A new, bigger, more powerful engine formula is coming to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2022. Depending on where conversations take the topic in the summer months, it might be the only new power-related item on the way two seasons from now.
With all manner of delays being experienced within the sport due to COVID-19, IndyCar president Jay Frye is now pondering whether it would be more feasible to split the introduction of the new 2.4-liter twin-turbo V6 motors from the kinetic energy recovery systems that will give the series its first hybrid powertrain.
“We’re going to have a call soon here,” Frye told RACER. “So part of it is, would you envision a possible delay with the hybrid? Sure. Why? Because, everybody’s shut down. So, that’s what we’ve got to look through. As soon as everybody gets back up and back to work, it’s asking where we’re at, and who’s got what, and how long is it going to take to get the hybrid side moving?
“The world’s stopped for two or three months and it’s going to slowly open back up. How does that affect what we’re doing and where we’re going next? Certainly, we got to look at that. But the tent pole is the engine in 2022. We know we’re going forward with that.”
Two significant factors could make pushing hybridization to 2023 or 2024 worthy of consideration. With an increasingly soft economy and slow auto sales, a staggered plan to bring new engines to market first, and kinetic energy recovery systems afterwards, would only help Chevy and Honda, plus any new brands considering joining the series in 2022 and beyond.
Another consideration lies in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series, and its top prototype class, which was the first to announce its hybridization plans for 2022. As Chevrolet, through sister brand Cadillac, has been the dominant forced in the Daytona Prototype international class, and has expressed interest in continuing once the new hybrid LMDh prototype rules go into effect, General Motors would have two expensive programs to fund in the same year.
Honda, through its Acura performance brand, is the reigning DPi title winner, and is expected to continue with a new hybrid LMDh model in 2022. Facing the likelihood of reduced budgets, asking Chevy/Cadillac and Honda/Acura to fund new hybrid IndyCar and IMSA programs in the same year could lead to picking one series over the other, which isn’t a scenario either series wants to create.
As IMSA is pressing ahead with significant manufacturer interest in its 2022 hybrid prototypes, and IndyCar is committed to introducing new internal combustion engines at the same time, holding its hybrid rollout for a later date might be in the best interest of all involved.
Whatever happens, Frye says the clock is winding down on making a final decision.
“We’ve got lots of scenarios,” he said. “What’s the economics of it? Even if you wanted to go do a hybrid system in 2022, there’s going to come a point over the next couple months where it’s going to be probably too late to pull it off. Our engine partners have been great throughout this process, but they’ve been mostly shut down, and the hybrid groups we’ve been talking to have been shut down, too. That’s the frustrating thing here; there’s such a long lead time on this.”
Frye will resume in-person meetings this weekend at Texas with team owners, engine manufacturers, and continue speaking with hybrid system vendors to arrive at a consensus on what’s best for the sport before making the call on when IndyCar makes the leap to adding electric horsepower.
“We’ve just got to get going in 2020, get back to racing, get through Texas and then all this other stuff will start coming up and provide the clarity of what’s next,” he said. “We’re prepared for whichever different direction we’ve got to go. We’ll know more in the next six to eight weeks about the whole plan. Obviously, we’ve got great partners to help get us there.”