Borg-Warner Trophy face reveal, 2016 PRI Show notebook

Photo: Dan R. Boyd for BorgWarner
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Spent the tail end of last week in Indianapolis for the 2016 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show and the Borg-Warner Trophy face reveal, which saw Alexander Rossi’s face the latest one adorned on the trophy.

Notes from those two events are below:

-Wednesday’s Borg-Warner Trophy face revealing for Alexander Rossi was a particularly well-run event. Usually things of this nature are built up for quite a while before the actual unveil, but in this instance the program moved quickly and swiftly from its 5 p.m. start time to the face reveal at 5:10, which served as the formal end of the program before Rossi started making the rounds of interviews.

-One of the special moments after the unveil came when Holly Wheldon, sister of the late Dan Wheldon, and Rossi posed alongside Dan Wheldon’s winning No. 98 Honda from the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Rossi and Bryan Herta carried the tradition from 2011.

-To go along with the face reveal, the annual BorgWarner dinner followed later Wednesday night at Mo’s … A Place for Steaks in downtown Indianapolis, which brought together a number of assembled media and special guests to honor the new champion. Rossi and three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Unser were the featured attractions, while Jeff Gordon was a surprise visitor to the dinner to congratulate Rossi on his achievement. Gordon, now a FOX Sports NASCAR analyst, made an eight-race comeback to NASCAR’s top-level series this year as an injury replacement for Dale Earnhardt Jr., and has just been confirmed to race next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in Wayne Taylor Racing’s Cadillac DPi-V.R.

-On Thursday morning, Rossi’s winning car itself was presented to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Prior to the presentation, Gordon came over for an encore to meet Rossi once again.

-Rossi is in a welcome position where it’s December, he knows what he’s doing next year, and has already had one test with two new additions to his No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda. He seemed to be positively beaming about new engineer Jeremy Milless, and he’s also getting a great new strategist in Rob Edwards, as Bryan Herta is set to move to Marco Andretti’s car. Considering for the last several years, Rossi’s plans have come together late in the offseason, the fact he knows where everything is, will have year-to-year team and series continuity and also knows the tracks now, he should be poised for a better overall second season.

-Spoke to IMS President Doug Boles at the Borg-Warner Trophy face reveal. Boles is bullish on 2017 Indianapolis 500 ticket renewals, as it’s higher than anticipated compared to projections and trending ahead of 2015, which is the realistic target to hit. Additionally, Boles said there are a couple potential sponsors that could take on the IndyCar Grand Prix title sponsor role. In terms of other IMS events, Boles has been thrilled with the turnout thus far at the Speedway’s Holiday Lights display, which is a 1.7-mile drive around the circuit that’s had tens of thousands of visitors thus far since opening, and he’s also expecting a large number of entries for the 2017 SCCA National Championship Runoffs to be held next September. North of 750 cars are possible for the 2017 Runoffs, Boles said.

-Thanks to IndyCar for a fun end-of-year media dinner gathering at Hibachi Japanese Steakhouse in Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple neighborhood. Good times and laughs were had by most, if not all, attendees.

-Saturday saw an on-site taping of James Hinchcliffe’s “The Mayor on Air” podcast he co-hosts with INDYCAR Digital Media Director Brian Simpson. Hinchcliffe had got Simpson in a prank for his birthday in August, while Simpson – and a number of others – got him back not long after Hinchcliffe turned 30 on December 5. Hinchcliffe said he’s happy to get back into his normal in-Indianapolis routine after several months away with his “Dancing with the Stars” commitments.

-Hinchcliffe and Rossi weren’t alone on site among the IndyCar contingent. Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal also made appearances.

-HP Composites, a premiere producer of carbon fiber and composite components for Motorsport, Series Production and the Industrial and Aerospace sectors, has established North American operations in Denver, N.C. HP Composites and Onroak Automotive are sister companies under the Everspeed group banner.

Photo: Sunday Group Management
Photo: Sunday Group Management

-The F4 U.S. Championship schedule was also revealed at the same time. The schedule for them is: April 8-9, Homestead (with Trans-Am), April 28-30, VIR (with PWC), June 8-11, Indianapolis (with SVRA), July 8-9, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (with IMSA), August 10-12, Mid-Ohio (with NASCAR Xfinity/Trans-Am), and Sept. 14-17, COTA (with FIA WEC). Note the Indianapolis date is part of the SVRA “Open Wheel World Challenge” weekend, while the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational is the following week, June 16-18.

pwcteaser

-Pirelli World Challenge held its ‘State of the Series’ presentation on Friday at the show. The biggest change comes with a move to USAC for sanctioning, although PWC is working through the next step of its relationship with longtime partner SCCA, per PWC president/CEO Greg Gill. The race formats, TV and streaming package, and other components were revealed, including a move to online registration systems and a new timing & scoring partner in Timing Solutions Ltd.

shea-holbrook-driving-2017-honda-civic-at-25-hours-of-thunderhill-race
Photo: Honda Racing/HPD

-A number of intriguing participants were in the room from a mix of manufacturers in teams that either are set to continue in PWC as have they have in the past, or could be poised to switch from IMSA.

-One of the key manufacturer/team announcements was Shea Racing’s confirmation of an extended relationship with Honda Racing/HPD. PWC B-Spec champion Tom O’Gorman steps up to a new Honda Civic Si in TCA, while Shea Holbrook and Jason Fichter will continue to run a pair of Touring Car-class Honda Accords. Spoke to both Holbrook and O’Gorman at PRI and will have follow-ups with them to come.

-More content from breakout interviews gathered at PRI will follow in the coming days.

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.”