Tony Stewart will join A.J. Foyt on top of the pit box for the Indy 500

Stewart Foyt Indy 500
Dan R Boyd / FoytRacing.com
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Tony Stewart idolized A.J. Foyt during his career and on the 60th anniversary of Foyt’s first Indy 500 win, the two former drivers will watch the race side-by-side at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, May 30, 2021 (11 a.m. ET, NBC). “I’d be honored,” Stewart replied when he accepted Foyt’s invitation.

Stewart and Foyt were cut from the same cloth. Both rose through ranks driving anything they could get their hands on. And both have won in almost every type of car raced in the United States.

“A.J. is my hero, and a great friend whom I’ve known for a long time,” said Stewart. “It didn’t matter what it was, but if it had four wheels and went fast, AJ would drive it. NASCAR stock cars, USAC stock cars, sprints and midgets, IndyCars, IMSA sports cars – A.J. won in all of them.

“We both kind of came up through the racing ranks in the same way. He just did it in a different era.”

A. J. Foyt - 1961 Indy 500 Checker
A.J. Foyt won his first of four Indy 500s in 1961 (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images).

For all his success, Stewart never won the Indy 500. He led the field to green in his first start in the iconic race in 1996 and scored a career-best fifth in his second outing the following year.

Foyt, 86, went on to win the Indy 500 three more times in 1964, 1967 and 1977.

“Tony and I have been good friends for a long time, and I’m glad he’s able to come out for this 500,” said Foyt. “I’m hoping having Tony at the 500 might change our luck!

“Normally, we run pretty good at Texas but the luck was pretty bad in the doubleheader. We got crashed in the first race and at the start of the second race, both cars got crashed—they never made it to the start-finish line.”

A six-car crash on the first lap of the Xpel 375 at Texas Motor Speedway sidelined Sebastien Bourdais and Dalton Kellett. Bourdais also exited the Genesys 300 early with a Lap 55 accident leaving him in a deep hole, 61 points behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

Stewart Foyt Indy 500
In 1982, A.J. Foyt impressed a young Tony Stewart by working on his car in the middle of the Indy 500 (Getty Images.)

Stewart claims that Foyt became his hero in 1982.

That year, he watched Foyt climb from his car in the middle of the Indy 500 to perform some of the work himself.  Foyt finished 19th after starting on the outside of the front row in third. Stewart was 11-years-old at the time and the image imprinted heavily on the pre-teen.

When Stewart became co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, he asked for Foyt’s blessing to run the No. 14 that “Super Tex” made famous. Last week in the Goodyear 400, Chase Briscoe paid homage to Foyt with a throwback scheme on that same No. 14.

Foyt four cars entered in this year’s Indy 500 for the first time since 1987. They will be piloted by JR Hildebrand in the No. 1, Kellett in the No. 4, Charlie Kimball in the No. 11 and Bourdais in the No. 14.

“Without guys like (Foyt), guys like myself wouldn’t have had a chance to succeed,” Stewart said. “Being with AJ on the pit box this year at Indy is an honor and something I’ll cherish forever.”

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.”