32 national events in the last 5.5 seasons, twice as much as the next driver during that period (16 wins by Spencer Massey).

“We found new things that are making us better,” Brown said. “We’re on to something and we’re just going to keep improving on that.

“You have to have that whole pie to make it happen. We’re getting all our pieces together, hopefully we get the bake time right and we come out with a beautiful cake at the end that we can put some icing on and we can repeat what we did last year, hopefully.”

Last but not least, this is the 56th time in its history that Don Schumacher Racing has doubled-up, earning wins in both Top Fuel and Funny Car (Jack Beckman) at the same event.

In addition, it’s the sixth double-up that DSR has achieved at Route 66, as well as its third straight and fourth overall double-up this season.

There were a number of upsets in the first three rounds, particularly in the quarterfinals and semifinals:

* Brittany Force (4.327 seconds, 187.31 mph) was upset in the quarters by rising star Leah Pritchett (3.872/311.63). However, Pritchett (3.814/319.22) lost in the semifinals to Brown (3.762/324.05).

* Todd (3.771/324.28) upset Steve Torrence (3.785/313.58) in the quarterfinals, and then Todd (3.781/323.35) kept going in the semifinals, defeating eight-time Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher (3.815/315.49).

Hard as it may seem to believe, Schumacher has now gone a complete year without a win, his last coming last year at Joliet, his hometown track.

* Doug Kalitta (3.806/320.05) saw his hopes of earning a fourth win of the season fall short when he lost to Schumacher (3.71/322.73) in the quarterfinals.

The NHRA enjoys next weekend off before returning to action July 22-24 with the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver, Colorado.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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.”