A last-lap, last-turn pass of Brian Deegan netted Scott Speed an overdue first Red Bull Global Rallycross win of the season in the mud and rain of MCAS New River. Then Speed dominated at Washington, D.C. to go back-to-back.
Foust had got the jump off the line and in the opening laps but eventually suffered a right rear tire puncture, and in the closing stages of the final, Speed was able to get past. Foust limped his No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle home in fourth, just off the podium.
For Speed, it was apparent that surviving the technical, more than 1-mile Bader Field circuit would be key to success.
“The off-road part of the track was extremely rough,” Speed told NBC Sports. “In practice, Tanner had ripped the whole right front corner off the car in the dirt. So we knew it’d be tough… and we saw others ripping tires. It was very much a risk/reward sector in terms of pushing the car.
“On the first lap of the race, Tanner made a great move on the dirt getting by us. I went into the mode of, I have to put in qualifying laps. Around Lap 3, when I’d caught back on, I damaged the right rear – I think a broke suspension piece – and cruised through dirt, ruts and potholes in the dirt section. I was a bit surprised he pushed as hard as he was. It was definitely surprising.
“But yes! It was very technical. It was made apparent after the first practice. Still, it was all a track we all really liked, even with the different dirt section, because you had to be so careful. Deegan very much enjoyed it!”
Bad luck struck Speed in the early season races but it’s finally come good here for the defending series champion in the last couple months, heading into the final two race weekends of the season.
“Like you said, it’s getting rid of the tough luck and having clean weekends,” Speed said. “They’re not easy wins by any means. I think we’re just having clean weekends; we don’t have a huge speed advantage anymore.
“Even Phoenix, the start of season was a disaster. We were lucky to qualify second when we did. We broke in one of the semifinals. We ended fifth or sixth. There were lots of little gremlins at start of year, but knock on wood it’s been clean since then.”
Speed also has a healthy respect with Foust as they head into the final three races of the year. Speed leads by nine points over Foust (409-400) as they look to add to their respective Red Bull GRC titles. Foust won two (2011, 2012) and Speed one (2015).
“We have enough mutual respect to race each other clean,” Speed said. “In three years, we’ve never really ran into each other… at least not intentionally! But that goes a long way.
“We’ve had the short end of the luck stick earlier, but it’s turning around right now. We’ll look forward to continue to rattle off the pole positions and having clean qualifying sessions; that hurt us in the beginning of the year.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”