Season for John Force Racing on the line at Texas

(Photo courtesy John Force Racing)
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Even though there are still three races remaining in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, this could be one of the most crucial weekends ever for John Force Racing.

Heading into the AAA Texas FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, team patriarch and 16-time champion John Force is in sixth place in the Funny Car ranks, 138 points behind series leader Ron Capps.

Son-in-law and JFR president Robert Hight is in eighth place, 175 points behind Capps.

“The Texas Motorplex is the first super track,” Hight said. “Billy Meyer was a Funny Car racer so I think this track is built for Funny Car performance with the all-concrete race track. It might be a little warm but this track can handle a lot of horsepower. If the conditions hold up I think you could for sure see some track records and possibly national records.

“This championship will be in play every round of qualifying. … These next three races will be about focusing on the little things and just going out and not making mistakes.”

Rounding out the three-Funny Car operation at JFR is John Force’s youngest daughter, Courtney, who comes into this weekend in ninth place, 186 points behind Capps.

“We all have one goal with our team at John Force Racing and that is to have someone win that Funny Car championship,” Courtney Force said. “Right now I am not in the best position but I am sure going to give it all I have. I am still going for it because all our teams still have a shot.”

Admittedly, it’s been a struggle for all three drivers at times during the first three Countdown events.

While John Force won the playoff opener at Charlotte, he’s made early exits in the subsequent two races at St. Louis (second round) and lost in the first round at Reading (Pa.).

Hight reached the second round at Charlotte, the semifinals at St. Louis, but took a big hit when he lost in the first round at Reading.

Likewise, Courtney Force has lost in the first round in two of the first three races and reached the second round at St. Louis.

“This race will most likely be our last shot to stay in contention for the championship,” Courtney said. “We realize that and we are going to handle that pressure as best we can.

“If we want to make a difference in this Countdown we are going to need to perform this weekend. Unfortunately, since the Countdown started we have been struggling and we haven’t been doing as well as we would have liked. We haven’t been going rounds and it has really hurt us. We have shuffled down the point standings when all season long we were in a great position.

“This has been a pretty good track to me and my team (she’s a former winner at the Motorplex. “I definitely feel more confident going in.”

With a maximum of only 390 total points to be earned in the remaining three races, you can understand that every member of the JFR organization is focused on doing just one thing in Sunday’s final eliminations: win.

If not, there will only be 260 total points available between the last two races of the season – Las Vegas and the season-ending event at Pomona, California – and chances of a rebound for the title are virtually nil by that point.

“We have won in Dallas twice but we need to win this weekend,” Hight said. “There are three races left and I feel like we have a Funny Car that can win all three. It will be tough but we have been running really good numbers and my guys have been busting their butts since the U.S. Nationals.

“I think you have to just throw out Reading and focus on these last three races. There isn’t any extra pressure because we have always been focused on trying to win the championship again.”

Perhaps the driver with the best chance of still earning a championship for JFR is John Force’s other racing daughter, Brittany, who is currently ranked third in the Top Fuel standings, 118 points behind series leader and defending champion Antron Brown.

Brittany reached the second round at both Charlotte and St. Louis and the final round at Reading.

“Reading was huge for our team,” Brittany Force said. “Going to the final was a big step especially now that there are only three races left.

“Now it is all about the teams that are going to be at the top for the next few races. We didn’t get the win but we got to the final and we are going to build on that. That is what we need to keep doing, winning rounds. If we keep having success on Sunday then this championship is not out of our reach.”

While Brittany continued to discuss her own championship hopes, what she said applies to her other three teammates heading into these final three races, as well.

“I think doing well in Dallas and Las Vegas will be a big factor for the championship,” Brittany Force said. “Our goal is to have a chance to win the championship when we get to the Auto Club Finals in Pomona.

“We are going to do everything we can to be in a position where we can win. We go into every race thinking we can win and it starts with the first round of qualifying. This has been an amazing season and these last couple of races will be even more exciting with the championship on the line.”

Coming Thursday afternoon: Column on John Force’s return to the racetrack that changed — and almost claimed — his life.

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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.”