IndyCar: Penske sees title hopes dwindle for Power, Newgarden

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Now tied for third at 87 points back of championship leader Scott Dixon, Team Penske’s Will Power and Josef Newgarden are still mathematically alive in the championship fight.

However, their realistic chances are now somewhere between slim and none after both endured troublesome days during the Portland Grand Prix.

The day started with lots of promise for them. They locked out the front row – Power was on the pole, with Newgarden right alongside – with Dixon starting 11th.

Things appeared to take another favorable turn for them when Dixon was collected in a Lap 1 crash involving Zach Veach, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, and Ed Jones. Though Dixon continued on without damage, he was relegated to 20th in the running order at the time.

However, everything started falling apart immediately afterward. Power began suffering from a gearbox problem after a Lap 7 restart. He lost the lead to Alexander Rossi and plummeted to outside the top 10.

He briefly appeared to recover and regain pace, but his day essentially came to an end on Lap 43, when he nosed into the Turn 12 tire barrier and suffered a more serious gearbox issue that forced him into the pits for repairs.

He later rejoined the race, but several laps off the lead and languished in 21st at the checkered flag, seven laps down to race winner Takuma Sato.

Power explained afterward that he felt the gearbox act up on the warm-up laps, and knew it might not make it the whole way.

“I think on the warm-up lap before the green, something happened to the gearbox. It jumped to neutral, I went into emergency mode and made it go into gear and thought, ‘OK, that’s all right,'” Power detailed.

“Then, coming out of the hairpin on the first restart, it popped into neutral again and everyone behind me went past. Then, I realized I couldn’t use first gear. We were on a reasonable strategy and I made a mistake trying to keep (Matheus) Leist behind me. Then, the gearbox completely went. I’m not sure the gearbox would have made it the whole race, anyway. But man, it’s a tough sport.”

Newgarden, meanwhile, looked poised to battle for the win, and possibly give himself a chance at the championship in Sonoma.

Newgarden ran in the Top 3 in the first half of the race, and used an aggressive inside move on Alexander Rossi to take the lead on Lap 49. Given the aforementioned problems for Dixon, the door was open for Newgarden to put himself back in the title picture.

However, his day came unraveled when Zach Veach spun off in Turns 10 and 11 on Lap 56. Veach’s spin forced a full-course caution, which destroyed the strategy for Newgarden, and Rossi – they both were on similar strategies and forced to pit under yellow.

Newgarden dropped to 16th on the Lap 61 restart, and could only work his way back to 10th at the checkered flag.

Ultimately, what started out as a strong outing for last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series champion ended in frustration.

“It was a tough day. I don’t know what else to say,” Newgarden lamented.

“We led some laps and I think we had a Verizon Chevrolet that was good enough to win it. It just didn’t fall our way. You can’t predict these INDYCAR races. I wish we could get Lady Luck on our side one of these days. It just seems to walk away from us as of late.”

Depending on the number of entries at Sonoma, the maximum points swing could be above 90 points.

Therefore, theoretically, Power and Newgarden are still mathematically alive. However, for either to win the championship, Dixon would likely need a DNF, and probably fall out early on, while Rossi would need to finish ninth or worse. Meanwhile, Power and Newgarden would need race wins, along with the bonus points for pole and leading the most laps.

If any part of the above scenario does not come to fruition, then Team Penske is likely to miss out on the IndyCar championship.

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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.”