IndyCar: Bobby Unser sees a lot of himself in Will Power

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Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser last climbed into a race car 37 years ago in 1981.

But during last Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park, Unser was kind of  riding along with Will Power, and celebrated Power’s victory even though he was hundreds of miles away in his Albuquerque, New Mexico home.

The 84-year-old Unser felt an affinity with Power because the latter captured his 35th career Indy car win at Gateway, tying Unser for seventh place on the IndyCar all-time wins list.

“I was happy for Will,” Unser said. “He really drove one heck of a race. Will’s fast and one of those drivers who finds a way to win races, he showed that, no question.

“Will’s a total racer and for someone like that to share 35 Indy car wins with me is special. Look, Will won Indianapolis 500 this year, he won the road course at Indy and now on a short oval, I like that – he has confidence and knows he can win anyplace and anytime – like Bobby Unser did!

“He makes good decisions and is for sure fun to watch. Certain drivers are standing out – (Scott) Dixon, (Alexander) Rossi and Will are all super talented, at the top, they are probably the best drivers on the track right now.

“But it’s just not those three, there is a lot of talent on the track and racing in IndyCar this year. Robert Wickens was very fast and talented before his accident at Pocono, he showed me a lot.

“The cars are so equal now that the best drivers are rising to the top – racing is in the driver’s hands – just not the team they race for or the car they are in, because this year the cars are now more equal than ever. Good drivers with talent and skill are winning races. Again I’d like to really, really congratulate Will on his win, he’ll win lots more races – he’s a complete driver!”

Unser also had praise for his former boss, the man he used to drive for, Roger Penske.

“Roger Penske provides his drivers the very best prepared cars, week in and week out, every single race, every single year,” Unser said. “This gives his drivers the best opportunity to win when they arrive at the track.

“Roger doesn’t play favorites, everyone gets the exact same thing. Everything is top of the line. Roger gives you what it takes to win – totally, totally first class 100% of the time. Roger’s 17 Indianapolis 500 wins set the standard for all of racing, all of racing – IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula 1, anything with wheels.

“Indianapolis means so much to Roger – since 1969 his goal has been to win that race every single year, be in Victory Lane and take home a Baby Borg (a miniature version of the Borg Warner Trophy, which is awarded to the Indy 500 winner).

“The team is a about preparation and perfection and that means wins, lots of wins everywhere, including the Indianapolis 500.”

Let’s compare the careers of both Unser and Power and the numerous similarities:

Bobby Unser and Will Power Stats:

* 11 of Bobby’s 35 career wins were with Team Penske, while 32 of Will’s 35 career wins were with Team Penske.

* Bobby had six wins driving car number 12 for Tea Penske. Will has 31 wins driving car number 12 for Team Penske.

* Bobby has two IndyCar National Championships – 1968 driving for Bob Wilke and 1974 driving for Dan Gurney.

* Will has one Indy car National Championship.

Breakdown of Bobby’s IndyCar 500 mile race wins:

* 8 total, 3 with Roger Penske: 4 wins at Ontario (1974, 1976, 1979, 1980, the latter two with Penske). Three wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – three wins (1968, 1975, 1981, the last one with Penske). Unser won once at Pocono Raceway  (1980) with Penske.

Breakdown of Will’s IndyCar 500-mile race wins

* 4 total, all with Roger Penske. Pocono (two wins (2016 and 2017), one at Texas (2013) and one win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2018).

Most consecutive seasons with one or more wins: 11 consecutive seasons – Bobby Unser 1966 – 1976; 12 consecutive seasons – Will Power 2007 – 2018.

Most seasons with at least one win: 14 seasons – Bobby Unser; 12 seasons – Will Power.

Contributing: Steve Shunck

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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.”