Honda’s 5 IndyCar teams return in 2018; capacity to add more in doubt

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SONOMA, Calif. – Both Andretti Autosport and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have announced recent extensions with Honda in multi-year agreements in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The other three Honda teams – Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dale Coyne Racing – will also be with the manufacturer into 2018 as well, confirming all five teams stay as is next season.

Honda Performance Development President Art St. Cyr told NBC Sports that while all these teams are confirmed for 2018, their contracts are staggered so that not all teams come up for renewal at the same time.

“Our team lineup is set for next year, so we are keeping the same five teams that we have this year with the latest announcement with Andretti Autosport at Watkins Glen announced that we re-signed them,” St. Cyr told reporters at a media availability Friday at Sonoma.

“So we still have the same five teams with Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“Driver lineup might be a little bit different, but having those teams set right now gives us a chance to really put our plan in place early on to make sure that the off‑season testing will go well, especially with this new universal aero kit, make sure that the information that we can provide for the teams gives them a good foundation for them to launch off next year. Hopefully next year will be even more successful.”

However, what is an interesting thing to note is how many cars those five teams can field.

Combined this year, it was 13 full-time cars – and Andretti, Coyne, RLL and SPM combined to add five extra cars for the Indianapolis 500 for 18 Honda cars. The extra entries were Fernando Alonso and Jack Harvey (Andretti, with other team support from McLaren and Michael Shank Racing), Pippa Mann (Coyne), Oriol Servia (RLL) and Jay Howard (SPM, with Team One Cure).

St. Cyr said the 13-car number is actually two more than its preferable capacity of 11 cars. In 2018, Andretti will field four cars, with the other four teams set to field at least two, and if at least one of them becomes possible to add a third car, that would make 13 again.

“It’s not a simple answer, quite frankly,” St. Cyr explained. “Our capacity, the way that we’re staffed is really for 11 cars. That’s our capacity at HPD.

“Now, obviously we can extend that given the circumstances that we have. We would prefer not to. Quite frankly this year 13 cars really stretched our capability. We wouldn’t be looking to add to that number short‑term. Obviously it’s a physical limitation of our engine build shop just to try to get enough engines through that shop. I mean, as it is right now, we still building Indy engines I think in February, so it becomes a little bit problematic in terms of building enough supply to do that stuff.

“To answer your question about whether we have the capacity or the willingness, we always want to ‑‑ we want this series to grow, so we want more teams, but that’s quite frankly one of the reasons we encourage looking for other manufacturers is to kind of help with that car count, and 13 is really kind of our practical limit that we have right now, so we’re not really looking to expand above that number.”

Andretti Autosport, which has all four of its cars done for the all-American quartet of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach, is now less inclined to add a fifth car full-time in 2018. Andretti told selected reporters Friday at Sonoma that unless something was to get done in the next couple weeks, that option is highly unlikely.

Still, Andretti expects to have at least five, and potentially six cars in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 – as he did this year with the extra cars run in tandem with McLaren and Michael Shank Racing.

Juncos Racing and Harding Racing both made their Indianapolis 500 debuts this year with Chevrolet, and provided either or both increases their programs beyond their limited entries this year, they’d do so with Chevrolet.

Jim Campbell, vice president, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, Chevrolet, told NBC Sports at Watkins Glen that Chevrolet has the ability to extend its capacity to double digit cars in 2018, if necessary. This year, Chevrolet has only had eight full-time cars, four from Team Penske and two apiece from Ed Carpenter Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Carlin, which has not announced a step-up to IndyCar but has been heavily rumored to do so over the last few months, would then be a potential Chevrolet candidate as well given the potential capacity issues at Honda.

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.”