Petit Le Mans weekend, Thursday practice and notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
0 Comments

BRASELTON, Ga. – It’s been a busy 13 hours of track activity from Road Atlanta at Motul Petit Le Mans, with a mix of practice, qualifying and race activity.

Quick notes and results links are below.

IMSA PRACTICE

  • The No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Ligier JS P217 Gibson and No. 6 Team Penske Oreca 07 Gibson topped the charts in the day’s first two practice sessions, with the VISIT FLORIDA Ligier up top in the morning and the Penske Oreca up top in the afternoon. (Practice 1, Practice 2)
  • Night practice saw a third different car up top in the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi (Practice 3)
  • C360R (Practice 1) and KohR Motorsports (Practice 2) topped Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge practice in GS, with the CRG-I Do Borrow Nissan Altima leading both sessions in ST.

RACES

  • In the first of two Prototype Challenge races, winners were Kenton Koch (LMP3) and Kyle Masson (MPC) this afternoon (Results).
  • Jake Eidson, the series champion and Haywood Scholarship recipient, won the first of two Porsche GT3 Cup races (Results).

NOTES

  • In night practice, the nine GT Le Mans cars all eclipsed last year’s best race lap, the top three cars were all under last year’s pole time, and from first (No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, 1:17.818) to ninth (No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, 1:18.508) were covered by a marginal 0.690 of a second!
  • Both Christina Nielsen and Katherine Legge, who have been podium regulars this year in the GT Daytona class, are among the free agent list of drivers among those working to figure out what they’re doing next year after this weekend. Nielsen is poised to wrap her second straight GTD title with Scuderia Corsa this weekend with co-driver Alessandro Balzan in the team’s Ferrari 488 GT3, and the soon-to-be two-time defending champions are free agents. Legge, meanwhile, has won twice this year co-driving with Andy Lally in the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, and would be an asset to any GT or Prototype team given her extensive experience in both categories.
  • Besides the champions-elect, there’s a general indication within the paddock that a number of drivers in the GTD class are free agents for next year. Little is set yet in the class, which could see a car count reduction from the 15 usual full-time entries this season.
  • Riley Motorsports seeks to return to running two of the same GTD cars in 2018, after a midseason switch by the Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette pairing from a Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a Porsche 911 GT3 R.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya has shifted from testing the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit IndyCar to the Oreca 07 Gibson this week. Having driven both the Oreca and the Acura ARX-05 at Road Atlanta thus far, Montoya told NBC Sports that the Oreca compares favorably and seems better suited to this track. As for the Acura, Montoya noted it’s different being a purpose built manufacturer prototype vs. a customer car, which can be acquired for pro-am lineups.
  • The presentation Team Penske has displayed this weekend is markedly different from every other team in the paddock. The Penske crew, which could be seen cleaning and shining the car as night practice was still ongoing, had pit signs that separated its pit location from the walkway behind it, as the only team in the field with this type of barrier. These are common in Verizon IndyCar Series pit lanes, but not in IMSA.
  • Porsche factory stars Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber are back this weekend. With the pair as yet unsure where they will be placed next season following the impending end of the Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 program – Porsche usually announces its lineup at its season-ending Night of Champions event in Germany in December – both told NBC Sports they would love to make racing returns on a more regular basis to the U.S. if they present themselves. Further breakouts with both will follow.
  • Gustavo Menezes makes his first IMSA Prototype start of the year (ran Rolex 24 at Daytona with 3GT Racing in a Lexus RC F GT3) the young Californian having starred in the FIA World Endurance Championship with the Signatech Alpine team over the last two years and as part of the Oreca 07 entered by Rebellion Racing. Menezes told NBC Sports he concluded a late deal to be in the car as third driver. Like others within the paddock, he’s not quite sure his plans for 2018 as yet, but he’d be an asset as a rare young American driver with significant prototype experience at his disposal.
  • It’s actually Sheldon van der Linde, not Kelvin van der Linde, as third driver along with Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Mies in the No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS. The younger van der Linde, Sheldon, is a Silver-rated driver while the older one, Kelvin, is not, and therefore would disqualify the car per the regulations as two Silver or Bronze-rated drivers are needed in a three-driver lineup.
  • Kyle Masson (Mazda Prototype Challenge, MPC class) and Trent Hindman (Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, GS class) are bouncing between the WeatherTech Championship paddock and another series this weekend.
  • 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Rice, full-time driver in the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09, noted he flew in early enough to ensure he could watch his beloved Arizona Diamondbacks topple the Colorado Rockies on TV here in Atlanta in the National League Wild Card play-in game.
  • John Falb makes his first IMSA PC start since the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the class finale, third driver in the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 alongside Garett Grist and Tomy Drissi. Grist, the young Canadian, makes his third PC start of the year (Sebring, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park).

More to follow tomorrow.

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.”