NHRA: Is this the weekend John Force claims a milestone 150th career win?

Photo courtesy John Force Racing
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Brainerd, Minnesota is known for its gigantic statues of legendary logger Paul Bunyan and his trusty sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox.

Come Sunday, however, Brainerd officials may want to consider a new statue to add to their civic heritage: that of legendary NHRA Funny Car driver John Force.

Now, the 16-time Funny Car champ grew up and still lives in Southern California. But Brainerd and Brainerd International Raceway have been the most important locations and racetracks to him in his 42-year career of racing a Funny Car.

Force has won 149 NHRA national events in his career, the most of any NHRA driver in history in any racing class. Brainerd has accounted for the most wins in Force’s annals: 11 wins in 32 appearances, meaning the 69-year-old Force has won more than a third of his starts at the northern Minnesota dragstrip. He also has won an uncanny 78.3 percent of elimination round wins (76 of 97) there in his career.

John Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history.

After capturing his 149th career win July 22 at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver, Force has been chasing his 150th career win for the last two races.

Now Force, who drives the PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS, has arguably the best chance to reach that significant milestone this weekend in the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.

Winning No. 150 is obviously a significant goal for Force. But it has another bit of added significance: a win – or even a runner-up finish – would likely clinch his spot as one of 10 Funny Car drivers to qualify for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Even with his win at Denver, Force comes into Brainerd ranked eighth in the Funny Car standings. His team struggled early in the season, but is making up for some of those rough times in the last several races.

“We’re not safe,” Force said of his bid to secure a Top 10 berth for the 34th consecutive season. “We’re better than we were, but there’s still a lot of work to do; still a lot of racing plus there’s extra points at Indy (one-and-a-half times as many as for any other of the first 18 events).”

John Force has scored 824 points in this season’s first 16 national events. But his youngest daughter, Courtney Force, has had the best season to date of any driver in the Funny Car ranks.

Courtney Force leads the class with 1,300 points, followed by 2016 Funny Car champ Ron Capps (1,146 points) and John Force Racing president Robert Hight (1,085 points).

John Force has to hope he has strong performances not only at Brainerd and also the Chevrolet U.S. Nationals in two weeks in Indianapolis. If he struggles at one or both, there are several drivers who are fighting to make the Countdown, including 9th-ranked Shawn Langdon (736 points, 88 points behind Force), 10th-ranked Bob Tasca III (691 points, 133 behind Force), Tim Wilkerson (688 points) and two-time Funny Car champ Cruz Pedregon (641 points).

“We’ve just gotta keep going rounds and getting points,” said Force, whose last NHRA Funny Car championship came in 2013. “When you’ve got Langdon and Tasca and Cruz (Pedregon) and (Tim) Wilkerson all behind you, anything can happen. We have to take care of business.”

Qualifying starts Friday with sessions at 2:15 p.m. CT and 5:00 p.m. CT and continues Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CT and 4:30 p.m. CT. Eliminations start Sunday at 11 a.m. CT.

There are a few caveats about Brainerd for Force. While he’s the winningest Funny Car driver there, his last win there came in 2007. His last final round appearance was 2012 and 2014, when he lost to Capps. He lost in the semifinals last year to now-retired driver Alexis DeJoria.

“We can’t worry about everybody else,” Force said. “We just have to not make mistakes. Everybody’s got to do his job. If that happens, we’ve got a chance. Mistakes have hurt us. No more mistakes.”

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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.”