NHRA: ‘Fast Jack’ Beckman looks to speed things up in championship bid (Seattle race preview)

Photos courtesy NHRA
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His nickname may be “Fast Jack,” but NHRA Funny Car driver Jack Beckman wants to be “Faster Jack” as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series closes in on the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

For all intents and purposes, Beckman has had a very good season through the first 15 national events. He’s qualified No. 1 in four races, won his first race of the season last month at Chicago, has reached the final round a total of four times, is currently third in the Funny Car point standings and appears to be well on his way to potentially earning a second NHRA championship.

Except …

Compared to last season, Beckman is struggling. He won a career-high seven wins last season, including the first two races of the Western Swing.

2016_Jack_Beckman headshot
“Fast Jack” Beckman

Fast forward a year to the present time and Beckman not only has just the one win (at Chicago), he’s won just one round win in the first two legs of this year’s Western Swing.

The third and final leg of the Swing is this Sunday in the Protect The Harvest Northwest NHRA Nationals at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle.

So while things may look good on paper, Beckman is ready to tear things up starting with Seattle and hopefully go on another tear like he did last season.

“You look at the points and it looks like we’re having a pretty solid year, but I don’t think anybody on this team is satisfied with the performance,” Beckman said in a media release. “We’ll clinch a spot in the Countdown before the end of Seattle and we’ll likely go in looking pretty good in the points standings, but we know we’ve been struggling and we know we haven’t hit the sweet spot yet in our tune-up.

“One of the problems is we’ve been playing musical chassis. The shop has been really good with everything, but it’s a lot of extra work getting everything switched over each time.”

Beckman came so close to winning his second Funny Car championship last season, but Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown – and four overall of the six playoff events – and Beckman couldn’t quite catch Worsham in the remaining races.

“Every one of our races awards a trophy and every race is important,” said Beckman, who has 23 career victories. “I don’t have a crystal ball but hopefully we can capitalize this weekend.

“This team last year on the Western Swing, we were 8-0 (in round wins) and right now we’re 1-2. I think we just want to walk out of (the Western Swing) with our head held high and the only way to do that is to take the trophy home with us.”

But it won’t be easy for Fast Jack. He has to contend not only with 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, who has won the first two races of the Swing and is looking to win all three for only the second time in its history.

And then Beckman must contend with his own Don Schumacher Racing teammates: Funny Car points leader (and four-time winner this season) Ron Capps, two-time champion Matt Hagan and always dangerous Tommy Johnson Jr.

“It is real easy to be confident when your horse is the fastest horse,” Beckman said. “When you have that attitude you just go back to reacting and you don’t think about things. It feels like you’re doing things naturally.

“When things aren’t going your way you get into that habit of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I still have to do what works best for me and that’s be calm and confident, and go execute. We can’t leave anything on the table anymore.

Every race we leave without a trophy we let an opportunity slip by. I don’t think we can try any harder. Everybody is working hard. We just have to find those small details to get the car to respond like it did last year. But we don’t want to let anything else slip away. They’re giving away three more trophies before the Countdown and we still have a shot to get back into the points lead.”

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PROTECT THE HARVEST NHRA NORTHWEST NATIONALS presented by Lucas Oil FACT SHEET

WHAT: 29th annual Protect The Harvest NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil, the 16th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event.

WHERE: Pacific Raceways, Kent, Wash. The track is located 10 miles east of Interstate 5 on Highway 18. From I-5, use Exit 142A (Auburn exit) and travel east 10 miles on Highway 18, following the signs to the track. From other points, use Highway 18 and exit S.E. 304th St. or S.E. 312th St.

COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 280 feet above sea level; Track direction is east to west.

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Aug. 5-7

SCHEDULE:        

FRIDAY, Aug. 5- LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m.

 

SATURDAY, Aug. 6- LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1 and 4 p.m.

 

SUNDAY, Aug. 7 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

 

TELEVISION:      

Friday, Aug. 5, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).

Sunday, Aug. 7, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at Noon (ET).

Sunday, Aug. 7, FOX will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 4 p.m. (ET).

 

2015 EVENT WINNERS: J.R. Todd, Top Fuel; Tommy Johnson Jr., Funny Car; Chris McGaha, Pro Stock.

MOST VICTORIES: John Force, 8, FC; Bob Glidden, 6, PS; Joe Amato, 5, TF; Warren Johnson, 4, PS; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF.

TRACK RECORDS:            

Top Fuel – 3.727 sec. by Richie Crampton, Aug. ’15; 328.30 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15.

Funny Car – 3.912 sec. and 322.88 mph by Jack Beckman, Aug. ’15.

Pro Stock – 6.488 sec. and 213.40 mph by Chris McGaha, Aug. ’15.

NATIONAL RECORDS:    

Top Fuel – 3.671 sec. by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car – 3.862 sec. and 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.;  215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

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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.”