IMSA: Chaotic finish sees Corvette snatch unexpected Road America win

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – We wrote this morning that Corvette Racing hadn’t won at Road America since 2008, when Jan Magnussen and Johnny O’Connell did so in the old American Le Mans Series GT1 class in a Corvette C6.R.

Corvette ended its eight-year drought with its second straight and fourth overall win this year with the No. 4 Corvette C7.R of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner, Corvette’s first at Road America in the class now known as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Le Mans class, but whose predecessor in ALMS was either GT or GT2.

Gavin hasn’t won at Road America since 2007, Milner since 2008 – then in what was GT2 with BMW. This is also the fifth different GTLM manufacturer to win at Road America in the last five years (Corvette 2016, Porsche 2015, Ferrari 2014, SRT Viper 2013, BMW 2012).

And quite how they did it was an incredible story of its own.

The No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT dominated most of the day in class and Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook looked poised to win their fourth race of the year, all in the last five races.

But courtesy of a full-course caution inside the final two minutes following apparent contact between PC class competitors Renger van der Zande (No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09) and Stephen Simpson (No. 85 JDC/Miller Motorsports Oreca FLM09) at the Carousel, that spiced things up for an incredible final run to the flag in the last six and seven minutes and change.

So at the restart, Westbrook led the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander, the No. 911 and 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSRs of Nick Tandy and Fred Makowiecki, respectively, and Milner in the No. 4 Corvette.

At that moment, Milner and Gavin’s lead in the points would have only been one point, 255-254, over Westbrook and Briscoe. When the No. 4 car ran sixth earlier in the race, it would have made the points deadlocked.

Then things got crazy. Westbrook moved several times while trying to defend the lead on the restart.

Tandy was attempting to deliver the No. 911 Porsche its first win since Long Beach and nearly passed Vilander in the process at Turn 5. But contact between the two cars sent Tandy around on corner exit, and with Westbrook also getting a bit of damage, his hopes took a hit.

Behind them all, Milner and a stealthy John Edwards in the No. 100 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM – a car snakebit by bad luck this year – got around the second Porsche, the No. 912, for position.

With a lap to go it was Westbrook, Vilander and Milner with Edwards fourth and Makowiecki fifth.

Then Milner got Westbrook on the final lap into Turn 5, as Westbrook got hamstrung by PC traffic. And that only became possible after Milner got into second once the Mazda of Tristan Nunez hit Vilander at Turn 1. That took Vilander and Risi out of the equation.

Milner’s pass nets Corvette’s pair an unofficial 13-point lead over Westbrook and Briscoe, with “Westy” limping the Ford home for second.

Edwards came home third, netting he and the No. 100 BMW for he and Lucas Luhr both their first podium and first top-five of the season.

The No. 912 Porsche was fourth ahead of the Risi Ferrari, an unrepresentative fifth for the car driven by Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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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 Racing 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 Formula E 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 team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

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. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

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.”