IMSA: Pre-Rolex 24 notes include return of Gidley back at track

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The reveal of all 55 cars competing in this weekend’s 55th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona headlined Wednesday’s activity, with all cars confirmed in their full liveries and regalia.

Meanwhile, later this week, Memo Gidley will make a triumphant return to Daytona International Speedway this week, as he and wife Mari will attend this weekend’s Rolex 24 as guests of IMSA.

Those two are among the key notes going into this weekend’s race, but not the only ones.

Gidley sustained a number of injuries in a devastating crash in the 2014 Rolex 24, the first race under the auspices of the newly merged IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

While he hasn’t raced competitively since, the likable Californian has been well on his road to recovery in the intervening three years. He’ll make a visit to the media center on Thursday and later in the week, plans to visit with doctors and staff at Halifax Health Medical Center, where he was transported after the incident and spent several days undergoing treatment for his injuries.

“Daytona is a special place for me and I’ve been wanting to get back as soon as I was healed,” Gidley said in a release. “It’s been a long recovery journey, and a big part of my motivation was to be here now. The healing has gone so well and I’ve been cleared by doctors to drive again.”

Here’s some of the other news items or quick quotes from team releases that have come in, in advance of the Rolex 24:

  • On Wednesday, the full field of 55 cars assembled for a group photo on the pit lane at Daytona. Last year’s class champions took the front row, with the remaining 51 cars filling in behind.
  • On Tuesday, Corvette Racing and SONIC Tools announced a partnership, which sees sponsorship on the team’s Corvette C7.Rs and an outlet for SONIC Tools to display and sell its line of precision-crafted tools. Corvette goes for its third straight Rolex 24 win this week, and more info on SONIC Tools’ rapid growth is linked here.
  • tristannuneztomlongMazda Motorsports has a number of nuggets it released on Tuesday. The team will have a large rice spoon (called a skakushi, pictured right) in their pit box for the Rolex 24 weekend. In Japanese culture, the spoons are talismans for good luck, victory, business prosperity and a safe household. The spoon was brought from the Miyajima Temple in Hiroshima, Japan, by drivers Tom Long and Tristan Nunez with Mazda Motorsports boss John Doonan after a recent Mazda fan festival near there. The characters on the spoon read “Certain Victory” and “Must Win.”
  • The manufacturer also revealed the number of either Mazda Road to Indy and/or Mazda Road to 24 graduates in this year’s Rolex 24; a total of 54 drivers have driven some sort of Mazda on their way up either of the parallel ladders prior to competing in the Rolex 24. Two NASCAR spotters, Tim Fedewa and Tyler Green, will join Mazda’s two primary spotters this week.
  • Speaking of spotters, Performance Tech Motorsports will have Kenton Koch back this week, albeit not in a car but only on the spotters’ stand. Koch, one of sports car racing’s up-and-coming young talents, won’t have a chance at an encore win in the PC class.
  • Interestingly, all three Cadillac DPi-V.R entries see the former Action Express Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing teams now entered as their sponsor name. The pair of AXR entries are entered as the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, respectively, while WTR’s car is the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. Keen-eyed observers of the series will note the changes, while for Cadillac’s debut, this marks an interesting approach to have their teams identified as such.
  • AERO™ Advanced Paint Technology will have its paint on several cars, including those from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Scuderia Corsa and Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian. C360R continues with AERO in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ranks.
  • In the “as the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 GTD entry ranks turn” department, a couple quick changes occur with Brandon Gdovic (fourth driver for DAC Motorsports) and Michele Beretta (No. 61 GRT Grasser Racing Team entry, replacing Christoph Lenz) now in for the race. Grasser also comes here after racing in the Dubai 24 Hours two weeks ago.
  • Quick notes on one of the other Lamborghinis, the full-season entry from Change Racing. The team here again has the youngest driver entered in Kaz Grala, who just turned 18, and back for a second season. The team’s partnership presence comes with new support from Forza Motorsports/Turn 10 Studios, and continuing support from Monster Energy, Orion Lighting and Lamborghini Carolinas. Grala shares the No. 16 Huracán with Jeroen Mul, Corey Lewis and Brett Sandberg for one of the most youthful lineups on the grid.
  • This is the 23rd entry for Alex Job Racing in the Rolex 24, coincidentally with the team running the No. 23 Audi R8 LMS for Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo and Pierre Kaffer. Hard as this may seem to believe, this is Montecalvo’s GTD debut in the race; the Bayshore Racing driver previously raced a PC car here in 2014.
  • An interesting note from veteran motorsports journalist Jonathan Ingram about the legend that is Bob Riley: The head designers at Dallara (Luca Pignacca), ORECA (David Floury) and Onroak Automotive (Nicolas Clémençon) have a combined total of 46 years of experience – which falls five short of Bob Riley’s 51 years since the Lynx B Formula V first appeared. Including Riley Technologies, all four companies will have prototypes debuting in the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona in the new DPi era.
  • The incomparable Andy Blackmore’s designs and Spotter Guides for both the WeatherTech and Continental races is linked here and available for free download. Also free and available? IMSA Radio’s session by session broadcasts, which you can listen into via radiolemans.com.
  • Mobil 1 The Grid’s preview of the race with Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin, who edged Antonio Garcia a year ago in the thrilling battle of the two Corvette C7.Rs in GT Le Mans, is below.

More to follow as the weekend progresses. In the interim, here’s a look through our other Rolex 24 posts so far:

P/PC car-by-car preview
GTLM car-by-car preview
GTD car-by-car preview
Without a Shank seat, Allmendinger opts out of Rolex 24 pursuit
Nearly a dozen IndyCar drivers, only Gordon for NASCAR, set for Rolex 24
Four Ford GTs determined to rise to top of GTLM crop at Rolex 24
First taste of tantalizing new prototype battle set for Rolex 24
Post-Viper, the new Mercedes-AMG era begins for Bleekemolen, Keating
Handful of changes identified on Rolex 24 entry list
New GTD manufacturers add intrigue to 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona
Porsche sets sail for new voyage with new 911 RSR into 2017
TRG, Porsche reunite, Buckler looking to recapture glory once more at Rolex 24
Kanaan set for banner January with Race of Champions, Ford GT debut
Roar Before the Rolex 24 recap, notes, musings, observations
Roar Before the Rolex 24 WeatherTech, Continental test results
Jeff Gordon embracing Rolex 24 return with Taylors, Cadillac
Dario Franchitti named grand marshal for Rolex 24 at Daytona
Roar Before the Rolex 24 preview, pre-test notes

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.”