New Acura NSX GT3s star in Rolex 24 debut

Photo courtesy of IMSA
0 Comments

The collaborative efforts of Michael Shank Racing, RealTime Racing, HART and Honda Performance Development all came good straight out of the box for the race debut of the new Acura NSX GT3.

In this weekend’s 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona, the new Acuras led laps, finished fifth and 11th in the 27-car GT Daytona field (and perhaps was unlucky to not finish higher), and scored the most points in the first leg of the four-race Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

Not bad for your first time out.

Both cars qualified in the top-10 in class on debut, with Andy Lally in the No. 93 Acura and Jeff Segal in the No. 86 Acura lining up in seventh and ninth.

By Lap 28, Lally was already into the lead of the class – the first lead for the new NSX in race competition – and something that would be matched by several of his teammates later on in the race.

Between Lally, Segal, Mark Wilkins, Ozz Negri, Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay (only Tom Dyer and Katherine Legge didn’t lead, although they were each in the top-three at various points in their stints), the two Acuras combined to lead 171 of the 634 laps in class (No. 86, 97 laps, No. 93, 74 laps), or 27 percent.

The cars really excelled overnight in the miserable rainy conditions, where the track conditions were brutal and where it was difficult to get the tires up to temperature. Ambient and track temperatures were in the mid-40 to low-50 degree range.

Lally made a key switch onto Continental Tire slicks as the track started, but hadn’t fully, began drying. He and Segal were the anchors of the respective cars and had them both in top-five position late in the going. However with just over an hour remaining, Lally lost the hood on his car, and despite trying to press on without it wound up going off at Turn 5 with 30 minutes remaining. That dropped he, Legge, Wilkins and Rahal down to 11th.

But in fifth, Segal, Negri, Dyer and Hunter-Reay delivered a top-five finish on the debut of the new car. A Porsche 911 GT3 R, Audi R8 LMS, Mercedes-AMG GT3 finished on the podium and Acura was the fourth manufacturer of nine entered in GTD represented in the top-five.

“To be slightly disappointed with a fifth-place finish in the debut of the Acura NSX GT3 in a 24-hour endurance race, says a lot about the dedication of HPD, Acura and Michael Shank Racing,” said Art St. Cyr, President, Honda Performance Development. “Our goal was just to finish the race and, if not for contact damage from earlier in the race, we were on track for two top-six finishes. This bodes very well for our prospects in this program, beginning at Sebring in March.”

“We were all a little bit apprehensive about our first race. This NSX has never raced before and there were so many new challenges that might lay ahead of us. Finishing the race was a huge target, so to finish fifth and having led a lot of the race in the rain was really incredible,” Segal added. “I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed, because once we had led so much, I wanted to win! But it is really great work by this group. It is truly incredible. A lot of hard work by everyone at Acura, HPD and Michael Shank Racing. Some endless months and weeks were spent working on this car and it paid off.”

Shank, a racing lifer, frequently ran two Daytona Prototypes years ago but hadn’t run a two-car program in several years. To jump into a new class with a new, two-car factory program and perform as well as he did shows the caliber of the team he runs.

“The key to this result was constantly digging and never stopping – with a plan,” Shank said. “Having a plan helped us a lot here. We talked a lot about the things that could happen in this race and we were ready for them. I’m so pleased to execute on those plans, and be able to have this kind of debut for the NSX. On top of that, all of our guys on the pit lane were just awesome. Every time we went into the pit box, we came out in better position than we were when we went in.

“I’m thankful, but I’m disappointed because both of our cars should have been in the top-five with no problem. But all-in-all it was just a great debut and I couldn’t be happier for the team, Acura, and HPD. This feels very good and we’re looking forward to a great year ahead.”

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
0 Comments

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.”