July 2017 remains a question mark for North American Formula E dates

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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NEW YORK – Next July 2017 figures to be an interesting time in the motorsport calendar given that two new FIA Formula E Championship cities are joining the calendar, the FIA World Endurance Championship returns to action following the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June and given that this year, the FIA Formula 1 World Championship had four Grands Prix.

Given the high crossover of FIA WEC drivers into Formula E – roughly half the FE grid is comprised of FIA WEC drivers – it behooves the two series not to clash. FE, as it stands, has three races in July – July 1 in Brussels before the double dip of North American rounds. In season one, Miami and Long Beach ran both in the U.S., but several weeks apart. The same was true this year with Mexico City and Long Beach.

At the moment, though, there is a clash with the Nürburgring FIA WEC race on July 16, same date as the second of two races for the new Montreal ePrix, July 15-16.

According to FIA President Jean Todt, who was in attendance at today’s formal New York City ePrix launch at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, clashes are inevitable.

“I would not call that a conflict,” Todt told NBC Sports this afternoon. “Clearly, there are 52 weeks in the year… and a number of categories of motor racing for the FIA. There is Formula 1, Formula E, (World) endurance, touring car championship, rally, rallycross, Moto Grand Prix, which indirectly linked to FIA… it’s just touching the same kind of crowd. We do have to find the best compromise.”

ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport ace Lucas di Grassi, who was on hand for the event as well, expressed the concern over the date clash as it stands because it would affect any and all drivers who compete in both championships.

“Right now, it’s a bad clash for us,” the Brazilian told NBC Sports. “There’s about half of the grid, 10 drivers, so it’s bad with WEC and FE.

“They’ll do the best to avoid it; but if it happens, sooner or later it will happen. Formula E is growing so much. I think for WEC, there’s only 9 weekends per year. For sure there are ways to avoid this clash.”

It was interesting to note today that when the New York City ePrix was formally and officially launched that a specific date was missing, rather than confirmed as July 29-30 as it was originally listed on the calendar back when the season three schedule came out at the season two finale in Battersea Park.

That lack of confirmation on the date is by design, per Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag, because there are a lot of moving parts to make a New York City ePrix work.

“We’ll be working with the city very soon on the exact date,” Agag told NBC Sports. “We are working on two or three different weekends in July, from mid-July onwards, so there’s different circumstances we have to sort out. There’s cruise liners, the other races… NASCAR races in the vicinity, which are an important element for the local federation (of note, a Loudon, New Hampshire NASCAR weekend occurs July 14-16). We’ll come up with a date that’s good for the city.”

Agag expanded on it in a separate interview after the end of the formal program.

“The FIA is pretty flexible and pretty helpful. We have to figure out how to put together the restrictions in terms of use of this space because of (cruise) ships, with the other races of NASCAR… ACCUS is very protective of NASCAR dates,” he explained.

“It’s a bit of a puzzle with moving parts. We have one or two options that are pretty good and finalize with the city, then it will be done.”

Montreal, as noted, tentatively slated for July 15-16, and New York are unlikely to feature on back-to-back weeks since both are new events.

“I think they could be back-to-back in season four… but I wouldn’t risk it in season three, because they are both new races,” Agag he said.

“I think both are new and we may find an unexpected obstacle to sort out, and then we’ll make it.”

Dates for all of the above three races mentioned should become clearer following the next meeting of the World Motor Sport Council on Sept. 28, next week, where provisional FIA calendars should come out.

For what it’s worth, the Verizon IndyCar Series has races scheduled on both the Montreal and New York weekends, which would give Andretti Autosport a foothold on both sites at the same time. Montreal is tentatively on the same weekend as IndyCar’s lone Canadian trip of the year in Toronto, while the tentative New York date is on the same weekend as IndyCar’s voyage to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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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 Racing 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 Formula E 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 team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

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. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

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.”