Rossi on IndyCar championship: ‘I’m going to win. … That’s our only responsibility.’

IndyCar
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Editor’s note: Starting Thursday and leading up to Sunday’s IndyCar championship-deciding Grand Prix of Sonoma, we will feature each of the four title contenders.

Today we focus on 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alex Rossi, who trails Scott Dixon by just 29 points heading into Sunday’s championship showdown.

We will wrap up things with a feature Dixon on Sunday morning before the race (live on NBCSN, 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT). We kicked things off Thursday with Joseph Newgarden and Friday with Will Power.

In a sense, Alexander Rossi can be considered as the next Scott Dixon in waiting for the IndyCar Series.

Dixon has a decade of age and tons more experience, wins and championships than Rossi, but the pair is very similar in several ways:

* Driving style: they’re both aggressive, but also calculating and intelligent. They are both outstanding at saving fuel, using push-to-pass when most optimal, and are among the drivers who get the most out of their race cars.

* Personality: They’re both very laid-back, modest and quiet. Dixon isn’t nicknamed the “Ice Man” for nothing. He never gets flustered, drives as if he’s playing chess – always thinking of his next two or three moves way ahead before he does them. It’s the same situation for Rossi. Like Dixon, Rossi is cool both on and off the racetrack. He doesn’t go looking for attention; he lets his driving do the attention getting for him.

* Fan friendly: Dixon has been a long-time fan favorite in the series, while Rossi has quickly gained a large fan base in his three seasons in the IndyCar Series.

* Coveted: There isn’t one team that wouldn’t want to have either driver behind the wheel for them. But Dixon is locked into a new multi-year agreement with Chip Ganassi Racing and Rossi likely isn’t going anywhere from Andretti Autosport anytime soon.

So, it’s not a far stretch to consider Rossi, driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport NAPA Auto Parts Honda, as, shall we say, Dixon 2.0 – or the coming of the next Ice Man in the series.

That’s why it should be exciting and an interesting study in styles as the two drivers battle it out for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship in Sunday’s season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.

Rossi has obviously learned a lot of lessons from Dixon. While the New Zealand native may not exactly have been a direct mentor to Rossi, the young American, it’s fairly obvious that Rossi has patterned much of his career-to-date after Dixon.

The stats bear that out: Both drivers have three wins this season. Both have eight podium finishes. Both are almost identical in the number of laps they’ve completed this season (Dixon 2,279, Rossi 2,281). Rossi has led 415 laps, Dixon 357. Dixon has a better start/finish average (7.9 and 4.4) to Rossi (6.3 and 5.6). Neither has had a DNF in 2018.

And most importantly coming into Sunday: Both are 1-2 in the championship battle, with Rossi 29 points behind Dixon.

“It’s a privilege to be mentioned in the same sentence as Scott Dixon, to be able to race against someone of his caliber week in and week out, hopefully get the better of him,” Rossi said.

An interesting stat that some may not be aware of is through the course of the season, Dixon has been as far back as seventh position (after both Phoenix and Alabama), but Rossi has NEVER been ranked any lower than third after all of the first 16 races this season.

Dixon has been No. 1 in the standings for the entire second half of the season – that’s the last eight races – while Rossi has been ranked second for the last four races and no lower than third since Mid-Ohio.

Now it all comes down to one race, 85 laps around the 12-turn, 2.385-mile permanent road course that will host IndyCar for the 14th and final time on Sunday.

IndyCar has decided to shift the final race of the season in 2019 from Sonoma to Laguna Seca Raceway, about 100-plus miles south. While there’s a chance IndyCar could return to Sonoma in the future, there is no indication of when – or if – that may happen.

Getting back to Rossi, he’s looking forward to what is considered his home track, even though it’s a track he does not rank among his favorite on the circuit.

Rossi finished fifth in his first IndyCar race at Sonoma in 2016 and was 21st in last year’s race there.

Rossi tested at Sonoma on Thursday along with several other teams and feels confident that he can put on a strong performance and challenge for the championship with a large contingent of family and friends that will be in attendance.

“I think we found quite a bit of performance on road courses the second half of this year, really from Road America onwards,” Rossi said. “Hopefully that carries forward to Sonoma, we had a constructive test on Thursday, maximize that time, build a fast racecar.

“It’s no secret it’s pretty hard to pass around Sonoma. We need to make sure we have a car we can qualify up front with.”

Rossi has been on an upward route since his rookie season in 2016. He shocked the world by winning that season’s Indianapolis 500, and finished the season 11th.

Last season, Rossi finished seventh, due in part to a strong second half that laid a good foundation for the kind of season he’s had this year.

“Really, from the middle of 2017, I thought we can definitely do something, making the steps forward we needed to,” Rossi said. “I think that every time you get in a car, you learn something new.

“You’re trying to be better and learn from the people around you, your teammates, other drivers. I don’t know that there’s one area in specific. I mean, I just think you get better overall. The more time you have in the series with the car, the team, on track, you see upticks in performance.

“Really, I think the big thing for us this year is just going back to a spec aero kit. It’s really leveled the playing field and taken away advantages that teams have had in the past, just given us some opportunity to show the mechanical capabilities of our car, the strength of the Honda engine, all of that.

“I think it’s a lot of factors as to why we’ve been competitive in 2018. It’s not down to one thing by any means.”

But indeed, there is just one thing that is first and foremost in Rossi’s mind on Sunday.

“You don’t change your approach,” he said. “I mean, I’m going to win, I’m going to try to beat people, do exactly what we’ve been doing all year. That’s our only responsibility.

“If we win, we’ve done our job right. If it doesn’t happen, that doesn’t really matter. We have to go into the weekend and do all we can do to maximize ourselves, our potential. We have had a car in contention to win a race probably 90 percent of this year. There’s no reason to change that now.”

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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.”