Honda Performance Development is making strides with the IndyCar’s new-for-2022 engine formula. The next step in the process is determining how to plan for the future as the series looks to answer a key question on the final packaging for the high-power mills.
In a June interview with RACER, NTT IndyCar Series president Jay Frye discussed the possibility of delaying the introduction of the spec kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) for a season or two after the new 2.4-liter twin-turbo V6s are introduced. If delayed, Frye also pondered whether a new or different hybridization technology other than KERS might emerge for the series to consider.
Facing uncertainty on what the new-motor introduction will look like in approximately 18 months, HPD says it has reached the stage where it needs to know if the 2022 engine plans will be different than previously stated.
“We actually have a running prototype of the next-gen 2.4-liter internal combustion Indy engine, built according to the rules released by IndyCar back in 2018. But we are increasingly anxious about the series locking down these new rules for the future,” HPD president Ted Klaus explained.
“As we announced last year, our intention at HPD, together with American Honda, is to bring the new engine together with an innovative spec hybrid, so that, combined, you have over 900 horsepower. We believe this would really grow the sport in the area of innovation, and of course, the longstanding history of Indy car racing is innovation — not just on the technical front, but on the marketing and sponsorship front as well. So, we think the engine and the hybrid together become our IndyCar power unit, and that powers the series into the future.”
Frye’s questions on whether the KERS solution might land later than 2022 have been driven by the various delays caused by the COVID-19 virus, which has caused a wide variety of timeline changes in the industry. As Klaus sees it, sticking to the original hybridization schedule would be best for everyone involved with the series.
“So, there’s no question the COVID-19 pandemic has turned everything upside down, but I think we have to choose not to be a victim of that,” he said. “Right now, things have settled out enough (with) all of the work that went on previously with IndyCar – their selection for the spec hybrid components and their previous announcement, the engine specs – that we can get this train back on the tracks going forward.
“We have a prototype of the engine running, but we don’t know what’s going on with the hybrid selection, or how we can get the whole system internal combustion engine plus hybrid together. We believe it’s best to do them both together. I think we will be pretty grumpy if someone asks us to do it in steps.”
Klaus says a two-step introduction process, with the 2.4-liter engines rolling out first, followed by KERS units a year or more later, would be wasteful of time and money.
“I think it’s important for our fans to know that we’ve already spent a lot of time and energy towards development of a new engine,” he said. “We went ahead, we have a running prototype, and we can’t wait to get that mated together with the hybrid, then test the whole power unit so that we can go racing with it as soon as possible.
“You have to remember that the hybrid component actually sits on the end of the crankshaft, and the loads go into the end of the crankshaft. So to design a brand-new engine without knowing what those loads are, and being able to check for the variability in those loads or torsional vibrations that they cause, that would be a big risk. And then you’ve got to get the engine and the hybrid component working together. We’ve also got to make sure the electronics package can support it. There’s just a lot of details. So I’m saying we reject the idea that just the engine alone would run one year, and not introducing the hybrid until a year or two later would risk having to redo certain major parts of the engine. Introducing the engine and hybrid system in separate steps isn’t a logical technical plan.
“If your intention is to have a hybrid-plus-engine powertrain, that means it’s now a Power Unit. You have to design and develop them together, with the awareness of how all the components fit and work together. And, yes, to translate this into language that our teams can understand, in our view, developing the engine and hybrid separately would be a waste of time and energy; a waste of money. Ultimately someone (would have) to pay for that.
“I think the days of the engine manufacturers absorbing more than our share of those costs are over, especially given COVID. As I said earlier, we’re trying not to be a victim of COVID, but the effects of COVID further intensifies how we need to use our time and our money, in order to bring IndyCar into a stable, ongoing, innovative future.”
Although Honda and rival Chevrolet are not known to have signed an engine supply extension beyond the end of the current 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 formula that ends after the 2021 season, HPD is pressing ahead with its 2.4-liter prototype. Asked if Chevy was at a similar place with having a 2022 test mule up and running on the dyno, a representative from the Chevy engineering management team said “GM doesn’t comment on future development.”
For HPD and Honda, the odds of moving forward with the new motor would seemingly improve if hybridization is part of the 2022 package.
“I believe that that work has to be done, and our approach is not unilateral,” Klaus said. “We are going out of our way to discuss this with IndyCar, and I always appreciate conversations with (Chevy Racing boss) Mark Kent. We are listening to everyone. But with all due respect to various viewpoints about how to proceed with the next-generation engine, we stated our support for developing the new engine and the hybrid together last year. Our current engine, the one that’s competing in 2020, is in its ninth season. It is at the end of its design life. That engine was designed for a certain performance potential, and we’ve long since achieved that potential; there really is no development left in the design.
“When a design life is exceeded, what that means to us is many components of the engine are being highly stressed and are running right at the limit. This in turn means that we spend a lot of time, energy and money, quite frankly, supporting the engine in ways that we shouldn’t have to support it. That’s why we’re anxious to get on with the new engine.
“The time for a new engine has more than come. And HPD, from the beginning, wanted that engine to be utilized together with the hybrid. That fits Honda’s marketing plan.”
Klaus also sees going hybrid from the new formula’s outset as being helpful in IndyCar’s efforts to secure more engine suppliers.
“That may or may not perfectly fit a potential competitor’s marketing plan, but in general, to make a brand-new engine without an electrified component does not seem to be a sustainable path forward,” he continued. “If we want to attract interest from other manufacturers, I think the hybrid is, at a minimum, required. Both HPD and American Honda want anything new in engine development to be a hybrid. That is where the market is going; it’s where consumers’ heads are at. It’s an important thing for Honda from the marketing side of this as well.
“We’re going to have two-thirds of our fleet, our entire global fleet, electrified by 2030. This new Indy car engine is in lock step with that. But I think your point is great. We’re not going to be total stone heads about this, and just try to unilaterally push our way forward. We are going to be reasonable, but we did both announce and both support IndyCar’s announcement last year that we were doing a brand-new engine and a hybrid.
“My whole point is, just because COVID is hitting us, it doesn’t mean we’ve changed our firm opinion. IndyCar did all this work to look at various proposals for the hybrid component. I think they have a plan to choose an innovative hybrid proposal. We think it’s exciting and we’re working hard to get those plans back on the track. We want to be a good partner, work with the very competent people at IndyCar, and start to come together in groups, including Chevrolet and other potential manufacturers.
“We’re ready to rock and roll.”