IMSA Sebring Day 1 of 2-day test notebook: Fred Poordad back from serious 2017 crash

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It may be more than three weeks before the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring weekend, but there was plenty of action at the central Florida track Tuesday.

It was the first day of a two-day test for various classes, and if you didn’t know it, you’d say teams were doing more racing than practicing.

Here’s some of the highlights:

* IMSA Prototype Challenge: P1 Motorsports topped the speed charts in impressive fashion.

Based 100 miles south of Sebring in Coconut Creek, Florida, P1 Motorsports picked up where it left off at a private test at Sebring last week.

The team’s No. 25 Ligier JS P3, piloted by Joel Janco and Kenton Koch, unofficially posted the fastest time of eight prototypes in either the LMP3 or Mazda Prototype Challenge in both practice sessions Tuesday.

“It was kind of the perfect place to test before a test, and then the race,” Koch said, per a IMSA media release. “For the most part the car was hooked up at the end of that test (from last week).

“We tried some little things in the morning today and ended up just going back to where we were. I’m really happy with everything, the car’s really hooked up and Joel’s doing great too. All the practice is really paying off.”

There was just one incident across the several classes in the entire day: the No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2 of Gary Gibson made contact with a tire barrier in Turn 16 in the morning session. Damage was repaired and the car was back on the racetrack midway through the afternoon practice session.

There will be one more practice Wednesday, starting at 8 a.m. ET.

* A little over a year after a bad wreck while practicing for the Bathurst 12-hour race in Australia, Fred Poordad is back behind the wheel, taking part Tuesday in his No. 20 Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup ride.

“I was having a really awesome time and a great run until I had a little mishap coming down the mountain and clipped a wall and went into another one,” Poordad said of the Bathurst incident. “Unfortunately, it left me with some back and neck injuries and I spent six months rehabbing.”

Poordad’s injuries were initially so serious that he wondered if he’d ever race again. But one year later, he was back behind the wheel Tuesday, preparing for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA By Yokohama season.

It didn’t take him long to shake off the rust, holding pace with several of the quickest driver on the racetrack.

“I’m feeling pretty good now,” Poordad said. he said shortly before the start of the day’s second session of the test day. “I wanted to get back in the car to see if the passion and energy were still there. So far, so good. I’m enjoying it. There’s nothing like being in a Porsche.”

There will be another test session Wednesday that is open and free to the public, but there will be a $10 admission charged for sessions on Thursday and Friday.

* Dutch driver Indy Dontje wasn’t exactly sure what he was getting into with his first visit to Sebring Raceway.

But he proved to be a quick learner in Tuesday’s practice for the Grand Sport (GS) class.

Behind the wheel of the No. 57 Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4, Dontje unofficially had one of the top five times in Tuesday’s morning practice session, the first of three scheduled for the Continental Tire Challenge across two days.

“I got my rhythm and put a good lap time together and it’s quite bumpy in some places, but it’s a nice, quick track and I think this will suit the Mercedes a bit more than Daytona,” Dontje said. “I was really happy with my pace and I’m really excited to be here in Sebring. I’ve heard a lot of stories about it, so I wanted to know the track and see and hear everything.”

Sebring will be the second of four venues that Dontje will compete at in the 2018 season for Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport.

Dontje and co-driver Bryce Ward finished fifth last month at Daytona in the BMW Endurance Challenge.

“I experienced everything at Daytona,” Dontje said about adjusting to racing in the U.S. vs. in Europe. “The team itself, it’s good because we have a partnership with HTP, so there are some European mechanics here with me.

“We have a sort of mixture of all the guys we have the experienced guys from Europe, we have the experienced guys from the U.S. It’s cool, you know?”

Dontje is not a man unto his own island at Sebring. He has teammate Damien Faulkner to lend a hand.

“He’s an experienced guy here,” Dontje said of Faulkner, adding, “so sometimes if I felt like I have a big question, I ask him because he knows his way around.”

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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.”