April 4 in Motorsports History: Indy cars race at Daytona Beach

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway might be hallowed ground to the open-wheel faithful, but since 1994, the iconic oval also has played host to stock cars in NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.

IMS and several other facilities have shown that both of America’s top motorsports series successfully can host races at shared venues. However, while NASCAR makes an annual visit to IndyCar’s cathedral, there never has been an IndyCar race at Daytona International Speedway — except on one occasion 61 years ago

In 1959, the 2.5-mile superspeedway had opened in Daytona Beach, Florida, and in addition to serving as a venue for his growing NASCAR series, Bill France envisioned additional races taking place at his new track, including IndyCar.

France and USAC officials (the sanctioning body for Indy racing at the time) met in 1958 and agreed upon having Daytona play host to two USAC Champ Car events in 1959; a 300-mile race on the Fourth of July and a 100-mile race to open the USAC season on April 4.

With 31-degree banking in the speedway’s corners, officials predicted incredibly high speeds in the race. But these speeds proved to be dangerous, as Marshall Teague, driving a roadster with a streamlined body and a canopy top, was killed in a crash during a test session at the new track in a Feb. 11 exhibition run at the new track.

Despite the accident, USAC decided to go on with the April 4, 1959 race. While France said he anticipated a crowd of 30,000 spectators, about 10,000 actually showed up on race day.

Qualifying was held in the week leading up to the race, with brothers Dick and Jim Rathmann qualifying first and second, respectfully.

When the green flag waved, Jim took the lead from his brother and led the first seven laps.

Rodger Ward led from laps 7-11 before Jim Rathmann used the draft to pass him and retake the lead, which he retained through the checkered flag.

With the exception of two crashes (Gary Bettenhausen on Lap 5 and Dempsey Wilson on Lap 26), the race mostly ran without incident until the lead pack reached the finish line.

But almost simultaneously, fourth-place George Amick’s car was caught by a gust of wind, causing it to slide and hit the outside guardrail on the backstretch. The car barrel-rolled 10 times down the backstretch and landed in the infield grass. Amick was killed instantly.

Immediately following the race, Daytona was determined to be too fast for Indy cars. Rathmann’s average speed was 170.261 mph – the fastest winning speed in racing history at that point – and was 25 mph faster than the winner’s pace in the previous year’s Indy 500.

Indy cars haven’t raced the oval at Daytona since and likely never will.

However, on Sept. 26-27, 2006 and Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2007, IndyCar conducted two test sessions to evaluate the track as a possible offseason testing venue. The series utilized a modified version of the 10-turn infield motorcycle course that bypasses Turns 1 and two for these tests.

For more information on the lone IndyCar race at Daytona, check out this 16-minute documentary on the race created and uploaded by the YouTube channel “nascarman history”.

Also on this date:

1970: Californian Dan Gurney led all but three laps en route to his victory in USAC’s Golden Gate 150 at Sears Point International Raceway (now Sonoma Raceway). The race was the lone occasion USAC would visit the picturesque road course. IndyCar eventually raced at the facility from 2005-2018.

1993: Mario Andretti snapped a five-year drought to earn the victory in the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win marked the 52nd and final IndyCar victory of Andretti’s legendary career. He also became the second-oldest winner in history at the age of 53 years, 1 month & 7 days. Only Louis Unser, who won the AAA-sanctioned Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1953, was older (age 57).

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

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.”