Hinchcliffe’s Indianapolis 500 nightmare continues


INDIANAPOLIS – James Hinchcliffe has lived this nightmare before when he failed to make the field for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 in 2018. Most nightmares come to an end, however, as soon as someone wakes up.

In the blink of an eye Saturday, in qualifications for the 103rd Indianapolis 500, the nightmare returned.

Hinchcliffe began his initial qualification attempt at 1:20 p.m. Eastern Time and had just completed a fast lap on the first of four laps around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But on the second lap, Hinchcliffe’s Honda did a half-spin in Turn 2 and made hard left-side contact with the SAFER Barrier. The car rotated onto its left sidepod as it slid down the track and landed on all four tires before coming to rest on the backstretch.

Hinchcliffe was able to climb out of the car with help from the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team.

Unlike last year, when Hinchcliffe was bumped out of the 33-car starting lineup by Conor Daly with 20 minutes remaining in the session, there was time to correct the issue.

Last year, Hinchcliffe attempted to make a second attempt but had a vibration on his next qualification run. After correcting that problem, he was the last car in the inspection line waiting to go out before qualifications ended.

After his crash on Saturday, his Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew quickly prepared a backup Arrow Honda with crewmembers from all three SPM teams pitching in, including teammates Marcus Ericsson and Oriol Servia.

The backup car was ready to roll about 4 p.m., and Hinchcliffe and crew returned to pit lane to the cheers of the fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. When team co-owner Ric Schmidt was asked by NBCSports.com if he felt this was “Groundhog Day?,” he replied, “Yep.”

Hinchcliffe’s first attempt was woefully slow and waved off when the four-lap average was 210.745 mph. The second attempt was four-laps at 226.530 mph. The final attempt began at 5:32 p.m. and the four-lap average was 226.956 mph, again too slow to make the field.

The popular driver from Canada gets one more attempt in Sunday’s “Last Row Shootout.” Coverage will begin on NBC at Noon ET.

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He is one of six drivers fighting for the final three positions in the 33-car starting lineup. The others include two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso, IndyCar regulars Max Chilton and Pato O’Ward from Carlin, and part-time drivers Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing and Sage Karam of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

Hinchcliffe must reset his mind and make one final four-lap attempt to make the Indianapolis 500 field for the first time since 2017.

INDYCAR Photo “Honestly, it’s part of our job,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s what we do. It’s not the first time we’ve crashed. Probably won’t be the last. So, you just have to be able to put these things behind you and close the visor tomorrow and do it again.”

Hinchcliffe’s team did an incredible job getting his backup car together and ready to go in just under 3 hours.

“Huge credit to everybody at Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, it was a big effort from the whole team to get that car out there,” Hinchcliffe said. “Everybody from each team – they jumped in and helped.

“It’s a road course car, so it doesn’t have all the extra love on it that the oval cars, the superspeedway cars have, so we weren’t really sure what to expect. We came out, made some changes and found some speed, certainly. Obviously, it wasn’t quite enough today.

“Luckily, we’ve got a chance tomorrow. I’ve got a lot of faith in the crew, everybody at Arrow, everybody at Honda, they’ve done great today to rebound from a pretty bad situation. We just have to put our heads together, find a little speed on it tomorrow and come out and put this thing in the show.”

Hinchcliffe’s accident was a big hit, but he was able to escape the massive impact uninjured. He made a quick trip to the IU Health Infield Care Center where he was examined and released.

“The car was a little bit loose in (Turns) 3 and 4 but in 1 and 2 was solid, so actually I was just preparing to dial a bit of understeer in for the north end of the track,” Hinchcliffe explained. “I don’t know if we caught a gust or the wind changed or what. When it’s windy and it’s gusty and you’re in low downforce for qualifying, unfortunately that’s the risk you run.

“I got to (Turn) 2, and it just sort of suddenly snapped on me. I don’t know if it was a gust of wind or what. Worst-case scenario is doing it again tomorrow.

“We’re prepared. Obviously, this team is … they’re professionals. They know these things can happen. I’m not worried about getting back out. We just don’t know what kind of pace we’re going to have until we get there.”

“It’s pretty much worst-case scenario. It’s pretty much our nightmare. But I have a lot of faith in the Arrow guys. We’ll get one back together, and we’ll get back out there tomorrow.”

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

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.”