Dane Cameron, AJ Allmendinger combine forces with new Acura team in Rolex 24

Rolex 24 Cameron Allmendinger
Meyer Shank Racing Twitter
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Dane Cameron and AJ Allmendinger each will approach the 59th annual Rolex 24 with a different perspective, but the goal is the same.

One driver has experience with the car; the other has experience with the team. This Saturday and Sunday, Cameron and Allmendinger hope to combine that knowledge and create a winning combination in the 59th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

If they can, it will be one of the more compelling storylines of the race.

After three years racing an Acura ARX-05, Cameron was out of a ride when Acura and Team Penske announced they were severing ties after the 2020 season.

Penske’s championship success in 2019 with the No. 6 of Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya, who combined for three victories and seven podiums, seemed a distant memory. Last year they went winless with three podiums and finished a distant sixth in the championship.

But the exit of Penske created an opportunity for Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) to move up to DPi with Acura. In 2020, MSR competed in the GTD class, but with Penske’s equipment and Honda’s support available in the premier division, it made for an easier transition.

Of course, having one of IMSA’s top drivers didn’t hurt matters either. Cameron came with the equipment.

“It felt like home,” Cameron told reporters in a Zoom news conference last Thursday from Daytona International Speedway. “(The car) felt exactly like I remembered. This chassis that we’re running right now was the No. 6 car at Sebring. It got pushed straight across to (MSR) right after the 12 Hours. It’s my same seat. It’s the same interior as it was the year before and it drove quite similar, so I felt at home right away.”

Cameron, Montoya and Simon Pagenaud finished second in class in the season finale – on the same lap as the winner Mazda Motorsports.

This year Cameron will once again partner with Montoya plus Olivier Pla and Allmendinger for the twice-around-the-clock spectacle.

Allmendinger came with the team. He has raced the Rolex 24 at Daytona for car owner Michael Shank in 15 seasons. Last year he finished eighth in the GTD class. In 2012, he won the Rolex 24 in the top division Daytona Prototypes with Shank.

“The Rolex 24 hour race is very prestigious,” Allmendinger said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to win it one time.

“I love coming to the race but I really associate this race with Mike Shank. I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else. It’s still an honor and a privilege that he allows me – and more importantly believes in me – to go out there and race his car still.”

Cameron’s role with his new team has been to provide continuity – to provide Meyer Shank engineers a touchstone. He is there not only to turn fast laps on the weekend, but to let them know what this generation of Prototypes needs.

“It’s been my job to support them and say we’re on the right track or not on the right track – that the feeling of the car is right, which it has been throughout,” Cameron said. “It’s also cool to have a different set of eyes on the car – some different ideas with the engineering group here.

“(The car has) been only at Team Penske before, with the same couple of guys working on it, so now to have some new ideas into the car is really good. They’re still getting their heads around the car at this point – and Daytona is kind of unique for what it takes for the chassis here – so more into the thick of it as we get onto more traditional road courses.

“It unloaded really strong when we tested here – felt every bit like I remembered – and they were able to sink their teeth into it and make a few changes they had in mind. That was fun for me try a couple of new things.”

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.”