IMSA: Bomarito leads Road America polesitters

Bomarito. Photo courtesy of IMSA

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Three of the four polesitters for Sunday’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America captured their first IMSA (or American Le Mans Series) pole positions, since, ironically, past poles at Road America several years ago.

Jonathan Bomarito (Prototype), Dirk Mueller (GT Le Mans) and James French (Prototype Challenge) all secured their first pole positions of the season. The fourth class polesitter, Alex Riberas (GT Daytona) has a pole in his Road America debut.


Bomarito’s is the third for the No. 55 Mazda Prototype, now back in its standard Soul Red color after two races in a throwback 1991 livery, but his first. Teammate Tristan Nunez has the other two at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Mueller, in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, has that team’s third this year (Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 Ford at Watkins Glen International and Lime Rock Park). He also scored the overall pole for the FIA World Endurance Championship race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTE-Pro class, in the No. 68 car. Mueller shares with Joey Hand.

French, in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 he’ll share with Kyle Marcelli, hustled his car around for his first pole since this race last year.

Bomarito took his last pole in 2013 here with the SRT Viper, and inherited the pole in 2014 at Circuit of The Americas after polesitter Patrick Pilet was disqualified following a post-qualifying technical infraction. Mueller’s last U.S. pole was in ALMS in 2011, here, with a BMW M3 for BMW Team RLL and Dunlop tires.

Bomarito promptly stomped the field in Prototype qualifying, on pole by more than one second at 1.152 seconds clear of Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP (1:54.507 to 1:55.659).

The No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP and second Mazda, the No. 70 car, completed the top four on the grid. The No. 31 Whelen Engineering-backed Action Express Corvette DP, which won this race last year with Dane Cameron and Eric Curran, complete the top five on the grid.


French has scored a hometown pole in Prototype Challenge. The Sheboygan, Wis. native – he grew up less than a half hour away from the Road America track – has his fourth pole in his IMSA career and first this season for the Performance Tech Motorsports team, and he shares the No. 38 Oreca FLM09 with Kyle Marcelli.

French edged fellow open-wheel veteran Jose Gutierrez in the No. 7 Starworks Motorsport by just 0.075 of a second; a 1:59.133 lap was just ahead of Gutierrez’s 1:59.208.

Both drivers were here in June, French having made his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series debut with Belardi Auto Racing to add that car to the tens of thousands of miles he’s logged here in vintage F1 machinery and other types of cars. Meanwhile Gutierrez tested another open-wheel car to gain additional track experience, and it paid dividends.

Misha Goikhberg (JDC/Miller Motorsports), Matt McMurry (BAR1 Motorsports) and Robert Alon (PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports) completed the top five on the grid. All five drivers have either or possibly both of Mazda Road to Indy and Mazda Road to 24 experience.


Dirk Mueller has taken the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT to the GT Le Mans class pole position for Sunday’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, which is his first pole since the American Le Mans Series/GRAND-AM Rolex Series merge and his first pole in North America in five years.

Mueller scored the pole at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in the renumbered No. 68 Ford – a car that ultimately won the GTE-Pro race with co-drivers Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais – but this is his first pole back on U.S. soil.

His last pole on U.S. soil was at this same track, then in a Dunlop-shod No. 56 BMW M3 he also co-drove with Hand, in 2011 in the American Le Mans Series. That car also started on pole before the 2012 Long Beach street race via points, a qualifying session which was canceled owing to heavy rain.

With a best time of 2:02.451, Mueller banked a 0.461 of a second gap on defending class champion Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR in second, with the second Ford, the No. 67 qualified by Ryan Briscoe, in third.

Mueller shares his car with Hand, Pilet with Nick Tandy and Briscoe with Richard Westbrook. The points leading No. 4 Corvette C7.R of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner will roll off from seventh in class.


Riberas took his third pole of the season in GT Daytona in the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, this time adding the Road America road course to other poles at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Coupled with Mario Farnbacher’s pole at Watkins Glen International, the No. 23 car has four poles in eight races.

Riberas had a full 0.239 of a second on the first of two Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS entries in a row. The No. 6 car of Andrew Davis (he’ll share with Robin Liddell) edged the No. 9 car of Matt Bell (Lawson Aschenbach to co-drive).

The top Dodge and Ferrari were fourth and fifth, the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R (Ben Keating/Jeroen Bleekemolen) and No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 (Christina Nielsen/Alessandro Balzan). All told the top nine in the 15-car class were separated by only 0.984 of a second, a very small margin at the 4-plus mile road course.


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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

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.”