Rejuvenated and healthy, Austin Forkner is prepared for 2021 Motocross season

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With the 2021 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season only days away, Austin Forkner finds himself in an unaccustomed position: He’s healthy are ready to ride at Fox Raceway in Pala, Calif. Saturday, May 29 on Peacock and NBCSN.

A series of injuries over the past few years sidelined Forkner and kept him from reaching to his potential – at least where championships are concerned. Those hardships have changed his perspective. Instead of racing to prove something, Forkner is ready to take each race as it comes. He knows better than most the age-old truism that in order to finish first, one must first finish.

“I’ve missed a lot of races.” Forkner told the media in a preseason press conference. “I’ve missed probably more races than I’ve raced each year. It’s really made me appreciate racing in general. Not about the results, but just being out there on the track racing. It’s made me appreciate that a lot more.”

Over the past three years, it seems that Forkner’s injuries have been strategically placed to keep him out of the outdoor Motocross season.

This year, after finishing on the podium in the Supercross 250 season opener in Houston and riding ahead of an on track incident that sent him home sixth in Race 2, Forkner injured his collarbone during qualification for Round 3.

He would not return for the remainder of the season.

Abdominal injuries in June, 2020 and a knee injury in April, 2019 also sidelined him.

“As far as not racing outdoors for the last two years, it’s obviously sucked,” Forkner said. “I’ve wanted to, but I’ve been coming off injury right at the end of the season and the team’s like ‘Nah, there’s no reason to go back and race two races or so.’ It just hasn’t worked out.

“I’m excited for this year and I’m excited to be coming in pretty healthy. I don’t have any lingering injuries right now.”

Forkner has been forced to miss the past two Motocross seasons.

He finished seventh in the points in 2018 and was 13th in 2017.

But a healthy Forkner is capable of contending for the championship. He was fourth in his rookie Motocross season of 2016. Forkner was third in both the 2019 250SX East and 2020 250SX West championships.

“I feel good,” Forkner said. “But that’s the thing: I felt good riding last year; I felt good riding the year before, I just haven’t raced so I don’t know where I fit in.

“Every year it’s different about who’s fast, who’s the guy to beat. I haven’t ridden in a few years so I don’t know who is going to be good. I’m not really worried about anyone in particular. I’m just going to go in and see where I fit in the mix.”

As he acclimates to the other riders, they will need to do the same with him. Forkner’s presence on the track is often unmistakable. He is one of the most aggressive riders under the best of conditions. Add in an aching hunger after racing only twice in the past year and a comparison to a bear waking from hibernation comes to mind.

But one thing his injuries have taught Forkner is how to balance his innate aggression with the need to finish races.

“There are times when you have to hang it out and go for it and there are times when you have to know when to settle for a second. Some of my injuries haven’t been related to that, but that’s just part of the learning process. Some of my injuries haven’t even come from racing; they’ve happened in practice, so I’ve taken what I’ve learned from each kind of thing that has happened and tried to apply to my racing the best that I can.”

And while fans might expect Forkner to be rusty. Forkner disagrees.

“I actually have ridden quite a bit of outdoors in the past couple of years. Even though I haven’t raced it, I’ve ridden quite a bit,” Forkner said. “When I came back from my knee, I rode at least two months outdoors before I started riding Supercross again. When I came back from my internal thing last year, I rode all summer, hoping to be able to go race. It was the team’s decision more than my own – because I wanted to go – but by the time I was ready, it was kind of late in the season.”

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.”