Fernando Alonso, Wayne Taylor Racing win Rolex 24

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In his second start in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Fernando Alonso led the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac DPI team to victory along with Kamui Kobayashi, Jordan Taylor and Renger van Der Zande. Alonso took the lead from Felipe Nasr two laps from the end of a race which was shortened by rain.

Nasr lost the lead to Alonso when he failed to navigate Turn 1 giving up a 1.5-second lead. By the time he got his car under control, Alosno had a 12 second advantage.

Alexander Rossi was the only other driver to finish on the lead lap in third.

The 2019 race was in sharp contrast to last year. One year after the Rolex 24 set a record for the fewest cautions and most laps run of 808, this year’s race was limited to 593 laps – making it the shortest Rolex 24 in history. Two years ago rain also plagued the 2017 edition that was concluded on the 659th lap.

Rain began to fall with 10 hours remaining and never let up.

The first red flag waved during the middle of the night during the 14th hour. A second red flag with just under two hours remaining marked the first time this race was stopped twice. Track officials attempted to dry the track well enough to finish under green, but IMSA was forced to call the event with about 10 minutes left on the clock.

Alonso’s two Rolex 24 attempts were also in sharp contrast. Last year in his inaugural race, he finished 38th overall and 13th in the LMPA2 class. This year, he was flawless, taking the lead for the first time during his first stint during the fourth hour of competition. He cycled in and out of the lead for the remainder of the race.

Alonso joins Phil Hill (1964) and Mario Andretti (1972) as only the third Formula 1 champion to win the Rolex 24.

Alsonso won last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. This May, he will attempt to complete the Triple Crown by winning the Indy 500.

Team Mazda appeared to be the biggest competition to the No. 10 until both the No. 55 and pole winning No. 77 had problems during the sixth hour. The No. 77 team led the field to green Oliver Jarvis after breaking a 26-year-old record. Timo Bernhard was behind the wheel when the car caught fire causing the retirement.

Alex Zanardi’s return to endurance racing got off to a bad start. At the beginning of his first stint, he encountered a problem changing his steering wheel 90 minutes into the race. Zanardi is using a special wheel with hand controls for the car, and the connecting pins were damaged when he attempted to connect it as the car was dropped from the jack. The No. 24 team finished 32nd overall and ninth in class.

Sebastian Saavedra and the No. 18 team won the LMPA2 class along with Scott Mayer, James Dayson and Alex Popow.

Augustus Farfus in the No. 25 won GTLM with co-drivers Bill Auberlen, Alexander Sims and Bruno Spengler.

Christian Engelhart and the No. 11 team won in the GTD class with Rolf Ineichen, Roberto Pampanini and Miles Pavlovic.

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.”