Force-power problem: John, Brittany, Courtney hope to bounce back at St. Louis

NHRA
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Heading into this weekend’s second round of the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs, one well-known team has a horsepower problem.

Or maybe it would be better to say the team has a Force-power problem.

As they prepare for this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals near St. Louis, 16-time Funny Car champ John Force and his daughters – Funny Car driver Courtney Force and defending NHRA Top Fuel champ Brittany Force – are looking for big rebounds from the tough times they experienced in the Countdown opener last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania.

Let’s break it all down:

* Brittany Force suffered the biggest loss at Maple Grove, losing in the first round. That dropped her to 10th – last in the 10-driver Countdown field for Top Fuel.

Not only was that race rough, so has been the overall season. Brittany has just one win and one No. 1 qualifier in the first 17 races of the 24-race season.

If she has another bad run this weekend, trying to retain last season’s championship is going to be extremely difficult in the four remaining races.

“We’re struggling and we’re really trying to figure this car out,” Brittany Force said in a media release. “All my guys are right there with me. I know they are putting their heart into this car, trying to figure it out.

“Our hard work hasn’t paid off yet, but I know there are five races left and I know we can turn the corner. We’re going after wins and want to move up that ladder.”

* Courtney Force has led the Funny Car standings for most of the season. But after losing in the first round at Maple Grove – despite earning her 11th No. 1 qualifier position – she has dropped to third heading into this weekend’s race at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“We are looking for a fresh start in St. Louis,” Courtney Force said. “We lost some ground in the points but we are still right in the mix in the top three. We are going to go after those bonus points in qualifying and hopefully get the win on Sunday so we can get that No. 1 position back.”

The first priority for John Force’s youngest daughter and IndyCar driver Graham Rahal’s wife is to have a strong qualifying effort during sessions on Friday and Saturday.

Courtney’s 11 No. 1 qualifiers is third-most in a season for Funny Car drivers behind father John Force’s 13 in 1996 and Cruz Pedregon’s 12 in 1998. Courtney’s No. 1 streak is also the most by a Funny Car driver since John Force had 11 in 2000.

Thus far this season, Courtney has four wins, two runner-up finishes and five semi-final showings in the first 17 races.

* John Force Racing team patriarch John Force isn’t giving up on earning his 17th NHRA Funny Car championship. John Force reached the second round at Maple Grove before losing to Tim Wilkerson.

Now he returns to Gateway Motorsports Park, where he has enjoyed success in the past, including three wins (the last being in 2013).

The elder Force will need a good weekend, as he is in ninth place in the Funny Car standings, 102 points behind J.R. Todd, who has won the last two races (Indianapolis and Maple Grove).

“What I have to look at is the consistency,” said John Force, who has just one win this season (Denver). “Even when I got beat by (Tim) Wilkerson, my car still went A to B, and that made it six (competitive runs) in-a-row.

“Plus, we had top speed (of the entire race at 331.12 miles per hour) so we’ve got good power. It’s been a long year but, bottom line, I ain’t dead yet.”

* About the only person in the John Force Racing family who didn’t struggle at Maple Grove is team president (and John Force’s son-in-law) Robert Hight.

Hight, last season’s NHRA Funny Car world champion, reached the semifinals at Maple Grove. He potentially could have made it to the final round if it had not been due to a rare red light starting line foul by Hight.

“Obviously, that was not the way we wanted to end the weekend,” Hight said. “This AAA Camaro was running great, and we would have had that round win and probably won the race.

“Turning it around like that gives me all the more confidence in this AAA team. I believe we have the car to beat. We’re ready to head to St. Louis, we moved up in the points (he’s currently 2nd) and we’re going to keep it going.”

Hight won at Gateway back in 2010, along with three additional semifinal finishes. He’s been the No. 1 qualifier the last two years at the track just east of St. Louis.

“This is a big race for the AAA Funny Car team,” said Hight. “We love racing in St Louis and this is the first of three sponsor races in the Countdown for us.

“We would love to sweep the Auto Club races which I think would put us in a great position to win the championship. It won’t be easy but I learned a lot about myself racing for the championship last season. I am a much better driver and I want to show that this weekend at Gateway.”

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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.”