IMSA: Pipo Derani, Whelen Engineering win explosive Petit Le Mans

IMSA
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Pipo Derani (Whelen Engineering Racing, Cadillac DPi) inherited the lead with 20 minutes remaining after a brake rotor exploded on leader Felipe Albuquerque’s (Mustang Sampling Racing) Cadillac. Derani held the advantage until the checkers waved over the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road America.

With fireworks exploding overhead, there were fireworks on track as well.

On the final lap, with Jordan Taylor (Konica Minolta, Cadillac DPi-V.R) putting pressure on the leader, Derani slammed into the No. 912 Porsche GT with Earl Bamber at the  wheel.

“I flashed a few times,” Derani said in Victory Lane after climbing from his car. “I was flashing every car and I though he saw me, so I went for the dive. I wanted to keep my three-second gap.”

The contact cost Derani a second of time as Taylor closed the gap.

While Derani and the No. 31 team won the battle, Acura Team Penske and the No. 6 won the war. Finishing fourth, one lap behind the leader, Juan Pablo Montoya brought the Acura home high enough in the standings to give him and Dane Cameron the championship.

“It was really a tremendous day,” Cameron said after the race. “It was a little close for comfort there for a couple of hours, but we did exactly what we needed to. We came here with a plan and didn’t have a ton of pace for the first time all year, but we executed perfectly.”

Ricky Taylor and the No. 7 Acura Team Penske team finished third.

“This race is so tough,” race winner Derani said. “I finished second my first time here, was about to win the last two years; it didn’t happen. And today it almost didn’t happen again. But man, it’s fantastic.”

After almost nine and a half hours contact between Toni Vilander (Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GT3) and Katherine Legge (Meyer Shank Racing, Acura NSX GT3) set up a 25-minute shootout to the end of the 10-hour endurance event. The full course caution came after a green flag period of four hours, 38 minutes.

At 8:26 ET, Joao Barbosa brought his Cadillac into the pits from the lead and climbed out of it to face an uncertain future.

“It’s very emotional,” Barbosa said on NBCSN after climbing from his car.  “We’ve been at Action Express for more than 10 years and this will be my last race with them. Definitely, when I got out of the car, everything started to feel more real.”

The broken brake rotor sent the team home seventh in class, five laps off the lead.

At 464 laps, this year’s Petit Le Mans set a record for the longest distance, bettering a mark of 443 laps set last year.

GTLM: James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi, and Daniel Serra win Le Mans and Petit Le Mans

“We came into this race with a huge unknown,” Calado said after the race. “We didn’t test. We struggled with tires the whole race; we had huge blisters, temperatures were really hurting us and it wasn’t until the end when luckily the temperatures came down and we just got away with it.”

This was the second time the driver lineup of Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra raced together. They won Le Mans.

Ryan Briscoe finished second in the Ford Chip Ganassi No. 67 with Tom Blomqvist in the BMW Team RLL No. 25 finishing third.

Bamber survived the last-lap contact to bring his Porsche GT 912 RSR home with the championship by 13 points over the No. 3 Corvette Racing team and the No. 911 Porsche GT Team.

GTD: Bill Auberlen ties Scott Pruett for most IMSA wins

Bill Auberlen got around Felipe Fraga on the last lap of the Petit Le Mans to score his 60th IMSA victory and tie Scott Pruett for the most.

The final 20 minutes of the Petit Le Mans featured a blistering battle between Fraga and Auberlen. In heavy traffic Fraga fought off a determined charge from Auberlen, who was destined to win on his 51st birthday. Auberlen pressed; Fraga fended off every challenge until he ran out of gas on the final lap just at the driver of the No. 96 was pouncing.

“I wasn’t going to be aggressive for a while,” Auberlen said in Victory Lane. “I was going to wait until he made a mistake. And he didn’t make a big one, so I had to get more and more aggressive and then all of a sudden he got out of the way for me right at the end. Someone was looking down on us.”

Christopher Mies and the No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 finished second with Scott Hargrove and the PFAFF Motorsports Porsche 911 rounded out the top three.

The GTD championship went to the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing, Acura NSX GT. They needed only to start the race to wrap up the title, which was fortuitous because they were forced to retire with a broken radiator four hours from the end.

“It’s bittersweet to say the least,” Trent Hindman said. “Going into this final round of the season, we knew all we needed to do was cross the start-finish line and we’d have driver and team championship wrapped up. Which I think is both an accomplishment, for Mario (Farnbacher) and [me], for Mike (Shank), for the entire Meyer-Shank Racing team and crew.”

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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.”