Takuma Sato paces Indianapolis 500 Open Test at IMS

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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INDIANAPOLIS – There were 30 cars that hit the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway hoping for a full day of testing for the 103rdIndianapolis 500. And then, the typical, fickle Indiana Springtime weather interfered.

Instead of hours of practice, the NTT IndyCar Series veterans got 105 minutes of track time and the rookies and other drivers that need to take refresher test just 86 minutes of track time.

The winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 in 2017, Takuma Sato, turned the best lap of the day at 226.993 mph in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with Ed Carpenter just behind at 226.414 in the No. 20 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet. Those speeds were logged during a session open to 20 veteran drivers who have raced this season.

“The program was interrupted and stopped a few times,” Sato said of the rain that halted action twice and eventually put an end to the day with a third shower. “Having said that, today is meant to shake down the car, just check all the functions OK, feel it out. From that point of view, I think it was a very smooth day.”

Carpenter is a three-time Indy 500 pole winner, most recently last year when he finished second to Will Power of Team Penske in the 102ndIndianapolis 500.

“It was a little odd, but all in all, it was good,” Carpenter said. “We got a decent amount of stuff done, not everything we wanted to do – just with the pauses and intermissions. At the end of the day, I think we ran more than what I thought we were going to the first time it started raining. It kind of sets us up for a decent starting place for when we come back for the full week of practice.

“It’s still good to get that physical gratification and confidence back that things are looking all right.”

IndyCar rookies and other drivers that do not compete full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series hit the track for the later session that began at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Colton Herta was among the four first-timers who completed all three phases of the rookie orientation, turning the best lap of the session and fourth-best of the day at 226.108 mph in the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda.

“It was pretty cool,” said Herta, who became the youngest winner in Indy car history a month ago at Circuit of The Americas and won the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race last year on the IMS oval. “The first few laps were the same speed as an Indy Lights car, so it wasn’t too impressive. But once they kind of let me run at 215-plus on the third stage, it was pretty awesome.

“Definitely a dream of mine for a long time to be able to run an Indy car here. Even though it’s just testing, it’s still really sentimental.”

Rain interrupted the open test just 11 minutes into the day. Following a four-hour delay, veterans received about 95 minutes of track time until a light rain returned. Following an hour delay, the rookies and veteran refresher drivers had about 90 minutes until the moisture made an appearance once more and ended the day about 7:30 p.m. ET.

Among those drivers who had limited track time because of the weather was two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso of Spain. This will be Alonso’s second Indy 500 attempt for McLaren. He was Indy 500 Rookie of the Year in 2017.

Alonso completed his first phase of the refresher and his top speed out of 29 laps was 218.690 miles per hour in the No. 66 McLaren Chevrolet.

“This requires a complete reset on your driving style and your mindset,” Alonso said. Being ready to turn left for two weeks and to be brave on some occasions because it’s all about that.

“I had the test in Texas two weeks ago, so that more or less prepare yourself to oval racing again. Couple of good sessions on the simulator, as well, in Charlotte. It was not too difficult today because of all that preparation. So, yeah, I should be okay.”

The next race on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule is the IndyCar Grand Prix on May 11 on the IMS Road Course. Opening Day of practice for the 103rdIndianapolis 500 is May 14 with qualifications set for May 18-19. Carb Day is May 24 and the 103rdIndy 500 is May 26.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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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 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 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 car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

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. – McLaren Racing

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.”