First Moto2 top-five propels Cameron Beaubier into the final three rounds

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Five-time AMA Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier knew that his move to MotoGP’s Moto2 division would be filled with learning experiences, but in the most recent round of the 2021 calendar at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), he finally learned just how sweet those lessons can be.

Beaubier earned his first career Moto2 top-five in the Grand Prix of the Americas and then caught up with NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey to discuss the season-to-date and what is expected in the final three rounds of the championship.

“Going into it, it was a pretty stressful weekend, but it was an amazing amazing weekend,” Beaubier said. “Obviously, racing overseas all year, being able to come back and race in front of the American fans and my friends and family; it was a pretty sweet weekend that’s for sure.”

Entering the race, Beaubier didn’t know what lay in front of him. In three practice sessions, he was seventh-quick twice and outside the top 10 in the other. Those seventh-place runs might have made him cautiously optimistic that he would earn a career-best result, after finishing eighth in Italy in Round 6, but racing in front of the home crowd can be both invigorating and stressful.

Beaubier finished a little more than five seconds behind race winner Raul Fernandez under warm Texas skies, dismounted his bike and turned to acknowledge the roar of the crowd.

“Just roll in after hot pit, being tired after that race and even – not only just hot pit, but around the track I was pretty amazed with the reception the crowd had for a good solid finish, a good solid top-five,” Beaubier said. “To roll in and see how pumped the crowd was and how pumped my team was, that was just the cherry on top of the weekend.”

Beaubier got off to a promising start to his rookie season of 2021. He earned his first top-10 in only his third race in Portugal. His second top-10 came three rounds later in Italy and then a third was added in Round 8 in Germany. Then they dried up. Beaubier’s next six efforts ended with two retirements and a best of 14th. His latest result before the GP of the Americas was a 21st at Misano.

That compounded the stress of returning home.

“I feel like (the top-five finish) definitely gave me a little a little boost of confidence going into the last few rounds,” Beaubier said. “I’m really looking forward to to getting back out to Misano. I’m actually here right now in Italy. Got here a couple days early to get reacclimated to the time. I just really want to finish the season strong. I felt like it was so good for myself and the team to get a good solid result run, and to run up with the front guys for a little bit.”

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Cameron Beaubier leads after the start of the Moto2 race of the Italian Moto GP Grand Prix at the Mugello. (Getty Images)

His successful ride helped return him to a positive head space.

“Just so good for my for my head. Riding up with those guys and seeing what they do,” Beaubier said. “I’m not saying it was easy, but everyone kind of slotted into the rhythm and they weren’t making dumb passes or anything like that, like we do towards the middle of the pack – where you’re just fighting. You’re trying to move forward, but you’re passing, you’re getting passed. It’s just a nonstop battle every corner.

“On the flipside, I was kind of that guy at the beginning (of the COTA race). I was excited I was up front. I was kind of stuffing it in there and slowing the pace down just a hair at the beginning. After that, I settled down. I slotted in and it was really good for me to ride with those guys and see what they do on the bike.”

After Misano this week, it’s off to Portugal, where one of Beaubier’s four top-10s was earned.

Returning to a track on which he has laps could help him move into the top 15 in the standings. Currently, he lags behind Bo Bendsneyder by just two points.

“I just want to finish the season out strong and get this learning season behind me,” Beaubier said. “We’ve had some really really good moments, don’t get me wrong, not only my race at COTA. There’s been a handful of weekends that have been so tough, but rewarding where I’m like, ‘What am I doing here? Can I cut it here?’ On some new tracks and stuff like that. And then come Sunday (things improved). Like Mugello for instance. I was 28th in practice, qualifying 26th. I was just getting smoked all weekend and then come the race, I didn’t really feel like I’m doing anything different, but my times start coming and I rode myself into the top 10.

“There’s been some weekends like that, where you’re just beating your head against the wall and then you turn it around have a good result. And then there’s been other weekends where it’s going pretty good and you find yourself in the gravel trap.

And then there’s COTA weekends. So it’s been super up and down, but I feel like all the things I went through this year are definitely going to help me next year and moving on to the future. I’m looking forward to getting the season wrapped up and working on next year.”

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.”