Josef Newgarden recovers after fall at Iowa to qualify fifth in return on Indy road course

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INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden kept the focus simple all week in the recovery from his fall at Iowa Speedway.

He ignored the cell phone, avoided social media and spent 48 hours resting, hopeful it would help him recover from the head injury he suffered last weekend and stay in the IndyCar championship hunt. Now all he needs is another strong finish Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Less than two hours after series officials medically cleared the 31-year-old driver, the two-time IndyCar champ qualified fifth with a fast lap of 1 minute, 10.6968 seconds on the Brickyard’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.

STARTING LINEUP: Felix Rosenqvist on pole position

INDYCAR AT INDY ROAD COURSE: INDY ROAD COURSEHow to watch Saturday’s race on NBC, schedules, entry list

“It was going to take an Army to keep me away from here,” Newgarden said. “I knew if we weren’t in this race it was going to be very difficult to stay in this championship fight. I knew we had to be in the race.”

Newgarden’s availability became uncertain after the suspension on the No. 2 Chevrolet apparently broke, sending the race leader spinning hard into the wall at Iowa. Doctors examined and cleared Newgarden at the infield care center, but he later collapsed in his motorhome and struck his head hard.

The Tennessean was then airlifted from the track to a nearby hospital to avoid post-race traffic and additional tests came back negative. On Tuesday, Newgarden informed Team Penske president Tim Cindric he was ready to race.

Newgarden even had some fun with the situation.

He donned a black, padded helmet-like device as he walked gingerly down two steps from the team hauler with reporters and was wearing a microphone for their YouTube show. Newgarden won’t use any additional padding during the race.

Still, series protocols required Newgarden to be medically cleared Thursday for practice and again between Friday morning’s practice and afternoon qualifying session.

Following three qualifying rounds, Newgarden said he didn’t feel lightheaded before passing out, didn’t know the cause, was not officially diagnosed with a concussion and did not suffer typical concussion-like symptoms such as sensitivity to light.

But with Team Penske also in contention for the team title, Cindric couldn’t take any chances.

He chose Santino Ferrucci as a standby driver and the two drivers exchanged some friendly banter Thursday on Twitter. That left just one lingering question: Could Newgarden get the all-clear in time for qualifying?

“It all seems like business as usual,” Cindric said between Friday’s sessions. “Nothing to report. That process is going to take care of itself. Nothing you can do there except hope and have a plan.”

Newgarden didn’t miss a beat, though.

He posted the second-fastest lap in practice, passed the exam and then advanced easily through the first two rounds of qualifications before finishing one spot behind teammate Will Power, the 2014 series champ and 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner.

The only thing preventing him from a better starting position were tires.

“I felt like on new tires we had full pace but on used tires, we lacked some of the pole pace we needed,” Newgarden said. “So I think we’re going to try and clean that up, make sure we have good (tire) degradation for tomorrow.”

Now, the focus for both Penske drivers is closing the gap – and perhaps overtaking – points leader Marcus Ericssson.

The Swedish driver, who won the Indianapolis 500 in his last trip to the Brickyard, will start from the back of the 25-car field after a mechanical problem with Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 8 Honda brought out a red flag in the first round of qualifications.

Power began the weekend eight points behind Ericsson.

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon, Ericsson’s teammate, came into this weekend tied with Newgarden for third. But Dixon will start from the No. 20 spot.

Newgarden, meanwhile, has a series-high four wins this season but own only one Indy win at the series highest level – in 2020 on the road course. If he claims victory No. 5 on Saturday, it could put him atop the standings and cap a remarkably quick comeback.

“I was very motivated to get back. I don’t think you could give me extra motivation,” Newgarden said. “I’m always as motivated as I need to be and that’s how I felt coming into this weekend – whatever I’ve got to do, I’ll do. I’m just ready to be in the fight.”

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.”