Alexander Rossi racing the best of his career

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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TORONTO – Alexander Rossi was asked directly by NBC Sports.com, if the recent five-race streak beginning with the Indianapolis 500 on May 26 is the best stretch of his career.

“Sure, you can say that,” Rossi told NBCSports.com as he prepared Saturday for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Since he finished 22ndin the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 11, Rossi has been the central focus of the NTT IndyCar Series.

He finished second in an extremely aggressive drive in the 103rdIndianapolis 500 when he raced eventual winner Simon Pagenaud in an Indy 500 battle of the ages. He finished second the following race in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race No. 1, losing the race when Josef Newgarden had perfect timing on a pit stop, hitting his pit box, just as a crash occurred, allowing him to leap-frog to the lead as the pits had closed and Rossi had yet to make his stop.

His fifth-place finish in the second Detroit Grand Prix race was his worst finish since the INDYCAR Grand Prix. The next week at Texas Motor Speedway, Rossi was involved in another high-speed duel, this time with Newgarden, who narrowly won the race over Rossi.

In the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America on June 23, Rossi’s greatness was on full display. He started second, took the lead in Turn 1 and drove away to win by nearly 30 seconds in one of the largest margins of victory in recent memory.

Throw out Rossi’s 22ndplace finish in the INDYCAR GP, every finish would be in the top 10 including two victories, including eight top-five finishes in nine races.

That is greatness personified.

“It’s the best results, I don’t know if you can’t put it all down to me,” Rossi said. “The team, in general, has not made any mistakes. We’ve been executing our race day. That was our biggest weakness in 2018. We had pace in 2018, but come Sundays, we didn’t put our best foot forward until the second half of the year.

“That is what is different in 2019. The first half, globally, the entire No. 27 team has been doing a great job.”

Rossi’s string of second-place finishes that begin in the Indy 500, continued to the next race at Detroit and followed him to Texas left him frustrated when he arrived at Road America. By winning with such a large margin, Rossi slammed those frustrations into submission.

“We were coming up short a lot and when we had the opportunity to have a big race, we wanted to make a statement,” Rossi said. “We were able to do that.”

When the great Bobby Unser was racing, he was a hard charger who either won the race or his engine broke while he was running away from the pack. Unser used to say he may not have won the race, but everyone in attendance knew he was the fastest driver.

NBC’s Paul Tracy recalled when his father, Tony, told him, “If you don’t win the race, make sure you did something where people will talk about you afterward.”

Rossi has been discussed and talked about more this year than probably any other driver in the NTT IndyCar Series, including the drivers who beat him while he was finishing second.

“Well, that’s good for me, but maybe not for them,” Rossi said. “The reason for that is guys would win races, but we were always the one on the podium and the topic of conversation. That’s a great thing.

“I have to agree with Paul that if you are not going to win, you may as well put on a show for everybody.”

Putting on a show has been Rossi’s ability his entire racing career. He believes he is a very competitive person with a sole focus of winning.

“People always say, ‘winning isn’t everything,’ but personally, for me, it is,” Rossi told NBCSports.com. “I demand the best from the people around me, and they expect the same from me.

“That’s just who I am as a person in general.”

Rossi has gotten substantially better with each season since he left Formula One and joined the NTT IndyCar Series in 2016. He stole the spotlight by winning the 100thIndianapolis 500 as a rookie. He was dramatically better his second season in 2017 and by 2018, he was ready to challenge and contend for the championship.

He enters Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto just seven points behind points leader Newgarden in the NTT IndyCar Series championship. Rossi starts fourth and Newgarden starts fifth with Pagenaud on the pole.

“This is a track where you have to be careful you don’t overdrive it, and I’m the type of person who drives 110 percent everywhere we go,” Rossi said. “It’s a track where I will have to adapt to it and maybe bring it down a notch.

“This place has always super tricky because of the pavement changes and the bumps.”

Rossi is in the final year of his contract with Andretti Autosport and has been the center of tremendous speculation whether he will remain with that team via a new contract, or potentially move to another team.

There are many possibilities in play, but why would Rossi want to change a good thing?

“No comment,” Rossi said about his future, only to say that he will have a new deal in place “by the end of the year.”

But he did admit that he admires the fact Scott Dixon has stayed with the same team since 2003 and has won five championships and all but one of his 45 career victories during that time.

That could serve as the model for Rossi’s future, because his No. 27 NAPA team at Andretti Autosport is arguably the best in the series right now.

“I think what Scott has done in his career is unprecedented,” Rossi said. “I’ve always said continuity is a really good thing and something underrated in this sport. Having the relationships in this sport and building upon those is very good.

“We continue to get better on my team. To see what Scott has done on this team, he is the driver all of us want to emulate and beat because he is the benchmark. He is the best modern-day IndyCar driver.”

If Rossi continues to compete at such a high level and win championships and more races in his career, he may one day be part of that conversation.

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.”