Porsche weathers the storm to claim FIA WEC victory in Mexico

© Porsche
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Porsche’s no. 1 crew of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley weathered a turbulent 6 Hours of Mexico at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to claim their second win of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season.

In a race that saw all of the leading LMP1 manufacturers suffer setbacks across the course of the six hours, Porsche’s no. 1 919 Hybrid saw off the challenge from Audi to claim the first WEC victory in Mexico City.

After locking out the front row of the grid on Saturday, Audi looked ready to take the fight to Porsche in the race, and duly delivered in the early stages as Lucas di Grassi led in the no. 8 R18 after the first hour.

Porsche hit the front at the halfway stage just as a rain shower hit the circuit, prompting each team to keep an eye on the sky and change its tires accordingly.

The no. 1 car was hit with a stop/go penalty after crossing the pit entry line before bailing out at the last minute, handing Audi the advantage.

However, a brake failure for Oliver Jarvis while behind the wheel of the no. 8 Audi in the fourth hour sent the car into the wall, dashing its hopes of victory. Although Audi was able to patch up the car and send it back out, further issues resigned the no. 8 to the garage after 166 laps.

A tire battle ensued at the front between the no. 1 Porsche and the no. 7 Audi, Andre Lotterer piloting the latter with fresher and more suitable tires that saw him pull Bernhard in at around five seconds per lap.

Bernhard’s lead fell to under 20 seconds as he tried to make it through a wet-tire stint before switching back to slicks to stay on-strategy. The German was handed a reprieve when Lotterer locked up, hitting the wall and losing 30 seconds in the process.

A late rain shower threatened Porsche’s advantage late on, with Audi banking on a late splash-and-dash for Lotterer in the no. 7 car. The German marque rolled the dice, fitting him with intermediate tires with 12 minutes remaining to place pressure on Bernhard at the front.

With five minutes to go, the pressure on Porsche almost tolled. Coming out of the stadium section, Bernhard slid off the track after hitting the curb, kissing the barrier. Although the incident did not damage the 919 Hybrid, it allowed Lotterer to close in by 20 seconds.

After completing the final few laps in a tentative manner, Bernhard crossed the line after six hours of racing to secure the no. 1 crew’s second win of the season following last month’s success at the Nurburgring.

Lotterer brought the no. 7 Audi home in second place, while Toyota completed the podium with its no. 6 car after an impressive final stint from Stephane Sarrazin.

LMP2 saw the RGR Sport by Morand Ligier-Nissan claim a memorable home victory, putting the Mexican flag on the top step of the podium. Early incidents saw the no. 43 car shared by Bruno Senna, Ricardo Gonzalez and Felipe Albuquerque drop back, handing the advantage to the no. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan.

G-Drive enjoyed a sizeable lead heading into the final hour, only for a dramatic brake failure with Rene Rast behind the wheel to scupper the Russian team’s hopes of victory, dropping it outside of the points.

This left the RGR Sport by Morand team to win the LMP2 class, with the no. 36 Signatech Alpine entry finishing second as Extreme Speed Motorsports – rather aptly for a team sponsored by a tequila brand – rounded out the podium in Mexico.

GTE Pro saw Aston Martin and Ferrari engage in a fierce battle throughout the six-hour race, with the British marque emerging victorious with its no. 97 Vantage V8. Darren Turner and Richie Stanaway saw off the challenge of the no. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE, while the second AMR entry was third despite a trip into the barrier earlier in the race.

Abu Dhabi Proton Racing scored victory in GTE Am after a race-long battle with KCMG and AF Corse. An early crash ruled the no. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 out of contention for victory, leaving the no. 88 Porsche 911 RSR to finish a minute clear of the no. 83 AF Corse, with KCMG’s no. 78 finishing third.

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.”