Battered No. 5 Cadillac rallies for victory in the Twelve Hours of Sebring despite damage

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Overcoming collisions caused by two rival contenders, Sebastien Bourdais drove the No. 5 Cadillac of JDC-Miller Motorsports to victory Saturday in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Bourdais scooted away on a restart with 19 minutes remaining and fended off a furious charge by runner-up Harry Tincknell, who was trying to deliver a second consecutive Sebring victory for the No. 55 Mazda with co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Jonathan Bomarito.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac, but the car was relegated to the back of the DPi class because of a drive time infraction, putting Dane Cameron in the final podium position with the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura and co-drivers Olivier Pla and Juan Pablo Montoya.

“If you want to look why (the victory was) improbable, the rear wing is missing,” Bourdais told NBCSN pit reporter Kevin Lee. “After the restart, I lost the rear element, and the center of pressure shifted about 6-8 percent forward. I thought I was going to crash it going into the last corner. And I had no idea I’d be able to drive it. I just hung in there.

RESULTS: Finishing rundown and full stats package for the 2021 Twelve Hours of Sebring

“Man that thing was so quick, then I thought we lost it because the rear wing was gone.”

The victory by the all-French driver lineup of Bourdais, Tristan Vautier and Loic Duval in the 69th edition of the iconic sports car race at Sebring International Raceway was the first in nearly three years for the Mustang Sampling Cadillac, whose last trip to victory lane was at Long Beach in 2019.

Tristan Vautier (left), Loic Duval (middle) and Sebastien Bourdais celebrate their Twelve Hours of Sebring victory (Cadillac Racing).

Bourdais and Duval each became two-time winners of the Twelve Hours of Sebring, and Duval was a first-time winner of the endurance race.

After being involved in multiple incidents, the No. 5 Cadillac dropped two laps behind at one point.

“It was not an easy one,” Duval told Lee. “We get caught a few times like in Daytona. At the end, the pace was getting better and better. The track was coming to us. We were able to come back on the lead lap and saved some fuel to fight with the guys at the front. At the end, it was the right strategy, and Seb was on it, and you know how good he is when he feels comfortable with the car.

“I think we deserve it in a way we’ve had so much bad luck.”

There were seven entries in the top DPi division, and every car sustained significant damage in at least one major incident, but yet each took a turn at the front and being highly competitive for the victory.

The No. 5 Cadillac was the last of the seven to take the lead on Lap 319 and was in front for 28 of the final 31 laps around the 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit, which dished out its typical abuse over its bone-rattling surface.

The first contender to suffer major problems was pole-sitter Pipo Derani, who was strong early but lost three laps after the steering on his No. 31 Cadillac broke in a collision with the wall while racing the No. 01 Cadillac of Renger van der Zande (who also blamed Derani).

After making up a lap, the No. 31 encountered more trouble in the eighth hour when Felipe Nasr briefly lost control over the bumps and swerved into the No. 5 Cadillac being driven by Tristan Vautier, who was exiting the pits. Both cars spun, and the No. 31 suffered more steering problems while Nasr also served a drive-through penalty.

The No. 5 already had required a front wing replacement after Duval collided with the No. 48 Cadillac being driven by seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who spun 15 minutes into the race while passing a GT car on the outside in Turn 17.

After a wing change, Johnson was able to take the lead with an off-sequence refueling, but the No. 48 team got bad news with three hours left in the race.

IMSA officials ruled the Action Express/Hendrick Motorsports effort led by Chad Knaus had violated drive time regulations by keeping Simon Pagenaud behind the wheel for 50 seconds too long during a six-hour window.

The No. 55 Mazda and No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura also had a collision that caused both cars to spin without sustaining damage.

One of the most significant incidents happened with just over an hour remaining in the race. After leading a race-high 115 of 349 laps, the No. 01 Cadillac of Chip Ganassi Racing was knocked out of the race when Scott Dixon collided with the No. 25 BMW while trying to dart into the pits.

It was the second consecutive endurance race disappointment for the Ganassi car, which was running down the lead in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona before suffering a puncture with less than 10 minutes remaining.

“I’m not sure (what happened),” Dixon told Lee about the incident with the BMW. “It was a very late call for the pits. I was scambling to get everything undone in time, by the time I turned back, there was a car there.

“It’s done. I feel bad for the team. Everyone was doing a fantastic job, and the car was fast. I thought we had a good run there.”

Other class winners:

LMP2: No. 51 ORECA LMP2 07 of PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports

GTLM: No. 79 Porsche 911 RSR-19 of WeatherTech Racing

GTD: No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3R of Pfaff Motorsports

LMP3: No. 54 LIGIER JS P320 of core Autosport

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.”