Alexander Rossi, Al Unser Jr., 23 others named to Road Racing Drivers Club

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The Road Racing Drivers Club has voted 25 new members to its 2016 class.

Numerous former stars are included, with 17 regular members from open-wheel and sports car racing, as well as five associate members and three honorary members.

The newest members takes the RRDC’s overall roster over 500 members, to 510.

“We are honored to welcome a group of outstanding racing champions and high achievers in the auto-racing arena,” RRDC president and Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owner Bobby Rahal said in a release.

“It’s clear that they are not only accomplished representatives of the sport, they have conducted themselves honorably off the track, a quality the RRDC members take into consideration when voting in new members.

“We also appreciate that each new member has enthusiastically accepted membership in the RRDC. We look forward to working with them as the RRDC continues to pursue its goals of recognizing and mentoring aspiring race-car drivers through a variety of programs.”

Here are the new members of the RRDC:

Regular members:

JONATHAN BENNETT: Two-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge Driver Champion, 2014-15.

MATTHEW BRABHAM: 2012 USF2000 Champion; 2013 Pro Mazda Champion.

GABBY CHAVES: 2009 Formula BMW Americas Champion; 2013 Indy Lights Champion; 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Three-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Champion (with Joao Barbosa), 2014-16; three-time Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup Champion, 2014-16 (with Joao Barbosa).

JOHN FITZPATRICK: 1966 British Saloon Car Champion; the 1972 and ’74 European GT Champion; Porsche Cup titlist in 1972, ’74 and ’80; plus 1980 IMSA GT Champion.

GEORGE FIZELL: 1984 SCCA President’s Cup winner; four-time SCCA National Championships in Formula Vee.

SAGE KARAM: 2010 USF2000 National Champion; 2013 Indy Lights Champion; 35-time World Karting Assn. and IRL Stars of Karting National champion.

JOEL MILLER: 2006 ICA North American Champion; 2013 Rookie of the Year in Rolex Grand-Am Championship; driver coach.

SPENCER PIGOT: 2015 Indy Lights champion; 2014 Pro Mazda Champion; 2010 Skip Barber Racing Series National Champion.

JEFF PURNER: 1985 Skip Barber Racing Series Champion; 1990 IMSA Firestone Firehawk GS Champion; 1993 Trans-Am Rookie of the Year.

ALEXANDER ROSSI: 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion and Indy Rookie of the Year; competed in five F1 races in 2015 before switching to IndyCar.

AMY RUMAN: 2015 and 2016 Trans-Am Champion; first female Trans-Am Champion in 50-year history of the Series.

JORDAN TAYLOR: 2013 DP-class Champion in Rolex Grand-Am Championship (with Max Angelelli).

RICKY TAYLOR: 2006 Skip Barber Karting Shootout Scholarship winner; competes with brother Jordan in  IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

AL UNSER JR.: 1981 Super Vee Champion; 1982 SCCA Can-Am Champion; two-time Indy 500 winner, 1992 and ’94; two-time IndyCar Champion, 1990 and ’94.

ALEX WURZ: Retired pro driver; two-time 24 Hours of LeMans winner; F1 consultant, driver coach, president of GPDA.

JEFF ZWART: 1990 SCCA U.S. Pro Rally Open Class Champion; 2004 Baja 1000 Challenge Class Champion; Pikes Peak International Class Championships, 1994-98, 2002, 2010; directs high-performance TV commercials around the world.

Associate Members:

CRAIG BENNETT: 1987 SCCA National GT-1 Division Champion and Rookie of the Year; currently VP of RM Motorsports (high-end race-car/road-car restorations)

JOHN DOONAN: Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations since 2011; licensed race-car driver since 1995, competing in SCCA, IMSA, IndyCar, etc.

DOUG FEHAN: Program Manager for Corvette Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and 24 Hours of LeMans; raced a Chevelle stock car in USAC in late ’60s.

DON KITCH JR.: Veteran of more than 25 years and 200 pro and amateur racing starts; founded, with wife Donna, the ProFormance Racing School, where he is chief instructor; helped develop the Team Seattle “Heart of Racing” program at Alex Job Racing.

ED PINK: The drag-racing Hemi engines he’s built over 60-plus years have won races from Midgets to IndyCars; earned Lifetime Achievement Award from Petersen Automotive Museum; also built IMSA, LeMans and NASCAR engines.

Honorary members:

WALT CZARNECKI: Executive Vice President of Penske Corporation; Vice Chairman of the Board of Team Penske. 40-year-plus tenure with Penske.

CHRIS POOK: Creator of annual Grand Prix of Long Beach, in its 43rd year; has also created temporary racing venues in Las Vegas, Dallas, Meadowlands, N.J., Denver, Del Mar, Calif., and St. Petersburg, Fla. Served on the F1 Commission of FIA.

ANDREW SCRIVEN: Draftsman on 1984 Tiga Race Cars; produced the 1985 design for the GT285 IMSA Lights/C2 Car; currently is Chief Designer for Aerospace, Military and Racing projects for Crawford Composites, LLC.

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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.”