Josef Newgarden goes from fast cars to fastballs in St. Louis

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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ST. LOUIS, Missouri – Josef Newgarden has led the NTT IndyCar Series standings for all but one race this season by having the ability to drive a fast car and win races.

Thursday night at Busch Stadium, Newgarden proved he has a pretty good fastball, too.

The Team Penske driver and 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion threw out the first pitch before the St. Louis Cardinals game against the Colorado Rockies. Without warming up, Newgarden threw a perfect pitch, right down the middle of the plate.

“It was a strike, too,” Newgarden said as he went down the tunnel and saw his Team Penske crew sitting in the row above the tunnel. “That was pretty good.

“For literally zero practice, that was a great pitch. You just show up and throw it. It’s not hard throwing the ball, but when you throw out a first pitch, it becomes difficult because everybody is expecting you to get it across the plate.

“I’m saving my ‘heater’ for Friday in qualifications.”

Friday afternoon, he was back in his own element in the No. 2 PPG Chevrolet for Team Penske at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Once again, he had a fast car, leading the first practice session before qualifications began later Friday afternoon.

He followed that up by winning the eighth pole of his career Friday evening. He qualified the No. 2 PPG Chevrolet to the pole position with a two-lap average of 188.508 miles per hour around the 1.25-mile short oval.

“The pole helps with the championship,” Newgarden said. “Every practice. Every qualifying session. Every race. You just keep marching on until this thing finishes off. Every weekend you come in invigorated that you can put together a winning car and come in and win the race. I think that is why we show up. We are going to try and do that tomorrow night.”

As for Newgarden’s baseball prowess, Thursday night’s first pitch was the second time he has had that honor for a Major League Baseball game. Several years ago, he threw out the first pitch before a Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park.

“Thanks to the Cardinals for letting us come out and do this, it’s such a beautiful stadium and historic team,” Newgarden said. “It’s great that they allow us to come here and promote our race. This team has a rich history and you feel it when you walk in these gates.

“I was a decent ballplayer, but I haven’t played since I was 15. It’s been a while. Once I got into racing, that took over fully. I still love baseball. The games are better live because you can really experience it. It’s impressive to see what these guys are all about and see the skillset of these players.

“St. Louis has done a great job promoting this race and we all look forward to it every year.”

When Newgarden played baseball in Hendersonville, Tennessee, he played catcher, third base and centerfield. As a kid, he remembers the home run battle between Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs and Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I have a lot of respect for the Cardinals; they have a great organization,” Newgarden said. “It’s great to be here with the track and promoting IndyCar in St. Louis. The relationship with the Cardinals has been really positive.

“There are a lot of baseball fans that are also racing fans. They can go to the game on Thursday night, then come out and watch us race Friday and Saturday night.”

With his “first pitch” out of the way, Newgarden quickly shifted his focus to Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500. He has a 35-point lead over Alexander Rossi with three races remaining.

“It’s a small increase, but it’s still really tight,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “Unless you have a 100-point lead going into Laguna Seca, it’s going to be tight. We have a long way to go. We had a good car here and won in 2017 and last year, we didn’t have our best weekend.

“We’ve gone over this car very well and expect to have a good weekend this year.”

Team Penske has won both races since IndyCar’s return to the 1.25-mile, egg-shaped oval in 2017. Newgarden won in 2017 and teammate Will Power drove to victory in 2018.

Although Newgarden doubled his points lead from 16 points to 35 last Sunday at Pocono because Alexander Rossi was involved in the first-lap pileup in Turn 2, the top four drivers are separated by 52 points. Another Team Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud, is 40 back and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon is 52 points out.

“It’s a big battle,” Newgarden said. “The top four, you aren’t looking at one or the other, there are three of them there at our pretty close to me. It’s pretty early to start letting off, now.”

Plus, the season’s final race is at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, which hasn’t hosted an IndyCar race since Champ Car in 2004.

“That’s the biggest unknown,” Newgarden said. “I don’t think we have a strong idea how that is going to go, yet. I don’t think we have an idea what Laguna is going to bring.

“It’s a double-Wild Card. It’s double-points and it’s a track where we haven’t raced at.”

Newgarden believes he can only control his own destiny and that is how he is approaching this weekend and the remaining races on the schedule.

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.”