IndyCar: What Drivers Said after Pocono qualifying

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Here’s What Drivers Said after Saturday’s IndyCar qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – Pole winner: “Very cool to be up there (tied for second on the all-time poles list) with A.J. Foyt, a legend like that. I couldn’t have imagined that starting my career. So, it’s over the moon. It’s great to start at the front here. I think it will be a bit of a track position race and that’s what we need to get our championship back on track.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) – starts 2nd: “I think we did a good job with the setup, it’s just that’s about what we had, speed-wise. The guys did a good job. We get a one-two lock-out on the front row. That’s good. We can’t be disappointed. We’ll have the Verizon car and the Hitachi car up there. I think that’s what we had. I’m pretty happy with our run.  That was our speed.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) – starts 3rd: “Definitely happy with the qualifying run today for the NAPA Andretti team. It was a disjointed first practice for us, so to be in the second row as top Honda and have Ryan (Hunter-Reay) right next to us is a good day. This is a fun racetrack and we have a long way to go tomorrow, so hopefully, we’ll get tonight’s practice in and have something celebrate tomorrow night.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – starts 4th: “We had a pretty good run. Coming out of Turn 1, for some reason, I got up into fifth gear sooner than expected and had to go up to sixth at that point – going into the wind. The car just fell on its face, so we lost some speed there. But nothing like what we needed to put up numbers like (Will Power and Josef Newgarden) ran; they’re definitely on another level right now. I was hoping for a cloud cover, but it rolled in right as we finished the run. But it was a good run for the No. 28 DHL boys and we can go out and have a good race from fourth tomorrow – that’s the important thing.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda) – starts 6th: “This morning was a struggle. We actually had a really tough first practice, we just couldn’t find clear air and I didn’t really know what balance we had… Hats off to everyone at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports; the Lucas Oil car was great and (James Hinchcliffe’s) Hinch’s Arrow car was quick, as well. Big thanks to Hinch because he told me Turn 3 was easy flat (out), which was something I never even came close to this morning or at the test here last week. So, I trusted him, committed to it on the first lap and it worked.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group 1001 Honda) – starts 7th: “I’m pleased to be in the top 10. I think I might have been a little too fast on the out lap. I was so excited to get going, I think I just overcooked it a little bit. We set the fast time early on and were hoping it would hold, but there was a long way and some serious contenders to go. The tough thing about going out toward the front is waiting. Next year, I’m going to make sure we are higher up in points, so we can go out last. But, the Group 1001 guys have given me a great car and I’m just excited to keep going. We’re starting seventh and have 500 miles to race so the starting spot doesn’t really matter – I think RHR (Ryan Hunter-Reay) has proved that.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda) – starts 8th: “It was a pretty good run for the SealMaster Honda No. 18. I feel like I was a bit too conservative in Turn 1. I probably could have been more aggressive, but it was a big jump in speed already from Practice 1 to qualifying. I didn’t want to overdo it and make a mistake, either spin out or commit too quick and wash out on the exit, which I kind of did on Lap 2. It’s always a bit of a compromise at Pocono. They call it the “Tricky Triangle” for a reason, especially with the level of downforce we have here the tires go away pretty quick. I was happy I got Turn 3 flat, the guys did a good job preparing the car and it’s a solid starting position for tomorrow’s race.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda) – starts 9th: “I think we can be pretty proud of that run. We had a bit of a messy run this morning and we didn’t get to test here last week, but the guys did a great job. We had the balance a bit off in that first practice, but it got a lot better. Every time we leave pit lane, we always seem to make this No. 5 Arrow Electronics car a little stronger, and in qualifying, we always step forward. If we keep that trend up this afternoon, hopefully, we can have a great race tomorrow.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – starts 10th: “Today we didn’t have a particularly good practice session, so I am satisfied with our qualifying run. We had a good speed. The tires are different; the aero kit is different, so it was a whole new challenge for the drivers and engineers.  We will hopefully find out how the new package will race in the final practice if the weather cooperates.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda) – starts 11th: “The run felt pretty good, but I need to look at where the speed is. Not a bad day for the U.S. Concrete car and if we’re not on pole, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter where we start here with 500 miles to race tomorrow. It’s great to be in front of a home crowd and U.S. Concrete has a large group here this weekend to celebrate the 2019 extension, so we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – starts 12th: “I think you’re always a little disappointed when you don’t qualify up near the front, but it looks like both cars kind of struggled there a bit in qualifying. We know it’s a long race though and we have another good practice session this afternoon to work on race running for Sunday in the NTT DATA car.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – starts 13th: “It may have looked like we made some changes on our qualifying lap, but we didn’t really. I think we were a little surprised with the understeer in the car, to be honest. Turn 3 I was flat and then we’d struggle on the exit of Turn 1. The car bottomed out somewhat there in the first lap, so I’m not sure what happened. It is what it is though and the PNC Bank car feels comfortable. It’s a long race tomorrow and we’ll have to deal with traffic and try and get to the front.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – starts 14th: “Could have been a little bit better. I think I was expecting to be inside the top 10, especially with the speedway car that we had in Indy – this is a similar track – but all in all, I think we’ll be very competitive and I’m looking for to it be a turnaround point of the season for us. This race and the next one are races that the team has a history of doing pretty good and that I have a history of doing pretty good, so hopefully this will be the weekend in front of the 1900 employees that are coming to cheer us, we’re probably gonna take care of half of the racetrack!”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) – starts 15th: “We’ve made improvements throughout the day. We weren’t extremely happy when we got here. It’s quite a bit different this year, I think you’re seeing some of the guys that did tests have a little bit of an advantage. We’re working through it. We were definitely better there than we were at the end of Practice 1, so hopefully, it stays dry and we can keep working on it. We definitely have a little work to do to get to where the Andretti (Autosport) cars are.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) – starts 16th: “We had a little bit too much understeer in Turn 1, which really hurt our speed through the other two turns. Hopefully, we can solve that for tomorrow and have a good race car. I know the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet team will be working hard and we’ll keep pounding away at it.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI (No. 19 Paysafe Honda) – starts 17th: “I’m happy with qualifying. We were the first ones out, so we knew it was going to be difficult. It’s a 500-mile race, so the most important part is having a good race car and making sure you can run well in traffic. It was much windier in qualifying than in practice this morning and you could feel it a bit going into Turn 3 with the car moving around a bit more than in practice. There were other cars out there running before us as well, so the track may have been a bit dirty with a different rubber on it, but overall, it was a decent qualifying run for us and now we can focus on the race.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Bobby Rahal Automotive Group Honda) – starts 18th: “We struggled with the rear of the car. We had minimal understeer, which was good, but when I tried to go in Turn 1 hard, it gave a big wiggle and it’s hard to get your confidence back after a lap like that. I knew we needed to be flat (on the accelerator) in Turn 3 and we were nowhere near that, so I knew we would struggle with the pace. The race is 500 miles. Last year, it didn’t feel great in qualifying either and we ended up leading a little bit of the race, so we’ll be all right.  We won the 500-mile race at Fontana from 19th.  You can win 500-mile races from anywhere.  All of us do our best work on Sundays.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet) – starts 19th: “We didn’t get the chance to test here until this morning’s practice session, so we were really just trying to get on the same level as everyone else in a short period of time. Overall, the balance was great and the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet has been rock solid since we unloaded, so I feel good about the Carlin team heading into tomorrow. If we get the opportunity to practice this afternoon, we’ll be even better. We ran pretty well in Indy, as well as in Texas with a top-10 finish that we were pretty happy with, so I think we’ll be pretty quick tomorrow. The good thing about this race is that we’ll have 500 miles to figure it out.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – starts 20th: “Qualifying is done here at Pocono – it’s a tricky place, but every time I go to the track I’m getting more used to the car – to everything – and I think I’m feeling more comfortable and looking forward to the race now. Just have to do a good job and finish in the top 10.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet) – starts 21st: “You could definitely feel the wind out there, but that was part of the challenge. It’s not easy conditions right now and the wind just keeps building. We ran quite a few laps this morning just to get as much track time as we could, but at the end of the day, it’s just difficult for a new team only running one hour of practice and then heading straight out into qualifying. Plenty of people have won here from one lap down, so we’ll just try to keep the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet in the race, and hopefully, be there at the finish.”

CONOR DALY (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet) – starts 22nd: “We had an issue this morning that we ended up finding during Practice 1 that restricted our time on track, which is a shame because we really didn’t have a lot of practice time before qualifying. Luckily, we fixed the issue before practice ended. So, we used qualifying as a test session and I tried to get the best out of it that I could, we did pick up a lot of speed on ourselves from Practice 1. It’s just another box ticked to trying to work on more grip, and hopefully, we can run this afternoon to find more speed.”

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.”