Perhaps leaving the best for last, Alexander Rossi roared to the top of the speed chart in the final two minutes of Friday night’s final practice for Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park (8 pm ET on NBCSN).
Rossi, who is looking to win his third consecutive IndyCar race Saturday, turned in a best lap of 183.060 mph at 24.5821 seconds.
And, just like in the first practice earlier in the day, Rossi once again was No. 1, and Scott Dixon also waited until the last minute before he grabbed the second-fastest spot again in the second session at 183.022 mph (at 24.5872).
Arguably the biggest surprise of the session was rookie IndyCar driver Pietro Fittipaldi, driver of the Dale Coyne Racing No. 19 Paysafe Honda.
Pietro – the grandson of two-time F1 champion, as well as USAC and CART champion Emerson Fittipaldi – put down a very solid top lap at 182.294 mph at 24.6854 seconds to give him third-fastest speed of the session.
“Obviously I’m happy, the car has a lot of performance,” Fittipaldi told the IndyCar Radio Network. “This is practice, it’s disappointing I’ll have to start from the back tomorrow since qualifying was cancelled (due to rain).
“I know we have a strong car and we’ll do our best tomorrow.”
Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Ed Jones, also turned in a big lap, coming in fourth-fastest (182.268 mph at 24.6889), while Zack Veach (182.250 at 24.6913) rounded out the top five.
Sixth through 10th were Ryan Hunter-Reay (182.195 at 26.6988), Tony Kanaan (181.773 at 24.7562), Graham Rahal (180.978 at 24.8649), Sebastien Bourdais (180.924 at 24.8723) and Will Power (180.843 at 24.8835).
Because rain impacted part of the day’s first practice session, which ultimately ended about six minutes early due to the wet stuff, IndyCar officials subsequently cancelled qualifying and then extended the final practice from a scheduled 60 minutes to 90 minutes.
The extra time significantly helped teams in determining a number of areas, including race set-up, tire degradation, balance, wing adjustment and more.
There was one minor incident in the session. With about 40 minutes left, defending race winner and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden grazed the Turn 4 wall.
While the contact looked slight, it obviously had a big impact on Newgarden’s Chevrolet-powered ride, as he ultimately parked it with about 23 minutes left in the session after 61 laps around the 1.250-mile oval. Newgarden’s best lap speed was 180.584 mph at 24.9192 seconds, good for 12th-fastest among the 21-driver field
“I made a mistake there and we’re not 100 percent sure with it, but something’s not right with the right rear,” Newgarden told the IndyCar Radio Network. “We just didn’t have enough time to fix it.
“We lost a little bit of track time but I still think we have a good car for tomorrow.”
Dixon holds a 29-point edge over Rossi in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings. Newgarden is 66 points back and his Team Penske teammate Will Power is 81 points back, with three races remaining on the 2018 schedule.
While Dixon still leads the points standings, Rossi comes into Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 having won the last two races (Mid-Ohio and Pocono).
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”