IndyCar: Simon Pagenaud hailed for championship year, others also honored

Photo by Chris Jones/IndyCar

After 16 races, thousands of miles of competition on-track and many more thousands traveling between events from St. Petersburg to Sonoma, Simon Pagenaud put a bow on his 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship Tuesday night.

In a ceremony at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in downtown Indianapolis, Pagenaud officially claimed the $1 million prize for winning the IndyCar championship, as well as the Astor Cup trophy.

It was a phenomenal year for the 32-year-old native of France, earning a career- and series-high five wins and seven Verizon P1 Award pole positions – which was marked by his accepting the Sunoco Diamond Performance Award – in his sixth full-time season and seventh overall on the American-based open-wheel circuit.

Driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, Pagenaud accepted his champion’s prize, trophy and ceremonial ring from Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, before a full house.

“It’s obviously a milestone in my career, my lifetime dream come true,” Pagenaud said. “There’s obviously more in the future, other goals to reach, but I’ve reached one of the biggest ones I wanted.”

Pagenaud marked another milestone by winning the championship in Team Penske’s 50th anniversary.

“Obviously Team Penske is one of the most historic race teams in the world,” Pagenaud said. “I’m so proud to be part of this team, so proud that I could bring this championship to Roger.

“The 50-year anniversary is huge and this is going to go into history. I’m very glad that I could leave a little bit of my legacy, but I’m a very small part in a very big thing.”

The 16-race season also saw IndyCar’s return to Phoenix International Raceway, Road America and Watkins Glen International.

“This has been a phenomenal season,” Miles said in a statement. “Historic in a very real sense with the epic 100th Running of the Indy 500 – which I think exceeded everybody’s expectations as a monumental event.

“But then the whole year was great. I think back to all the races, every one of them was a dynamite event – great racing, great crowds.”

Miles also gave a big pat on the back to the series itself.

“All of our fan metrics are up meaningfully this year,” Miles said. “In fact, we’re at like a 55 percent increase in our television audience over the last three years, which very few sports can claim, and all of our other metrics are great.

“IndyCar is on a roll, we’ve got the schedule out for next year and people are looking forward to 2017.”

While Pagenaud was the star of Tuesday’s event, there were a number of other individuals recognized in one of IndyCar’s biggest seasons ever, including the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award winner and 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award winner and 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi.

Rookie driver Alexander Rossi won the historic and milestone race and on Tuesday was officially named the series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

Among others that were honored Tuesday night:

* Billy Vincent, Pagenaud’s chief mechanic, earned the Verizon IndyCar Series Chief Mechanic of the Year Award.

* Team Penske’s Jon Bouslog was honored as Team Manager of the Year.

* Another rookie driver, Conor Daly, earned the TAG Heuer “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” Award for advancing the most cumulative places from the start of races to their finish during the season.

* Charlie Kimball earned the Firestone “Drive to the Finish” award for completing the most laps of any driver this season (2,066 of a possible 2,070, 99.8 percent). Mike Hull, managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing accepted the award on Kimball’s behalf.

* The family of Bryan Clauson, who was voted IndyCar Nation Fan Favorite Driver, accepted the award for the three-time Indianapolis 500 starter that tragically perished in a racing accident in August.

* Chevrolet earned the Manufacturers Award for winning 14 of 16 races this season, as well as 13 poles and led 71 percent of the laps (1,467 of 2,070). Chevrolet vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports Jim Campbell accepted the award. It was the fifth straight year Chevrolet has won the award, beginning in 2012 when the company returned as an engine supplier to the IndyCar series.

Here’s a full list of Verizon IndyCar Series award winners and honorees:

* Championship driver (Astor Challenge Cup):
 Simon Pagenaud
* Jostens Championship Driver Award (ring): Simon Pagenaud
* Championship team (Astor Challenge Cup): Team Penske
* Championship team sponsors: Menards, PPG Automotive Refinish, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
* Championship team manager: Jon Bouslog
* Chief Mechanic of the Year Award: Billy Vincent
* Sunoco Diamond Performance Award: Simon Pagenaud
* Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award: Alexander Rossi
* TAG Heuer “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” Award: Conor Daly
* Firestone “Drive to the Finish” Award: Charlie Kimball
* Verizon P1 Award: Simon Pagenaud
* Second-place championship driver: Will Power
* Second-place championship team: Team Penske
* Third-place championship driver: Helio Castroneves
* Third-place championship team: Team Penske
* Manufacturers Championship: Chevrolet
* IndyCar Nation Fan Favorite Driver: Bryan Clauson
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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

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.”