After COVID-19 scare, Renger van der Zande ready for Rolex 24 win with new Ganassi team

Renger van der Zande COVID
IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Having missed the debut of Chip Ganassi Racing’s new Cadillac DPi team because of an exposure to COVID-19, Renger van der Zande was cleared to race last week and is confident of getting a third consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona victory.

Van der Zande, who arrived in the United States about three weeks ago from the Netherlands, said he came in close contact in Indianapolis with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and his ensuing quarantine forced him to sit out Ganassi’s Jan. 20 test at Sebring International Raceway and last Friday’s opening practice of Roar Before The Rolex 24 test session.

Marcus Ericsson, one of Ganassi’s IndyCar drivers, had been filling in for van der Zande with IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teammates Scott Dixon and Kevin Magnussen, but the team will rely on the trio of van der Zande, Magnussen and Dixon for the Rolex 24.

“We took it safe,” van der Zande told NBC Sports. “They wanted to sit me out for five days to make sure I didn’t get any symptoms, which I didn’t.

“I used my time to go training and all that, and I sat in the hotel room for two days of testing at Sebring and listened to the radio to what the guys were doing and tried to give my advice about the car, because I have three years of experience in the car. The five days ended on the Friday of the Roar, so I did a COVID test Friday morning and went straight to the track. So it was kind of bad to not be there at the first shakedown.

“I’d have loved to be there and start working on it from the beginning. On the other hand, I know these cars so well and this track so well, so getting up to speed was not an issue as well, and when I jumped in the car, the car was in very good shape already setup-wise. So straightaway, the first outing was already a good lap time.

The No. 01 Cadillac of Renger van der Zande, Scott Dixon and Kevin Magnussen led the first 15 laps of Sunday’s Motul 100 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway (IMSA).

“It was a bit of a weird situation of spending some time in Indianapolis, spending a lot of time in the area of Orlando on my race bike and then finally getting in the car for three days of Roar testing. Happy everything went well. I didn’t have any COVID, and here we got for a race that I’m trying to win again.”

After winning the IMSA season opener the past two seasons with Wayne Taylor Racing, van der Zande has remained in a Cadillac in making the transition to Ganassi’s No. 01.

“I’m kind of lucky how things came together,” van der Zande, 34, said. “I think I’m in a great position now. I had the job for a long time last year. And then suddenly I got sacked anyway. That time from being sacked after working already toward this season with that team, the moment I got sacked, and two and a half weeks later, being signed up with Chip Ganassi Racing it was just like a dream come true.

“When I heard about there could be rumors about Chip Ganassi going to IMSA, I think that was the right spot to be at. And if I was signed up with Wayne Taylor Racing, there was never going to be an opportunity. So things work out the way they do, and super proud to be here and also looking to the future.”

Magnussen and van der Zande finished seventh in Sunday’s Motul 100 qualifying race after getting caught out on strategy, which the Dutchman said “was a good thing that happened because we can make sure that never happens when it really counts.”

Magnussen, his full-time “rookie” teammate in sports cars after several seasons in Formula One, led the first 15 laps after passing pole-sitter Oliver Jarvis after the green flag.

Ganassi is the only team owner with three consecutive victories in the Rolex 24 (2006-08), and the 59th Rolex 24 at Daytona will mark his first attempt at the overall title since winning in 2015.

“I’m very happy to join this team,” said van der Zande, a 14-time winner in IMSA. “How they deal with trouble, the problems, they just solve them. There is no, ‘No.’ Everything you ask for, seating positions or whatever, they get it done. The car build is impressive within Ganassi. They know how to put a car together but also what sort of philosophy in terms of setup.

“At Ganassi, they only are working on how to win races. That’s the only topic. We had a nice dinner with Chip, and that’s what he said. We’re here to win races. Off we go. It’s not about bullshit. It’s go race and win.”

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.”