James Hinchcliffe facing another ‘nightmare’ at Indianapolis

1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Assessing his team’s suddenly dire situation at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, James Hinchcliffe had a rather succinct assessment after a spin and heavy impact on his second lap of qualifying.

“It’s our nightmare,” the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver said after being checked and cleared to drive at the care center. “No doubt about it.”

Unfortunately, nightmare scenarios are becoming all too familiar for at the Brickyard for Hinchcliffe, who is in danger of failing to qualify at Indy for the third time in five years.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

He escaped Saturday afternoon’s crash in Turn 2 with a bruised knee, which is at least better than four years ago when Hinchcliffe crashed and sustained life-threatening injuries after a suspension part pierced his thigh.

Last year, he failed to qualify for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing after his No. 5 Dallara-Honda was bumped because of a lack of speed.

Indianapolis often has been a tough place for the affable Toronto native, who nearly missed the Indy 500 in 2014 after sustaining a concussion during a crash in the inaugural IndyCar Grand Prix.

He rebounded to win the pole for the 2016 Indy 500 (completing an impressive comeback), but he crashed out of the 2017 race.

“My patience is wearing thin,” Hinchcliffe said with a thin smile when asked about his fortunes on the 2.5-mile oval.

How would he reset after another setback?

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

“The guys have obviously worked really hard at getting the car together. We made a lot of progress yesterday on Fast Friday. Making it better. Making it faster. I don’t know if we got free on trim or downforce or what. We’ll take a look at it, see what happened, get another car together and try to be smarter tomorrow.”

There were at least a few positives as he tried to qualify for his seventh Indy 500.

His car seemed comfortable before he lost control in Turn 2 (possibly because of a wind gust), and teammates Marcus Ericsson, Oriol Servia and Jack Harvey had solid speed in qualifying.

Though Hinchcliffe initially doubted whether his team could have his backup ready in time to make another run Saturday (with inclement weather looming Sunday), but he returned to the track less than three hours after smacking the SAFER barrier.

But his team waved off the first attempt as he shook the car down, and his next two attempts weren’t fast enough to crack the top 30 that locked into the race Saturday.

Even though he faces a nerve-wracking Sunday of being one of six drivers fighting for the final three spots in the field, Hinchcliffe still was buoyed by the effort with a car that was tailored to road courses and not ovals.

“It’s a huge credit to Arrow Schmidt Peterson; everyone jumped in and helped,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “The road course car doesn’ t have the love on it that ovals and superspedway cars have. We made some changes, had some speed, but it obviously wasn’t enough. I have a lot of faith in the crew. We just have to put our heads together and come out tomorrow and put it in the show.

“There are tricks of the trade to find some speed. It’s a great effort for the guys. And it’s weird to think this isn’t the worst qualifying day we’ve had here.”

Even if the second day of qualifying were rained out Sunday, IndyCar plans to hold a final session for the six slowest cars whenever good weather permits (Monday, if necessary).

“I’m getting pretty good at not panicking here,” Hinchcliffe said. “Yeah. It’s obviously a sup-optimal situation as they would say in the engineering atlas, but I have a lot of faith in the Arrow car, the Arrow crew are top notch. We’ll get our car back on track tomorrow and try to put it in the show.

Hinchcliffe had a knowing answer when asked whether this was the worst-case scenario.

“Well, the worst-case scenario is doing it again tomorrow,” he said as his voice trailed off.

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
0 Comments

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.”