IndyCar drivers believe it’s up to them to prevent crashes

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MADISON, Illinois – As the NTT IndyCar Series arrived in the St. Louis area for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500, it’s a chance to flip the script and focus on a short oval after surviving last Sunday’s superspeedway race at Pocono.

The 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway classifies as a “short oval” although it is over one-mile in length. But with its tight turns and relatively flat surface, it will feature a more traditional style of racing than the high-speed, high-risk superspeedway formula.

“It’s typical short track racing,” Power told NBC Sports.com. “You have to be able to get through traffic. It’s pretty tough there. It’s such a pity we can’t open that second lane because it is there. The only reason it doesn’t open is everyone falls in line at the start and the inside line gets rubber and the outside lane gets the marbles and that destroys the lane. If everyone went the second lane during the first stint of the race, it would come in and you would have a fantastic race.

“It’s really difficult to pass so you have to be quite aggressive to pass and somebody is always going to be the loser in that and get up in the marbles. A multiple lane, short oval track, there is nothing better. Iowa is like that and it creates great racing. We can have great short oval racing if we somehow create a second lane.”

Although the shorter oval with slower speeds doesn’t eliminate the risk, it lessens it to a degree because of the reduction in speed and impact if a car hits the SAFER Barrier.

Power, who won last Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono, believes with all of the safety innovations that have been instituted by INDYCAR in recent years, the greatest safety measure remains the person behind the steering wheel.

Last Sunday’s race at Pocono was marred for the second-straight year by a massive crash on the first lap that damaged the fence, sent one driver to the hospital for evaluation and created days’ worth of dialogue from the drivers involved.

Power is among those that believe a driver can impact safety the most by making the right decision at a moment of high risk.

“That’s true, there’s no question it’s up to the drivers,” Power said. “The formula the series mandates, they are very much on top of these days to make it good racing, safer and more about the driver. It just blows me away that in a 500-mile race that people do that. I understand it’s hard when you have a run on someone and can make up a couple easy positions, it’s hard to sit back. It was hard to pass last year, but this year was a little easier.

“There just has to be a higher level of respect when you are racing at a superspeedway. You have to be willing to back out of a move unless you are 100 percent it is going to come up. I lift unless there are 10 laps to go. Then, you are very respectful of the speed on a superspeedway.

“I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard yellow after another big crash in Turn 2. I thought after last year, everyone would have chilled out. It was three cars in a tight spot, too close together at very high speed.”

With so many veteran drivers in a series that features some outstanding young talent, Power was asked if the more experienced drivers need to play a role in speaking out to help prevent crashes before they occur.

Ironically, last Sunday’s crash featured four talented veteran drivers including Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato and James Hinchcliffe. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist’s car was sent into the fence after it ran into Sato’s car after it rebounded from the initial crash.

“Look at the crash last year between Hunter-Reay and Wickens, same deal,” Power explained. “If that had been 10 to go, Hunter-Reay would have expected Wickens to stay there and Wickens would have expected Hunter-Reay to stay there. But on the first lap, there is a bit of uncertainty there, so someone has to be willing to back out.

“It’s tough. We are all out there racing and everyone wants wins these days. If you can get a position, you will.

“It’s definitely on the drivers. We all back bad decisions at times but on a superspeedway, I really feel like stepping back and being willing to back out. Simon Pagenaud and I were side-by-side down the backstretch and I was even a little ahead, but it was really early, and I decided to back down and tuck behind him.

“It was way early.”

Power believes there is no one single driver that should bear the responsibility of last Sunday’s crash, although it appears obvious Sato played the biggest role.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens“The first lap is double-file, and everyone was packed up,” Power said. “I don’t see it as anyone’s fault, it was just unfortunate. I feel bad for Pocono these accidents happen. I would not say that accident was overly aggressive driving. It wasn’t.

“It was just three guys going straight that were just too close together.”

What was most concerning to some was it was the second year in a row that a major crash happened at the start of the IndyCar Series race at Pocono. After dealing with last year’s crash that left Robert Wickens paralyzed from the waist down, drivers didn’t need to be reminded of the risks versus reward of daring moves at the start of the race.

“That’s why a lot of people keep doing the same thing they do, they don’t think about what they did last time, so it continues to happen,” five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “That’s the first sign of insanity, isn’t it?

“It’s not so easy to self-police because it becomes paybacks and you can’t do that. For all of us, we just have to be glad that everybody in that crash is OK.”

Hunter-Reay indicated the drivers need to have a little more self-respect for each other and take care of each other better in risky situations.

“As a group, we need to realize we need to take care of each other, especially on the first lap of a 500-mile race,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports.com. “Everybody races hard, no doubt about it. We need to focus on higher percentage moves on a superspeedway. If this happened on a road course, nobody is talking about that because the consequences aren’t as severe.

“We can have a discussion among ourselves and address that, everybody is going to race hard and we are racing inches apart and sometimes these things are going to happen. I think as a group we can discuss that.

“I don’t know about policing, as much as the drivers need to have mutual respect.

“I love Pocono. I won there. I really enjoy the race track. It’s very challenging. It’s a superspeedway unlike any other. It’s unfortunate these things have happened, but they could have happened elsewhere.”

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.”