Dixon survives on fuel to complete perfect weekend at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Scott Dixon made it home on fumes to complete a perfect weekend at Watkins Glen International, where he led every session and won his second Verizon IndyCar Series race of the season.

Dixon made it home as others faced a late splash-and-dash or risked stopping late on in a chaotic race, the second to last of 2016.

But while the finish was dramatic, much of Dixon’s weekend wasn’t – it was controlled from start to finish in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

In the race itself, Dixon led 50 of 60 laps, and also got a bit lucky in terms of timing on the yellows that hit – something that has caught him out in the past, most notably at Toronto.

Dixon pitted for the first time on Lap 14 and a lap later, the first yellow came out following a tire blow-out for Mikhail Aleshin at the top of the Esses at Turn 4.

Others such as championship sparring partners Will Power and Simon Pagenaud had not pitted, nor had Dixon’s teammate Tony Kanaan. So that meant Dixon and teammate Max Chilton would cycle through to the front while those who’d need to pit under yellow would cycle back.

Dixon headed the field for the first 13 laps, then led the majority of the middle stanza from Laps 16 to 36, barring the next round of stops.

There were two crazy moments in the interim. The first came when Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal collided exiting Turn 1. Rahal blamed Kimball; Kimball was more introspective post-race.

The second was a three-wide battle between Sebastien Bourdais, Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi going into the Inner Loop on Lap 36. Bourdais squeezed through the middle and caught air over the curbs, but landed and managed to avoid a potentially nasty accident.

The race took a turn towards its nail-biting finish following a dramatic moment in the championship chase. The fourth member of the Ganassi quartet beyond Dixon, Chilton and Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, got a huge run on Will Power going into the Esses on Lap 39. But Power apparently didn’t see him and moved up the road into him on corner exit.

Power crashed out of the race and that meant the day would be better for title sparring partner Pagenaud. Power was checked and released from the infield medical center, but has not been cleared to drive owing to concussion-like symptoms. Per INDYCAR, further evaluations are expected this week.

Alas, the yellow and the subsequent final round of stops meant that with fuel stints usually in the 17 to 18-lap range, there would then be a longer run to the finish of 19 laps.

It meant a handful of different strategies were in play as drivers needed to save to make it home.

Helio Castroneves had stopped on Lap 36 and in theory, needed less fuel once he stopped with the leaders five laps later on Lap 41. But he pitted for a splash on Lap 57 along with Kimball and Chilton.

James Hinchcliffe was promoted into second and trailed Dixon by 18.1507 seconds. But he didn’t make it home, running out on Turn 8 on the final lap. It dropped him from a near-certain second-place into 18th.

Dixon did make it home, finishing 16.5 seconds clear of Josef Newgarden, who’d had a less eventful race than the rest of the field. Castroneves was third ahead of Daly, whose team was surprised as he was that he made it home. Bourdais was less than thrilled with Daly after the race, but still managed to come home in fifth.

Kimball ended his eventful race in sixth ahead of Pagenaud, the points leader, in seventh with Alexander Rossi, RC Enerson and Max Chilton making it three more rookies – along with Daly – in the top 10. Enerson had been caught out on the first yellow when running seventh, but recovered nicely in his second IndyCar start.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Takuma Sato had late spins that dropped them to 13th and 17th, respectively. Despite wholesale changes in the morning warmup, Ryan Hunter-Reay could only end 14th in his 200th IndyCar start. Hinchcliffe, as noted, was 18th while apparent right rear suspension issues – and the tire not being solid – helped knock Kanaan to 19th, the second-worst finish of his season.

Power’s accident left him 20th ahead of Rahal and Aleshin, who were also out of the race.

Unofficially heading to the final race of the season, Pagenaud leads Power by 43 points.

Results are below.

WGIunofficial

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.”