Indy Lights’ 1-2 finishers O’Ward, Herta to make IndyCar debuts Sunday at Sonoma

IndyCar
0 Comments

The future for Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta begins in this weekend’s IndyCar season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.

O’Ward, who just won the Indy Lights championship at the age of 19, and Herta, who at 18 finished a close second to O’Ward, are ready to make the big step to open wheel racing’s premier series in the U.S.

Even though they’re both signed to Andretti Autosport, both drivers will find themselves behind the wheel this weekend in one-off starts for Harding Racing, with Andretti Autosport’s full blessing.

“Clearly, Pato and Colton demonstrated a ton of potential, some great racing craft, a lot of speed for the Andretti Autosport Indy Lights team, certainly caught our eye on that,” Harding Racing president Brian Barnhart said during a Monday media teleconference. “So in addition to Gabby (Chaves) and Conor (Daly), we focused on trying to give some of the up-and-coming young talent a test.

“We were able to do Colton’s test at Portland the first week of August, and after Pato secured the championship, we ran him last Thursday at Sonoma. Both of them were very successful days. I’m really impressed by the maturity of both the kids. At 18 and 19 years old, they really demonstrated a high level of maturity with their thought processes, their feedback, their car control. Both of them did an excellent job.”

Admittedly, the two young drivers have a long learning curve in advancing from Indy Lights to IndyCar.

“They’ll be longer races than anything they’ve ever done,” Barnhart said. “They’ll be involved in pit stops, which they haven’t done in an Indy Lights car.

“So the physicality of the car itself, the loads and the forces combined with the length of the race and the pit stops is going to be a physically and mentally challenging weekend for them. But I think they’re both going to be up to the task.

“Harding Racing really believes in the future of these kids, and I think they’ve both earned an opportunity to make their debut this weekend, and we’re excited about it.”

Not putting the cart before the horsepower, so to speak, but this weekend will serve as a dress rehearsal for 2019 for both drivers. Neither plans on returning to Indy Lights next season.

By winning the Indy Lights championship, O’Ward — a native of Monterrey, Mexico — received a $1 million dollar Mazda Road to Indy scholarship that guarantees him three IndyCar starts next season, including the Indianapolis 500.

“I don’t look at myself (going back to) Indy Lights,” said O’Ward, who won nine races and a series record poles, as well as series Rookie of the Year honors. “I feel like I’m ready for the IndyCar Series, and I feel like I’d do a good job there.

“So I’m going to be working really hard to get something together for possibly a full-season ride for the next couple years. I think that would be ideal.

“You know, if you would have asked me, ‘Hey, do you see yourself in an IndyCar in the end of 2018?’ Honestly, I would have told you ‘no.’ The goal has always been to get to the IndyCar Series, but after this fantastic year that we had and this amazing opportunity that Harding and Team Chevy have given me, I want to make the most out of it, and I couldn’t be more excited for my debut, honestly.”

Herta, meanwhile, son of former IndyCar driver and Andretti Autosport minority owner Bryan Herta, is hoping to put together a multi-race package for himself next season.

“I think we’re both in similar situations where we’re ready to move up and kind of just focused on this weekend, but during the off-season try and get a full ride,” Herta said. “But if not, try and do a few races, try and at least do the (Indy) 500, something of that nature, just kind of get experience in IndyCar, try and get some good results and maybe a door will open.”

Herta, who earned four wins in Indy Lights this season, tested six weeks ago at Portland International Raceway, site of the most recent IndyCar race last weekend.

“It seems like a century,” Herta said of that Portland test. “Once you get a little taste of IndyCar, it’s hard to go back to any other car. It’s such a nice car, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Yeah, super excited for this weekend. Really looking forward to it.”

When the green flag falls to start Sunday’s race, Herta will also achieve a milestone, becoming the fourth-youngest driver to race in IndyCar.

Barnhart will be keeping a dutiful eye on both drivers this weekend, particularly in Sunday’s IndyCar season finale. While both drivers are signed to Andretti Autosport, there potentially could be a partnership between AA and Harding Racing to allow at least one of those two drivers to race for Harding next season.

“We’re certainly interested,” Barnhart said when asked by NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk. “We’ve been happy with the assistance we’ve received from the Andretti group. Mike Harding, our owner, has a very good relationship with Michael (Andretti), and we tried to be very transparent and began this process this summer when we were interested in at least getting the two guys an opportunity to test in the car.

“Before we even reached out to Colton or to Pato, Mike and I went straight to Michael and told him of our interest and certainly didn’t want to cross any boundaries there without being transparent and open to Michael about what we were looking to do. He was nothing but supportive and has helped facilitate with a lot of the equipment and some of the pieces and parts to make it happen, and he’s been very cooperative in getting the track time on there.

“We’re very thankful to Andretti Autosport and Michael Andretti for what they’ve been able to do. They did a great job, obviously, with Colton and Pato in their Lights cars this year running 1 and 2 in the championship there.

“I don’t know, I can’t speak to a lot of what the future could hold on it. We’re certainly focused on this weekend and then trying to identify what we can do to maximize Harding Racing’s plans next year.

“Ultimately as we’ve said all along, we would love to be a two-car team, and a lot of that will be budget driven, and if we can make that happen, we think that’s our ultimate goal.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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
0 Comments

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.”