NHRA: Kalitta, Beckman, Coughlin victorious at Winternationals

NHRA
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The NHRA’s top level of drag racing kicked off its 65th season Sunday, with the 60th running of the Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Ponoma.

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin, Jr. (Pro Stock) all emerged victorious at the end of the first weekend of the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Here are Sunday’s highlights:

In Top Fuel: Doug Kalitta made Winternationals history by collecting defeating Austin Prock to collect his third consecutive victory in his class.

Additionally, Kalitta is the first driver in Top Fuel history to win three consecutive events at Ponoma, having previously won both the season-ending NHRA finals and Winternationals at the track in 2019.

“It was definitely an interesting day. There was a lot of close racing today,” Kalitta said. “You’ve got people up their trying to tear the tree down on you, so it makes you a little bit nervous. It worked out really well for us. I’m just so proud of my Mac Tools Toyota guys. They busted their tails today. We tore up a few parts, but it was all good.

“To win the 60th Winternationals is pretty special.  Connie (Kalitta) was here at the first one, and he’s here with us and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s created an amazing legacy out here and I’m just glad this is one of our better tracks.”

Noticeably absent from the season-opening weekend was two-time defending TF champ Steve Torrence, who did not compete due to “untimely circumstances”.

In Funny Car: For the first time in his career, Jack Beckman was victorious in a Funny Car at the Winternationals, defeating the sport’s most successful driver to do so.

Beckman beat John Force with a 3.837 at 333.33 mph to Force’s 3.897 at 332.34 mph to collect the 31st Funny Car victory of his career. He is tied with Del Worsham for eighth on the all-time FC wins list.

“It was just the perfect storm,” Beckman said. “I had never won a Nitro title here at Pomona until November of last year and now I’ve got two in a row. It’s beyond magical.

“I’ve said it before; you don’t know if your last win is your last win. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this ain’t our last win. The Infinite Hero team is just on it. Our car has been amazing.”

In Pro Stock: One day after announcing that 2020 would be his last full-time season, Jeg Coughlin Jr. defeated Jason Line to collect a Pro Stock Wally for the 64th time in his career.

Though Line had the quicker reaction time, Coughlin passed him to cross the finish line in first, running 6.522 at 210.80 mph compared to Line’s 6.565 at 209.56 mph.

“The best memory is racing under that famed Winternationals banner,” Coughlin said. “I was looking at the 60 years logo today and I was thinking about how cool that would be to have that banner over us today. What a win.”

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta; 2. Austin Prock; 3. Brittany Force; 4. Leah Pruett; 5. Clay Millican; 6. Justin Ashley; 7. Shawn Reed; 8. Jim Maroney; 9. Terry McMillen; 10. Cameron Ferre; 11. Antron Brown; 12. Shawn Langdon; 13. Brandon Welch. 

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman; 2. John Force; 3. Matt Hagan; 4. Alexis DeJoria; 5. Ron Capps; 6. Tim Wilkerson; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8. Robert Hight; 9. Paul Lee; 10. Cruz Pedregon; 11. Alex Miladinovich; 12. J.R. Todd; 13. Steven Densham; 14. Bob Tasca III; 15. Bob Bode; 16. Terry Haddock. 

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin; 2. Jason Line; 3. Erica Enders; 4. Kenny Delco; 5. Chris McGaha; 6. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 7. Steve Graham; 8. Matt Hartford; 9. Alex Laughlin; 10. Aaron Stanfield; 11. Val Smeland; 12. Joey Grose; 13. Greg Anderson; 14. Bo Butner; 15. Deric Kramer; 16. Cristian Cuadra. 

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL — Doug Kalitta, 3.698 seconds, 330.23 mph def. Austin Prock, 10.939 seconds, 80.31 mph. 

FUNNY CAR— Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.837, 333.33 def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.897, 332.34. 

PRO STOCK — Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 210.80 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.565, 209.56.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Clay Millican, 3.731, 323.58 def. Terry McMillen, 4.640, 183.05; Shawn Reed, 3.924, 238.26 def. Antron Brown, 5.233, 143.76; Brittany Force, 8.648, 77.72 was unopposed; Doug Kalitta, 3.885, 326.87 def. Brandon Welch, 7.325, 105.68; Leah Pruett, 3.659, 328.14 def. Jim Maroney, 4.503, 179.71; Austin Prock, 4.004, 316.15 def. Cameron Ferre, 5.164, 143.60; Justin Ashley, 3.726, 323.58 def. Shawn Langdon, 6.312, 102.28; 

QUARTERFINALS — Prock, 3.678, 330.96 was unopposed; Force, 3.682, 336.23 def. Millican, 3.867, 311.13; Kalitta, 3.705, 325.53 def. Ashley, 3.965, 231.83; Pruett, 3.685, 326.40 def. Reed, 4.466, 169.23; 

SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.675, 329.26 def. Force, 3.689, 332.84; Prock, 3.678, 330.63 def. Pruett, 4.927, 140.69; 

FINAL — Kalitta, 3.698, 330.23 def. Prock, 10.939, 80.31. 

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 5.241, 166.52 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 9.056, 82.90; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.873, 324.83 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.383, 221.42; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 8.365, 85.58 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, Broke; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.291, 294.18 def. Steven Densham, Mustang, 7.622, 92.71; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.914, 330.39 def. Alex Miladinovich, Toyota Camry, 5.859, 124.03; John Force, Camaro, 3.875, 329.02 def. Bob Bode, Mustang, 10.726, 85.45; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.922, 326.71 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.091, 240.85;Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.879, 326.79 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 5.983, 116.29; 

QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 3.871, 329.34 def. Capps, 4.625, 156.01; Force, 4.011, 275.06 def. Johnson Jr., 8.431, 80.69; DeJoria, 5.388, 136.12 def. Hight, 10.238, 86.54; Hagan, 4.042, 284.03 def. Wilkerson, 6.083, 113.18; 

SEMIFINALS — Force, 3.923, 331.28 def. Hagan, 8.859, 78.06; Beckman, 3.843, 332.92 def. DeJoria, 9.729, 78.34; 

FINAL — Beckman, 3.837, 333.33 def. Force, 3.897, 332.34. 

PRO STOCK: 

ROUND ONE — Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.590, 209.52 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 7.233, 148.18; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.569, 209.39 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.561, 210.14; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.628, 209.75 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.572, 209.46; Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.619, 208.78 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 7.439, 207.05; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.559, 210.05 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.640, 208.97; Fernando Cuadra Jr., Ford Mustang, 6.692, 206.70 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 37.710, 21.14; Erica Enders, Camaro, 7.429, 130.13 def. Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, No Time Recorded; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.542, 210.18 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.700, 206.29; 

QUARTERFINALS — Enders, 6.586, 210.50 def. Hartford, Foul – Red Light; Line, 6.574, 208.65 def. Cuadra Jr., Foul – Red Light; Delco, 6.597, 209.69 def. Graham, 7.329, 146.48; Coughlin, 6.546, 210.28 def. McGaha, 6.574, 209.72; 

SEMIFINALS — Line, 6.582, 208.94 def. Enders, 6.621, 209.95; Coughlin, 6.535, 210.44 def. Delco, 6.716, 180.28; 

FINAL — Coughlin, 6.522, 210.80 def. Line, 6.565, 209.56.

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POINT STANDINGS

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta, 117; 2. Austin Prock, 99; 3. Brittany Force, 87; 4. Leah Pruett, 80; 5. Clay Millican, 53; 6. Justin Ashley, 52; 7. Shawn Reed, 51; 8. Shawn Langdon, 38; 9. Terry McMillen, 34; 10. Antron Brown, 32.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman, 126; 2. John Force, 94; 3. Matt Hagan, 86; 4. Alexis DeJoria, 67; 5. Robert Hight, 61; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 56; 7. Ron Capps, 54; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 52; 9. Paul Lee, 34; 10. J.R. Todd, 33.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin, 130; 2. Jason Line, 94; 3. Erica Enders, 80; 4. Kenny Delco, 77; 5. (tie) Steve Graham, 52; Matt Hartford, 52; Chris McGaha, 52; 8. Fernando Cuadra Jr., 51; 9. Deric Kramer, 40; 10. Bo Butner, 36.

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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.”