What to Watch For: IndyCar at Pocono (Noon ET, NBCSN)

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LONG POND, Pa. – The Verizon IndyCar Series has the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on tap today. It’s the second and last 500-mile race of the season and it’s at the second and last 2.5-mile oval of the season, although calling Pocono an oval is a bit of a misnomer since its nickname is “The Tricky Triangle.”

There’s still a number of items to look for in today’s race, now delayed to Monday due to rain, after a busy day of track activity on Saturday, with two practice sessions and qualifying.

PREVIEW
QUALIFYING REPORT

Here’s what to watch for in the 200-lap race:

FUEL CONSERVATION

Leading will inevitably burn more fuel, which means you don’t want to lead, which means the field is going to be working to save fuel if you’re not in the lead. And fuel saving leads to a fuel mileage race if the cautions and pit windows fall a certain way, and potentially you get a surprise winner.

Here’s NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter Jon Beekhuis’, “Professor B’s,” pit windows:

ALESHIN’S AWESOMENESS

Mikhail Aleshin and ovals have got along well – save for Fontana, 2014 – and the Russian simply loves driving on them. But more than that, he and the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda team are really clicking on all cylinders at the moment.

It’s odd to say that a Russian is an American fan favorite, but Aleshin has carved enough of a cult following among the IndyCar community that if he were to bag his first career win from pole, there’d be a lot of happy folks for him.

HONDA’S HIGH HOPES

With five of the top seven positions on the grid, and eight of the top 13, Honda is in a unique and perhaps welcome situation this year. The Hondas were expected to be more competitive at Pocono and frankly nothing less than a win will do for them on Sunday. They’ve won only once all year.

Aleshin would be a first-time winner while Takuma Sato has looked impressive and starts third, Carlos Munoz looks really good and could easily win from fifth, James Hinchcliffe seeks his first oval win in three years from sixth, Alexander Rossi goes for a 500-mile race sweep from seventh, then any of Graham Rahal, Jack Hawksworth or Marco Andretti could spring a mile surprise from 11th, 12th and 13th. Of the Honda teams, really only Dale Coyne Racing has had a tough go of it this weekend.

DIVERSITY AT THE TOP OF THE GRID

There’s a lot of diversity and variety at the top of the grid. The top six features drivers from six different nationalities (Russia, USA, Japan, Brazil, Colombia and Canada) and the top five are from five different teams (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Ed Carpenter Racing, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport). Consider you’ve got three Hondas and two Chevrolets and that’s a testament to how diverse and deep IndyCar is, right there.

Also consider that on Saturday of the three accidents in practice, we had one apiece from Andretti (Ryan Hunter-Reay), Chip Ganassi Racing (Charlie Kimball) and Penske (Juan Pablo Montoya), which almost never happens.

THAT RARE MOMENT WHEN YOU LOOK FROM P14 ON BACK AND SEE THESE NAMES:

The starting grid for the ABC Supply 500 features these names in positions you don’t ordinarily see them:

14. Simon Pagenaud
15. Juan Pablo Montoya
19. Scott Dixon
22. Ryan Hunter-Reay

Three series champions and Indianapolis 500 winners, and the current 2016 points leader (Simon Pagenaud) starting P14 on back.

Yes it’s a 500-mile race, and yes, you don’t need to start up front to win. But it’s still a ways to go for these four.

Don’t rule them out, of course, and note that Dixon and Montoya were a respectable fifth and sixth in final practice.

Pagenaud has a 58-point lead over Will Power and will look to maintain a similar gap if not lose too many points coming out of the weekend.

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.”