Will Power finds redemption with victory in Detroit Grand Prix on sound strategy

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Will Power played an IndyCar tire management game to perfection Sunday, winning the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle Raceway.

The Team Penske driver scored his first victory of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series and won by 1.0027 seconds over a hard-charging Alexander Rossi.

With his 41st career win in IndyCar, Power moved one behind Michael Andretti for fourth on the all-time list. He also extended his streak to 16 consecutive seasons with at least one IndyCar victory, second to Scott Dixon (who entered 2022 with 17), with the 100th win for Chevy since the manufacturer returned to the series in 2012.

“Just drove it as straight as I could, really nice on the brakes, on the throttle,” Power told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “I knew that if I could keep a reasonable gap to the end, we’d be OK, but I was a bit worried because I saw how badly (the tires) died. There was a lot more rubber on the track at the end.

“Stellar job by the team. A very enjoyable race because you had to chop through the field, fight hard, good passing.”

Power started 16th on the primary tire compound (which is slower at the start of a stint but more durable) and moved into the lead on Lap 14 as many of the drivers on the alternate red tire (faster but less durable) pitted in front of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet.

That started with Rossi, who pitted on the fourth lap to get off the softer red compound (IndyCar drivers are required to use each compound during a race) on the first of three stops for his No. 27 Dallara-Honda.

Power elected to make two stops, switching to reds with 20 laps to go. The tires faded in the final 10 laps as Rossi took huge chunks out of a 16-second lead but eventually ran out of time.

“I think one more lap would have been really interesting,” Rossi told Snider. “You’ve got to give credit to the 12 guys and Will. That’s hard to do at the end to hang on. Huge thanks to all of these boys behind me. The 27 Napa AutoNation Honda was amazing, and yet again we come here with an amazing car and can’t quite get the win, but it was a good recovery from yesterday. The strategy was good. We’ll take it.”

It was Rossi’s best finish since a runner-up at Portland last Sepember. Rossi, who is leaving Andretti Autosport after the season for Arrow McLaren SP, will try to end a nearly three-year winless streak next week at Road America, which was the site of his most recent victory on June 23, 2019.

“We’re finally just executing our potential,” said Rossi, who has consecutive top five finishes for the first time since October 2020. “It’s been frustrating for a lot of reasons, but the speed has been there, just been a lot of factors. But it’s two weeks in a row the team has executed in a big way in pressure moments.

“Big thanks to them, and we’re going to Road America, a place where we’ve had some success. It would be fitting to come full circle with a win there next weekend, so we’ll try for that.”

The Detroit result was somewhat full circle for Power, who dominated but finished 20th at Belle Isle last year because his car didn’t refire in the lead immediately after a red flag with four laps remaining.

But this year, he got to take the celebratory dip by the winner in the James Scott Memorial Fountain.

After taking the checkered flag Sunday, he immediately radioed his team, “Yes, yes, yes! Redemption, boys! Redemption!”

“I was just waiting for something to happen those last 10 laps,” Power later told Snider. “Just stayed laser focused. I was just hitting my marks. Very, very focused. Very, very good performance mentally for me. I always judge my performances, and I really left nothing on the table.

“I got right in that sweet spot of the zone, so that’s why I was able to pump out really quick laps.”

Power employed a strategy that previously had burned teammate Josef Newgarden, who led 67 of 70 laps but finished second to Pato O’Ward last year because of some ill-time yellow flags.

Newgarden went with the opposite approach Sunday, starting from the pole position on red tires that he nursed until his first stop. After leading the first 13 laps, Newgarden finished fourth as the final race on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile street course ended on a last-lap yellow but had no other caution flags.

“It’s hard to not get annoyed,” Newgarden told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “When we need a race to go all green, it doesn’t go all green. We needed that last year. We basically ran Power’s strategy last year, but that was not the race to do it. Today would have been the day, so we tried to not do it today because of what happened last year.

“I don’t know what to tell you. We ran a good race. Just strategy-wise, it didn’t work out. A day like today, the track is less grip at the beginning. So reds aren’t favored early. But you don’t want to run the risk of yellows, which is what happened to us last year, running reds at the end. I don’t know.

“We ran a good race, it just wasn’t the race to run today. I don’t know I can blame anybody. It’s just typically IndyCar. You can’t predict these things. It’s good to see a Team Chevy car get the win. Happy for Team Penske and Will. Just a little annoying.”

Employing the same strategy as Power, Scott Dixon started ninth and finished a season-best third, rebounding from a bitter 17th-place finish in the Indy 500 with his first podium since the 2021 season finale.

“Kudos to Will he, drove aggressively at the start (and) jumped us,” Dixon told Snider. “Rossi did a hell of a job as well, especially on those reds the first set. Feels good for the No. 9 to be back on podium. Feels good for us and hopefully we get on a roll here.

“I can’t change anything about (Indy). Trust me, I was gutted, man, but mostly gutted for all the effort in the team. The saving grace was obviously (teammate) Marcus (Ericsson) doing a hell of a job and now an Indianapolis 500 champion, which is very special. Congratulations to them and all we can do is try our hardest and try to get some wins soon.”

After 30 years on Belle Isle, the Detroit Grand Prix will move to a new downtown layout next year.

Power took over the championship points lead, moving three points ahead of Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and 12 ahead of Pato O’Ward, who started and finished fifth Sunday.

“We ran a really good race,” O’Ward told Burns. “We were the best car on reds. I’m really happy with the solid points we got today. I think we maximized. We’re going into Road America with good position. We’re right there with the leaders in the championship.”

Rossi moved up to seventh in the standings.

“Yeah, this team and who I am as a person, we’re going to try to win this championship,” he said. “I don’t care about any of the external factors. We’re here to win, and we’ll keep pushing until we can accomplish that.”

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.”