PWC: O’Connell, Stacy span age gap to win Sonoma Saturday races

Photo: Cadillac Racing
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SONOMA, Calif. – The second-to-last weekend for Pirelli World Challenge sees the GT/GTA/GT Cup and GTS classes in action at Sonoma Raceway.

And on Saturday, the two winners spanned the age gap. The 54-year-old cagey veteran, Johnny O’Connell, won overall in GT on the final lap, beating a teenager in rising star Austin Cindric, just 18. Meanwhile a pair of teenagers ended 1-2 in GTS, Nate Stacy scoring his first class win ahead of Parker Chase. Stacy is 16, Chase just 15.

Here’s quick recaps on the pair of races.

GT/GTA/GT Cup

An otherwise flawless drive from Austin Cindric in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3, who looked poised to secure his first series win after leading the first 30 laps in the 50-minute race, came undone on the final lap when Cindric left the door open at the final major passing opportunity.

The 18-year-old ceded the position to the cagier, relentless veteran, 54-year-old four-time defending champion Johnny O’Connell, who darted to the inside at Turn 7 to secure his second win of the season in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R (Circuit of The Americas Round 2 in March).

It’s O’Connell’s third win on the road, having also won the series’ most recent race in California in Long Beach back in April, but having later lost the win following post-race technical inspection for an infraction found. Alvaro Parente inherited the win there.

Cindric was left to secure a hard-luck second place, his second runner-up finish of the season, with the second Cadillac of Michael Cooper in third in the No. 8 Cadillac.

Parente, in the No. 9 K-PAX McLaren, finished fourth, with Michael Lewis top Porsche in the No. 98 Calvert Dynamics entry.

Parente closes the championship gap on title rival Patrick Long in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R unofficially to five points (1461-1456).

Michael Schein, in the No. 16 Wright Porsche, won the GTA race but second-in-class Martin Fuentes has enough points to wrap the GTA class title in the No. 07 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. Cooper MacNeil took a debut podium in PWC in the No. 79 WeatherTech-backed Alex Job Racing Porsche in third.

Alec Udell won another close-fought battle in GT Cup in his No. 17 GMG Porsche over season-long sparring partner Sloan Urry, the No. 20 TruSpeed Autosport entry.

GTS

A racelong battle between Stacy, in the No. 14 Rehagen Racing/Roush Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302 and points leader Brett Sandberg, in the No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4, saw Stacy defend against Sandberg’s advances for nearly the entirety of the race.

And then Lap 26 happened in the 29-lap, 50-minute race, that saw the race – and potentially the title – turn on its head.

Martin Barkey, in the No. 80 Mantella Autosport KTM, made a move to the inside of Chase, in the No. 19 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4, for third place at the chicane. Barkey cleared Chase but his momentum on the inside of the right-hander carried him past on the left-hander and into Sandberg, in the No. 13 KTM, which speared the points leader and took him out of win contention.

It left Stacy, who has past class wins in the TC class, to bring home the bacon for the rest of the race – holding off Chase, who inherited second as a result of the KTM-on-KTM violence.

Hugh Plumb, the polesitter in a third ANSA KTM, finished third in the No. 12 car with Barkey in fourth and Scott Heckert in fifth in the No. 54 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4.

Kevin Marshall was sixth in a Lotus while Sandberg fell to seventh, one spot ahead of Lawson Aschenbach, who made it back to Sonoma in time for the first of two GTS races.

The four-time World Challenge champion, Aschenbach started last in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R but arrived in time following a private jet and helicopter ride, and made it up to eighth place – just one spot behind his closest rival in the championship. He finished 12th in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin earlier in the day, co-driving the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS with Matt Bell in IMSA’s GT Daytona class.

Both classes have their second race of the weekend tomorrow.

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.”