While Penske driver will win IndyCar championship, what about other two that won’t?

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So much is being made about how no matter who wins the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship on Sunday, it will be a Team Penske driver.

Either Simon Pagenaud or Will Power.

But there’s two other Team Penske drivers that will also be in Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. While their teammates will be going for the championship, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves will have plenty of incentive themselves, as well.

But for a lot of different reasons.

Castroneves comes into the race tied for third place with Scott Dixon, 104 points behind Pagenaud. Even with double points to be awarded in Sunday’s race, it’s clear Castroneves will be unable to mount a last-race rally to win the championship.

And in so doing, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner will once again come up short for the 15th consecutive season of winning the one thing he’s coveted the most: an IndyCar championship.

Still, the Brazilian driver intends on putting his best foot forward philosophically on Sunday.

“The championship is not available for us, but there is still plenty to race for,” Castroneves said. “Final points position is still up in the air, as is winning the race.

“The No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet team has been tenacious all season long and we’ll finish strong. Sonoma is a track that we’re very familiar with. It’s very challenging and we’ve had good results there.”

In 11 previous starts at the twisting road course in California’s wine country, Castroneves has one win (2008) and three overall podium finishes.

He typically qualifies well there (4.3 average), while his average finish (9.1) has taken a hit in the last two races, when he finished 18th in 2014 and 15th in 2015.

“I don’t think our finishes there the last couple of years is representative of the car we had,” Castroneves said. “I’m definitely looking forward to getting out there and closing out the season on a strong note.”

Once Sunday’s race is over, Castroneves will likely finish the season somewhere between second and fifth. It may not necessarily be the finish he wanted when the 2016 season began, but all Castroneves has to do is ask teammate Juan Pablo Montoya about how much worse of a season it could have been.

Montoya, who turns 41 on September 20, will remember 2016 for a lot of reasons – most of them bad. Currently ranked 14th heading into Sonoma, Montoya is destined to record the worst finish of his IndyCar career (as well as CART before that).

While Montoya mathematically could finish as high as 10th for the season with a good run in Sunday’s race, the odds – like this season – aren’t necessarily in his favor.

Unless he wins the race, it’s highly likely that Montoya will record his first-ever season finish outside the top 10 in his IndyCar career.

The Colombian driver has managed to reach victory lane just once in 2016: the season-opening race at St. Petersburg for the second straight season.

But whereas Montoya led the 2015 standings all season until Scott Dixon passed him in the final race for both the win and the championship, Montoya has struggled for the better part of the 2016 season.

Plus, there could be even worse news on the horizon for JPM. A number of reports and rumors have circulated in recent weeks that Montoya may not be returning to Team Penske in 2017.

Whether he does or not remains to be seen, and to his credit, Montoya is keeping his cards close to the vest. To his credit, Montoya is keeping things to himself. He won’t talk when asked about his future.

But he will talk a lot about the final race of 2016, even if it is potentially his swan song with Team Penske, as well.

“Sonoma is a great place to close out the season,” he said. “The track is challenging and competitive. It’s a place that really displays what the cars are capable of.

“We’ll have the hum by Verizon Chevy this weekend and I’m really excited about it. This season didn’t play out the way we wanted, but at the end of the day it is a championship season for Team Penske. A championship for our team was the primary goal, obviously, but getting one for the team is just behind that.”

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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.”