No IMSA, PWC conflicts foreseen for 2017 season

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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If you’re a fan of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Pirelli World Challenge, or both – or have key business interests in being part of one or both – today is your lucky day.

Because the 2017 calendars and stars are aligned that there will not be any conflicts between the two championships, one which focuses primarily on endurance races (IMSA) and another that is a sprint-focused series (PWC).

The IMSA calendar release today confirmed that there’s no dates that will conflict with PWC’s 2017 provisional calendar. Long Beach, as in 2016, will be the only site where both series race.

The only possible question marks are PWC’s outstanding TBA dates, which are set at Utah Motorsports Complex in August and an event to be determined in September.

PWC already worked to avoid a Utah/VIR conflict this year and with two weeks in-between IMSA’s Road America (Aug. 6) and VIR (Aug. 27) dates, it’s believed a similar conflict could be avoided next year for a Utah PWC weekend in 2017.

September’s TBA date features the possibility that PWC will resume at Sonoma, and that Sonoma date (Sept. 15-17) does not clash with the IMSA weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca a week later.

And if you think about it, that gives teams or drivers a chance to stay in Northern California for two weeks if they so desire or the budget allows.

“It’s by design and there is a dialogue that is active between Greg Gill and myself,” IMSA President Scott Atherton told NBC Sports.

“You could argue that we’re competitors but I don’t look at it that way. It makes much more sense for us to work together especially when it comes to organizing calendars. If you had the option to not conflict, why wouldn’t you?

“There are teams, there’s manufacturers, there’s drivers that want the option to go both. I think at least for ’17 we’re in a good position that way.”

Added Gill, WC Vision President/CEO, “In terms of communicating, it’s my biggest goal. It’s good for us and it’s good for our customers.”

Here’s the WeatherTech Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series calendars:

2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Schedule
Date Event (Duration) / Venue Classes / Duration
Jan. 26-29 Rolex 24 At Daytona P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, Florida 24 Hours
March 15-18 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Sebring International Raceway – Sebring, Florida 12 Hours
April 7-8 BUBBA burger SportsCar Grand Prix at Long Beach P/GTLM/GTD
Long Beach, California 100 Minutes
May 5-7 Circuit of The Americas P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Austin, Texas 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
June 2-3 Chevrolet Belle Isle Detroit Grand Prix P/PC/GTD
Belle Isle Park – Detroit, Michigan 100 Minutes
June 30-July 2 Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, New York 6 Hours
July 7-9 Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
July 21-22 IMSA WeatherTech Northeast Grand Prix GTLM/GTD
Lime Rock Park – Lakeville, Connecticut 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
Aug. 4-6 Continental Tire Road Race Showcase P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Road America – Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
Aug. 25-27 Michelin GT Challenge GTLM/GTD
VIRginia International Raceway – Danville, Virginia 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
Sept. 22-24 Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda P/GTLM/GTD
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – Monterey, California 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
Oct. 5-7 Petit Le Mans P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Road Atlanta – Braselton, Georgia 10 Hours
IMSA WeatherTech Championship Sanctioned Test Sessions
Date Venue Classes
Nov. 15-16, 2016 Daytona International Speedway P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Daytona Beach, Florida
Dec. 13-14, 2016 Daytona International Speedway P/GTLM/GTD
Daytona Beach, Florida
Jan. 6-8, 2017 Roar Before The Rolex 24 At Daytona P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Daytona Beach, Florida
Feb. 23-24, 2017 Sebring International Raceway P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Sebring, Florida

2017 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Schedule
Date Venue / Location Duration
Jan. 27 Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, Florida 4 Hours
March 17 Sebring International Raceway – Sebring, Florida 2 Hours
May 6 Circuit of The Americas – Austin, Texas 2 Hours
July 1 Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, New York 2 Hours
July 8 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada 2 Hours
July 22 Lime Rock Park – Lakeville, Connecticut 2 Hours
Aug. 4-6 Road America – Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin 2 Hours
Aug. 26 VIRginia International Raceway – Danville, Virginia 2 Hours
Sept. 23 Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – Monterey, California 4 Hours*
Oct. 6 Road Atlanta – Braselton, Georgia 2 Hours
* – Subject to final confirmation

2017 Provisional Pirelli World Challenge Schedule
Date Track

March 10-12 Streets of St. Petersburg
April 7-9 Streets of Long Beach
April 28-30 Virginia International Raceway
May 19-21 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
May 26-27 Lime Rock Park
June 23-25 Road America
July 28-30 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
August TBA
Sept. 1-3 Circuit of the Americas (COTA)
September TBA
Oct. 13-15 SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge –
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Combined IMSA/PWC dates

Date Event (Duration) / Venue Classes / Duration (Series)
Jan. 26-29 Daytona P/PC/GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
March 10-12 Streets of St. Petersburg (PWC)
March 15-18 Sebring P/PC/GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
April 7-8 Long Beach P/GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
April 7-9 Streets of Long Beach (PWC)
April 28-30 Virginia International Raceway (PWC)
May 5-7 Circuit of The Americas P/PC/GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
May 19-21 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (PWC)
May 26-27 Lime Rock Park (PWC)
June 2-3 Detroit P/PC/GTD (IMSA)
June 23-25 Road America (PWC)
June 30-July 2 Watkins Glen P/PC/GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
July 7-9 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park P/PC/GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
July 21-22 Lime Rock GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
July 28-30 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (PWC)
Aug. 4-6 Continental Tire Road Race Showcase P/PC/GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
August TBA (PWC)
Aug. 25-27 Virginia International Raceway GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
Sept. 1-3 Circuit of the Americas (COTA) (PWC)
September TBA (PWC)
Sept. 22-24 Monterey P/GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
Oct. 5-7 Petit Le Mans P/PC/GTLM/GTD (IMSA)
Oct. 13-15 SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge –
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (PWC)

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.”