PWC: Sonoma wraps 2017; 2018 schedule posted

Patrick Long at Sonoma. Photo: PWC
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The Pirelli World Challenge capped off its Sprint season this weekend for the GT and GTS classes at Sonoma Raceway, with Patrick Long and Michael Cooper emerging as the biggest winners of the weekend at the 2.385-mile road course.

Additionally in GTS, season-long sparring partners Lawson Aschenbach and Ian James won one race apiece.

Lastly, the series put out most of its 2018 schedule late Sunday in advance of its championship celebration.

GT: Long’s titles, Cooper’s wins

Parente, Cooper, Long. Photo: PWC

Long secured the overall GT championship – which combines both the Sprint and SprintX portions of the season – with third place in Saturday’s first race of the weekend, finishing behind race winner Cooper and second-placed Alvaro Parente.

The Californian and Porsche’s lone American factory driver raced in all series events this year in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, and partnered with longtime co-driver Joerg Bergmeister in all but one of the SprintX race weekends. Marc Lieb filled in for Bergmeister at Lime Rock and the pair won one race there.

Sunday’s second race of the weekend saw Long wrap up the Sprint title over Parente, who was trying to defend at least one championship after winning the 2016 title for K-PAX Racing in his No. 9 McLaren 650S GT3.

Despite Parente rocketing up several positions on the start, contact from Daniel Mancinelli in his No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 pitched Parente into a spin and out of control. Once Ryan Eversley, who had nowhere to go in his No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3, hit Parente, it was game over for the Portuguese ace as he retired.

Cooper won the Sunday race as well, Long coming second and Pierre Kaffer third in his No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Parente had four wins in Sprint to Long’s two, but Long’s consistency of top-five finishes in every race meant he beat Parente for that title.

GTS: Aschenbach, James split victories

Aschenbach, James, Baptista. Photo: PWC

James, driving the No. 50 Panoz Avezzano GT, capped off a brilliant season for both he and Don Panoz’s team with their seventh win of the campaign in Saturday’s first race of the season.

Aschenbach took the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R to his second win of the year in Sunday’s second race, following a pass of James after a restart. This win also secured the team championship for Blackdog and manufacturer’s championship for Chevrolet in the process.

The latter win saw the race end early after Aschenbach’s teammate and Blackdog team principal Tony Gaples get hit by another car and have a heavy looking accident. He was released Sunday evening at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, Calif. with only soreness and bruises, and then actually attended the Pirelli World Challenge season-end awards banquet (after a quick trip to In-N-Out burger). He was awarded the GTSA class win with scoring reverted back to the previous lap.

Blackdog team at banquet. Photo: PWC

PWC’s 2018 schedule released

Nearly all the same races as in 2017 are on Pirelli World Challenge’s initial 2018 schedule release. TBAs exist in July and September, traditional weekends for Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Sonoma Raceway. Circuit of The Americas moves from September to March.

The complete class participation for each PWC weekend will be announced in the coming weeks as GT single-driver sprint events will continue to run in conjunction with the Verizon IndyCar Series weekends. The IndyCar Series venues are being determined for the Sprint races but currently include St. Petersburg (March 9-11), Long Beach (April 13-15) and Road America (June 22-24).  All except Long Beach will be doubleheader weekends.

In the five PWC headliner races, COTA (March 24-26), VIR (April 27-29), Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (May 18-20), Lime Rock Park (May 25-26) and Utah Motorsports Campus (Aug. 10-12) and feature all seven racing divisions.

The Pirelli World Challenge finale again will take place at legendary Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with a unique weekend set for racers and fans on Oct. 19-21. Working in conjunction with the popular European-based SRO Blancpain GT Series, the SRO Motorsports Group Intercontinental GT Challenge will include an eight-hour GT endurance contest with GT3 and GT4 machines and the Touring Car final doubleheader weekend.



2018 Pirelli World Challenge Schedule

Date, Track, City
March 9-11, Streets of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Fla.
March 24-26, Circuit Of The Americas (COTA), Austin, Tex,
April 13-15, Streets of Long Beach, Long Beach, Calif.
April 28-30, Virginia International Raceway, Alton, Va.
May 18-20, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bowmanville, Ont., CAN
May 25-26, Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Conn.
June 22-24, Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis.
July, TBA
August 10-12, Utah Motorsports Campus, Grantsville, Utah
September, TBA
October 19-21, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Salinas, Calif.
(With SRO International GT Challenge)

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.”