NHRA: Kalitta Motorsports leads all teams in combined Top Fuel/Funny Car wins in 2018

Team Kalitta Photo (Crampton, Langdon, Todd, Kalitta): Gary Nastase Photography
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Quick, after the first four races of the 24-race 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, which organization has the most combined wins in the nitro classes of Top Fuel and Funny Car?

You might be surprised if you said John Force Racing or Don Schumacher Racing – because you’d also be wrong with either of those choices.

Of the eight final rounds in Top Fuel and Funny Car in the first four races, Kalitta Motorsports has won the most: three.

Doug Kalitta won the Winternationals in Top Fuel, Richie Crampton won the Gatornationals in Top Fuel and J.R. Todd won this past Sunday’s Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas in Funny Car.

It’s only the second time in team history that Kalitta Motorsports has won three of the first four events, and first time by three different drivers.

The other time was 2014 with Doug Kalitta winning Gainesville and recently-retired driver Alexis DeJoria winning Phoenix and Las Vegas.

As for the other winners in the first four races thus far this season:

* DSR has two wins: Matt Hagan (Funny Car) at the Winternationals and Jack Beckman (Funny Car) at Gainesville.

* JFR has one winner: Courtney Force (Funny Car) at the Arizona Nationals.

* Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) has two wins at Arizona and Las Vegas.

To say that the boss man, legendary driver and team owner Connie Kalitta, is happy at how his four-car operation has started this season is an understatement.

But ever the wise man of drag racing, Kalitta knows how quickly good fortune in the sport can turn bad, so he’s taking things in stride.

“I am pleased with the start we have had as an organization, but know this is not our ultimate goal,” Kalitta told MotorSportsTalk. “My desire for this season is to compete for and win championships in both classes, and this is a small sample size.

“I am ready to start our first extended run of the year with three-straight events starting in Houston (next week, April 20-222). The plan is to continue the run of success.”

Here’s a more detailed look at the organization’s run of success to date:

* Doug Kalitta, Connie’s nephew, not only won the season-opening race at Pomona, but was runner-up at Las Vegas on Sunday. He also has six round wins and is fifth in the Top Fuel point standings.

“Starting off the season with a win for the Mac Tools Toyota was huge for our confidence,” Kalitta told MotorSportsTalk. “We know we have a car that can compete for a championship and wins weekly, so to start that way was awesome.”

* Crampton’s win at Gainesville is the lone time he’s reached the finals thus far this season. But he also has five round wins and is also right behind teammate Doug Kalitta in sixth place in the Top Fuel standings.

“It was really excellent to get a win out of the gate with this Kalitta Air Toyota team,” Crampton said. “Ever since I started in 2017 with Kalitta Motorsports, it was evident that we had everything we needed to get wins and contend for the championship. It does not stop here; we plan on scoring a few more wins as the season goes along.

“Having worked with Shawn and J.R. in the past, and racing with Doug, getting to be their teammates is awesome this season. We have a lot that we can feed off from each other, and I have been able to learn a lot.”

* Todd, the most recent winner in the Kalitta stable at Las Vegas, also has reached the final round just once with his win Sunday, but has five overall round wins and is sixth in the Funny Car standings.

“It is nice to get some good momentum rolling early in the season,” Todd said. “It gets team morale up and keeps us hungry.

“In my opinion, we have the best drivers under one umbrella. It is great to be able to go to one another and bounce ideas off each other. Having Shawn (Langdon) in a Funny Car, I think is going to help us become better Funny Car drivers. There is no other place I’d rather be.”

* Lastly, Langdon has yet to reach the winner’s circle in 2018, but has two semi-final finishes in the first four races and is eighth in the point standings.

That’s not a bad showing considering this is the first time Langdon has ever competed in a season in a Funny Car; he previously only drove a Top Fuel dragster in the nitro division.

“It has been a great start to the 2018 season,” Langdon said. “For the team to have wins in three of the first four races is awesome. We are so close to breaking through with the Global Electronic Technology Camry. Two semis in the first three races is solid. We just had a little hiccup in Las Vegas, but we have been working closely with J.R. and the DHL team, who just won Vegas. We are close.”

Todd’s win at Las Vegas was made all the more special because all four drivers were able to celebrate in the winner’s circle afterward.

“I don’t often get to celebrate my teammates wins with our flight schedule, so to be able to be in the winner’s circle with J.R., Shawn and Richie was great,” Doug Kalitta said. “We are proud of the start we have had, but know this is only the beginning of what is a long season.”

Added Crampton, “It is a big family environment, so when J.R. won, we all celebrated with him in the winner’s circle and took a photo. That is what Kalitta Motorsports is all about.”

Added Langdon: “The way I look at we have four great drivers. Doug is great. He has the experience and knows how to win races. Richie is a talented driver and fabricator. He brings additional information to the team on working the car as he was a crew guy for years before jumping in the seat. J.R. is a very experienced driver and has been giving be great info on the learning curve in a Funny Car. We are learning and working closely together. All four drivers give each other tips and help each other out. It is a great place to be.”

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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.”