What Drivers Said after Saturday’s IndyCar qualifying at St. Petersburg

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Here’s what drivers — some excited, others dejected after their collective performances — had to say after Saturday’s qualifying for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the 2018 season-opening race for the Verizon IndyCar Series:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “Not the best qualifying for us. Everyone picked up more than I thought they would but, for us, it just wasn’t enough. I didn’t do a good enough lap and it’s a shame we weren’t able to capitalize more in our first session for the year, but I feel like we’ve got a great car. I’m really happy with the Chevrolet engine that we’ve got this weekend. I think we’ve got what it takes to win this race and it’s been fun driving the Hitachi car for the first time so, not the perfect way to start the weekend off, but I think we’ll have a good car.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I’m very happy with the whole team and with our performance throughout the whole weekend. I’m looking forward to my first INDYCAR race, my first time doing pit stops, saving fuel and saving tires, so I have a lot of things to learn yet. Tony (Kanaan, teammate) is a very special guy, he’s been helping me a lot, not just inside the track, but outside the track as well. And not just him, but A.J. (Foyt, owner), Larry (Foyt, team manager), and everyone on the team is helping me a lot because I’m a rookie. Tony is a very special guy and I’m super grateful to have him as a teammate. I grew up watching him and Helio (Castroneves), so having him as a teammate is a dream come true for me.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Obviously not the day we wanted on the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car. We got caught out by the rain there and only had one lap to get it done and transfer into the top six, which we only missed by a couple hundredths of a second. I’m pretty disappointed as the car is quick and Robbie (Wickens) proved that. Huge congratulations to everybody on the No. 6 car. It’s great to see the team rewarded for all their hard work. That was an amazing lap in really difficult conditions. He’s totally proven to everybody that he is a force to be reckoned with, and like I said, proves the car is fast, so hopefully we move up from seventh tomorrow.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “I’m a little speechless. First off, Group 1 was dry and normal. The best of the best, you know, rises to the top, and I was happy to make it through. My goal going in to today was just a top 10. If I made Fast Six at all, it would have been amazing and the fact that we topped Q2 was already a surprise. From there I’m like, well, I’m in the top 6, let’s go and have some fun and somehow we had great strategy to get out right at the end, to get a lap on the track, in my opinion, when it was probably at its best. It was tough but the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda was fantastic. My whole team behind me, we all kept our cool and we made the right changes for the wet there for the last qualifying and, yeah, we got it.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda): “We thought it would get drier as the qualifying session went on, so we elected to go with the black (Firestone primary) tires. The track felt good the first few laps, but then when the rain came it was all too late. Turn 1 was especially bad with the painted runway there. There were several cars that went off there, including myself in the PNC Bank car. So I think we just misread it there. The car is still really fast, though, and we’ll have some work to do to get to the front tomorrow. But we’re here to win and that’s the goal.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda): “This morning we struggled a bit with the car and we went back to what we had yesterday on the NTT DATA Honda. I felt more comfortable for qualifying, but we just missed advancing by a fraction. We had a car come out in front of us, which deterred our progress and that’s unfortunate. It’s frustrating in that sense, but we’ll see what the weather will bring tomorrow and how things will shake out.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “Starting up at the front is definitely better as far as getting through the first corner and that sort of thing. Obviously pole is the best position you can be in. It will be interesting. We don’t know how these cars race. I know they follow well, but I don’t think they draft that well. But yeah, very close (to pole position). I had a big mis-shift during my lap where I just got stuck in gear for quite a while, and then when I saw how tight it was, it was like, yeah, probably lost a tenth of a second or so there. Fantastic job by (Robert) Wickens, first time out, to get pole.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I am extremely happy with the team effort so far this weekend. We came here with the intention to put two ABC Supply Racing cars in the top 10 and we actually did one better, putting one in the top 10 and another in the top three. I am looking forward to the race tomorrow.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): “I’m obviously disappointed. I got good signs out of the car in the back section, and I knew that the first lap on the reds (Firestone alternate tires) was supposed to be the really good one. Yesterday we didn’t get a good feel for that, but obviously I wanted to go out there and push hard, and I just came out of Turn 10 and stood on it. It seemed OK and the next thing I knew, it just went around. I’m disappointed clearly for everybody. I don’t know what the pace would have been, but it was giving me positive vibes. I thought that on the used blacks (Firestone primary tires), when others were on new blacks, we were pretty competitive, so I felt like going forward we should be half decent. I’m disappointed for the first race to start off this way but we can’t get too down on ourselves. We’ve just got to stay focused. Tomorrow is a new day and we are going to work hard to get the United Rentals car to the front. (Sebastien) Bourdais started last here last year and won. With the pit windows and the fuel strategy and everything else now, there are big opportunities, so we’ve just got to think through it.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team Sealmaster Honda): “It’s frustrating. We were obviously pretty good on blacks (Firestone primary tire). We were P2. It was just the wrong timing for the red flag for us. When you are at the back of the pit lane, you can’t get a quick out lap. I passed one car and I picked up the next car in Turn 10, so I had to back off. You can’t get heat in your tires. I had one lap, but I was four or five tenths off my fastest lap by the time I got to Turn 1. I came back some, but one lap…one lap for everybody is fine, but the guys at the other end of the pit got a quick out lap, so they could put some heat in the tires and we didn’t.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda): “It was a tough session. We worked on the car all day. We struggled a bit in the morning session and there are some places that I need to work on as well. That said, I’m confident we’ll be fine for tomorrow. I’m always better in the race. And judging by how the team did last year with the team starting in the back and Seb (Sebastien Bourdais) managing to win it, and his teammate was third for a lot of the race, so I’m confident we’ll be OK.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It’s good, but I still think we should have been a bit quicker. I’m really happy. It’s all gone well. We made some really good progress from the first time. I can’t grumble too much, but when there was potential to be a little higher up you can’t help, as a racing driver, to want a bit more. It was quite slippery at Turn 1, and actually at the back of the circuit, it was really quite dry. But unfortunately, I almost went off at Turn 10 on my first push lap. I came in on the last lap a little bit tentative and looking at the time (of the last lap), that’s why I’m a little bit like, well, it could be more. I can’t complain for my first time. I don’t want to put too much expectation on it. We’ve got a good car. If I do my job, I’m sure the rest will unfold nicely.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Autogeek Chevrolet): “It was a messy session there with the red flag, then trying to find a gap to get a good lap in. I made a few little mistakes; one area, I accidentally upshifted twice when I should have only done once that that cost us. Overall, I am just frustrated. Hopefully we can get the Autogeek car back up front tomorrow where we need to be.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “Mother Nature kind of got us today. The Menards Chevy was really good for qualifying but in the second round we just didn’t execute with our tires the right way for the rain we saw toward the end. We should have put on the red Firestone tires early on and that would have helped in the end. Instead we struggled to stay on track when it was wet and we couldn’t advance. The good news is we feel really good about the car for Sunday’s race and the Menards guys will work to get us up to the front.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “Our qualifying result might not have been exactly what we wanted, but at the same time we made progress every session on-track especially during qualifying. The No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet has run without any mechanical issues this whole race weekend so far and that’s a credit to the work of Trevor (Carlin), Colin (Hale), and all the mechanics at Carlin. We’re making progress, we’re learning. With new bodywork, there’s a lot to learn aerodynamically and mechanically for everyone. We’re making good progress and we’re learning quickly. I know we’ll be ready to put a good, clean race together tomorrow.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): 
We just got a little bit too aggressive with the car today. There at the end, I think it was just down to the drivers figuring out, and I was quick around the rest of the track, but I just didn’t get it together in Turn 1 and 2, and that’s down to me. Every time I passed start finish, they kept telling me P1, P1, P1, and then it fell from there the last two laps. But good job for these guys, and obviously to (Robert) Wickens. He certainly sorted out Turn 1 and 2 out there. It was like running on ice. Somehow those runway strips – we’re sitting so low in the car. You can’t really place your car and try to get around them because they’re so wide you have to get over them, and you can’t see them until you’re on them. It was definitely tricky out there. I’m surprised we didn’t end up with any cars in the wall. Fun session, though. That’ll definitely keep you on your toes.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Panasonic Honda): “I enjoyed qualifying. Obviously it was tricky conditions and I wish I could have been little higher but I’m not complaining. The Firestone Fast Six is just the best place to be for the race. The guys did a tremendous job in very tricky conditions. They sent me out in the perfect time. It’s a little bit of a shame because being on the front row would have been nice but the important thing is to have a strong car in the race which I believe we have.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “My first qualifying attempt in the Verizon IndyCar Series was most interesting, but challenging as it was more or less my first use of the Firestone red (alternate tires) set. We used two sets of tires with only two push laps. My focus was on maintaining a decent pace and not to push it to the limit, and to also understand the course and get comfortable. We will continue to go over the data we gathered and focus on identifying a good race set up for tomorrow.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “That’s the end of our first INDYCAR qualifying effort for Carlin. Both cars made big improvements throughout the weekend. Every time we went out, we felt better about the car balance and overall performance. Both Charlie and I felt pretty happy with our laps, but we were just lacking the speed we needed to advance into the second round. We aren’t where we’d like to be quite yet, but the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet is now definitely in a place where I’m happy with the balance which gives us a good race car. I think we should do better in the race tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to green flag.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM MSR w/SPM Honda): “Our first set on Firestone reds (alternate tires) went pretty well. We just couldn’t improve the right amount on the second set to progress. For now, we will just try to understand why that happened and how we can work on that for next time. Where we are starting will give us the opportunity to move up which is great. Now we will just look at strategy and try to see what we can do to have a good race.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “I am so proud of this team. Everyone has worked tirelessly this offseason to get here, and I’m beyond happy that we were able to go out on track and qualify in the top 10, especially after some of the issues we had after Practice 1 yesterday. This team works hard and I’m so excited to finally get to race tomorrow for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.”

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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.”