The NTT IndyCar Series will introduce its first hybrid powertrain system in 2022.
The series’ initial engine formula plans, announced in May of 2018, were set to run from 2021-26 and did not include hybridization. Owing to ongoing changes within the automotive industry where increasing numbers of hybrid powertrains are being produced, IndyCar’s amended formula for 2022-27 recognizes its need to offer a relevant hybrid platform where manufacturers can compete using technologies offered on their showroom floors.
The one-year engine formula delay and adoption of electrification has been made possible through updated agreements with engine suppliers Chevrolet and Honda. Both companies are expected to provide the new 2.4-liter twin-turbo V6 motors — up from the current 2.2-liter displacement — as IndyCar uses its upcoming technology shift to entice new manufacturers to join the series.
The larger-capacity internal combustion engine (ICE) and kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) is expected to be packaged together in a new 2022 Indy car chassis. The process of identifying and nominating vendors to produce its spec KERS units, and the replacement for the Dallara DW12 chassis, rate among the more detailed items on IndyCar’s to-do list.
Although the majority of IndyCar’s hybrid plans have yet to be finalized, the series confirmed its desire to deploy electric horsepower through the existing push-to-pass system that offers temporary spikes in power through increased turbocharger boost.
With a target of 800hp for the 2022 engines, another 50hp or so on tap from the turbos via push-to-pass, and an estimated 40-50hp from the KERS units, approximately 900hp would be generated when drivers activate the system.
“It’s an exciting time for IndyCar with the forthcoming evolution of the cars and innovations like the hybrid powertrain being incorporated into the new engine,” said series president Jay Frye. “As we move toward the future, we will remain true to our racing roots of being fast, loud and authentic, and simultaneously have the ability to add hybrid technology that is an important element for the series and our engine manufacturers.”
Chevrolet, winner of six consecutive IndyCar manufacturers’ championships from 2012-17, is encouraged by the change of powertrain direction.
“Chevrolet supports delaying the implementation of the revised engine regulations until 2022 to coincide with the NTT IndyCar Series introduction of new technologies with the chassis,” said Jim Campbell, the brand’s U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports.
“The partnership between Chevrolet and IndyCar remains a strong platform for showcasing relevant technologies that we incorporate in our production engines, and transfer learning in performance, reliability and efficiency between the racetrack and the showroom.”
New Honda Performance Development president Ted Klaus, whose firm is looking to retain the 2018 Manufacturers’ crown, welcomes the increased automotive relevance that comes with IndyCar’s hybridization.
“Honda is committed to racing in order to develop people and technologies relevant to the future of our sport and our world,” he said. “IndyCar offers us the perfect platform to prove out both people and technologies in an environment where measurement of successes and failures is crystal clear.”
Looking to the future, key elements such as costs for the KERS units and whether they would be supplied at an agreed-upon price through the series, or possibly incorporated into price of annual engine leases, will hold the interest of most team owners. Like the other racing series that have gone hybrid, new safety training procedures will be required for mechanics, pit crews, IndyCar personnel, and emergency response teams. Indicator lights, built into the 2022 chassis to indicate whether the car is safe to touch, will also be a requirement.
A variety of system choices and integration solutions will be evaluated before the first KERS units are assembled. Battery-based storage devices to hold and discharge electricity have proven to be the most popular solution in the sport. Super capacitors, to a lesser degree, have also been used with success.
On the mechanical front, a range of well-known electric motor/generator options exist. IndyCar will follow the common practice of charging the storage device under braking by using the rear axles to spin the motor/generators. Once drivers activate push-to-pass, electric energy will be sent back through the motor/generators and add the 40-50hp to the rear wheels.
At present, the KERS units are expected to be positioned within the driveline to give IndyCar the newfound ability to use each system as an on-board starter.
Not only would IndyCar drivers be able to start their cars and pull away from pit lane, but in the event of a spin or stall, they would have the ability to start their cars from the cockpit and continue without the need for IndyCar’s race director to call for a yellow or red flag and dispatch the AMR Safety Team to restart the vehicle.
Among the other items to solidify at some point in the future, a KERS deployment strategy will be needed. Where the turbo-based push-to-pass system is artificially limited to a specific number of seconds of use, and each use consumes extra fuel, the KERS units would have the ability to function throughout the entirety of the race, and without creating an inherent mileage penalty.
IndyCar could choose to tie the use of KERS to the duration of push-to-pass, cutting off both systems when the driver has exhausted the available seconds at his or her disposal. Or it could allow the flow of electric horsepower to continue as the systems are continually charged under braking after the allotment of extra turbo boost is gone.
Finding a way to use hybrid powertrains on a superspeedway — one where braking, and therefore charging, happens briefly and infrequently — could lead the series in some interesting directions.
Exhaust-driven KERS units do exist which, in the specific case of ovals, would allow charging to take place without the need for braking, but the series is expected to pursue a system that keeps costs under strict control. A more practical option could include limited activation during 500-mile contests.
A routine developed by Toyota in the FIA World Endurance Championship might offer the best compromise to consider as its TS050 Hybrid LMP1s rely on electric power to navigate pit lane. Upon crossing the pit-exit line and switching off the pit lane speed limiter, the ICE sparks to life and joins the KERS unit in providing full acceleration.
The concept of IndyCar drivers braking and charging their KERS units on entry to pit lane and relying on electric power from pit-in to pit-out would seemingly present a powerful visual while also conserving fuel. Driven by the need to modernize its next-generation engine formula, solving the puzzle of showcasing hybrid powertrains on ovals — or at least on its grandest stage at the Indianapolis 500 — will keep IndyCar and its competition department busy until a solution is achieved.