INDYCAR Postpones Hybridization – Again

It’s really a disappointment.

After heralding its entry into hybridization in August of 2019, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES keeps pushing the technology back. And back. And back. Initially, the plan was to effect a larger V6 engine of 2.4 liters, with a super-capacitator-based hybrid system inside the current Dallara’s bellhousing. The engine was postponed from 2021 to 2022 and then, with the pandemic, the timeline went to 2023. Now the hybrid systems won’t be in the cars until after the running of the 108th Indianapolis 500 this May. And the larger engine remains on a shelf to be named later.

As one who has worked Indy car racing since it was co-sanctioned by SCCA and USAC back in the mid-1970s, it’s disappointing to see that so many truly exceptional technically-advanced people are unable to bring this program to fruition. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic initiated the postponement of hybridization, and supply chain issues took it even farther back.

At the close of 2022, INDYCAR stated it would wait until 2024 to bring the system online in Chevrolet- and Honda-produced engines. With the hybrid power, used as a kinetic energy recycling system, the new 2.4-liter engines equipped with supercapacitators were intended to raise horsepower close to the 900HP fans were accustomed to back in the CART/Champ Car days.

While waiting for the production of the hybrid units, INDYCAR did conduct tests with both Honda and Chevrolet racers, usually just two cars in the beginning, coming from their most successful teams, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. Toward the end of last year, both Arrow McLaren and Andretti Global joined the testing program, but not for long.

The third delay, announced in the early part of December 2023, got rid of the 2.4-liter engine, as both Honda and Chevrolet didn’t have the resources or time to develop that power unit. At the same time, the two manufacturers were stepping up to develop the hybrid unit after Mahle, the original supplier was shown the revolving door. So the 2.2L currently in use will continue, just as the antique chassis from Dallara gets the nod to be sole chassis for all teams.

The scuttlebutt within all of this was that there was a third manufacturer who wanted to see hybrids in an Indy car, waiting in the wings for the new specs to come online. There still is no third manufacturer and one of the current engine producers, HRC USA, formerly known as Honda Performance Development, has expressed its dissatisfaction with the leisurely pace of this technology being enacted. Honda, one will recall, was the sole manufacturer in INDYCAR competition until Chevrolet returned, in 2012, the same year the current chassis, which has been refined over time, was introduced as the DW12.

So here we are. In the first week of December, INDYCAR talked about its testing of the 2.2L twin turbocharged engines equipped with hybrid units. As tested at Sebring International Raceway in August of last year, the series noted that, since that time, more than 15,000 miles were recorded. Nothing was stated about issues with the technology. Thirteen drivers had the opportunities to test the hybrid units. But still, not until after the 108th Indianapolis 500 would fans in the stands have the chance to watch the hybrid-equipped engines in combat.

Much of the testing has been on ovals, including Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Milwaukee Mile and World Wide Technology Raceway. Indy’s road course, Road America and Barber Motorsports Park have had road-course test sessions for this technology. The road course at Sebring was used to proximate street circuits.

The objective is to replace INDYCAR’s push-to-pass that currently generates added horsepower. With its lighter aeroscreen, bellhousing and gearbox prepped for the hybridization of these engines, the motor generator unit (MGU) and energy storage system (ESS) are both inserted to the bellhousing, which lies between the internal combustion engine and the gearbox. This fitment engages multiple strategies for regeneration and deployment of the units and, unlike the push-to-pass system, there won’t be a restriction on total time use over the course of each event. Also, unlike the current push-to-pass system, the hybrid units will be used on all ovals, road courses and street circuits; push-to-pass is currently unused on ovals.

Now that these systems are on the shelf until the second half of the season, which is actually after Mid-Ohio, not the Indianapolis 500, one has to wonder how and when the smaller teams in this series will have the opportunity to integrate the system into their programs. The second half of INDYCAR’s 17-race season emphasizes ovals, which could be problematic. Without massive open testing leading to insertion of the MGU and ESS into the ancient Dallaras, there will be a distinct difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in INDYCAR.

Still, series president Jay Frye continues to be upbeat about the system and its implementation. “The partnership between Chevrolet and Honda has been phenomenal,” he said. “The INDYCAR-specific hybrid power unit is dynamic and an engineering marvel, and we’re completely committed to its successful introduction” during the 2024 season.

This series has really exciting on-track action, in part due to the familiarity of its equipment. All the teams currently racing in INDYCAR know the Dallara exceptionally well; both Chevrolet and Honda have engines whose idiosyncrasies are familiar to all comers. This is part of what makes the NTT INDYCAR SERIES such a draw. It’s up to the teams and drivers to wreak the most from their equipment without destroying it. We’ve got to wonder how belated introduction of new technologies is going to affect the 2024 championship and the financial stability of every single team.

About Anne Proffit 1264 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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