The NTT IndyCar Series will use the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a laboratory on Friday to learn how its hybrid engine package might behave on ovals in 2023.
Four teams and drivers – split evenly between Chevys and Hondas – have been nominated to assist with the test, which will feature Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, and Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward.
Although the new 2.4-liter twin-turbo V6 engines are nowhere close to being track tested, and the 100-horsepower kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) won’t be available until 2022, the series will try and replicate the effects of racing with KERS around the 2.5-mile oval by dialing up the horsepower with the four 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6s through push-to-pass.
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While IndyCar has not flirted with temporary hikes in turbocharger boost on ovals for a few years, push-to-pass has remained as a staple on road and street courses, offering an extra 40hp when activated. For Friday’s test, Dixon, Newgarden, Rossi, and O’Ward will have double that amount – 80hp – on tap to simulate what’s coming in 2023 with push-to-pass through KERS.
IndyCar plans to reveal the vendors for its KERS package in the weeks ahead, as well as details on which energy recovery and deployment technology will be implemented on the ovals, where braking cannot be relied upon to charge the battery.
“We tried this a couple years ago at Pocono, Phoenix and Gateway, but the current push-to-pass system is different than what it was then,” IndyCar president Jay Frye told RACER. “The biggest issues that the drivers were having with the older system was when they came off it, it was too abrupt. Well, now with this current system, there’s a more of a gradual delay; the boost comes down smoother.
“So since we don’t have the next-generation hybrid unit to work with right now, we’re going to try and mimic what it would be like to have a lot of power come in and tapers off, see what the drivers says, and model that good parts of that behavior for how we might go about the hybrid power coming in and out.”
IndyCar’s engineering team will keep the four drivers busy with a deep testing plan.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what this is possible,” Frye said. “You think about a hybrid system; is it on all the time? Do you always have this type of extra power available to you? The hybrid system could be on all the time, so it could be how you manage the energy that you have. And then after you use it, how quickly do you get it back?
“So the whole day is being choreographed. You’re at speed and all of a sudden, you get a big horsepower boost. How does the car react? How does it go into it? How does it come off of it? In the morning, we’ll let the teams just get their baseline setups. In the afternoon, we’ll do more group runs and get feedback on how the cars perform, what it’s like passing and being passed with the extra power, and all of that. Tomorrow’s tests will create more questions than it answers, but that’s okay. That’s why you go test.”
Frye has been consistent in suggesting IndyCar’s spec KERS units could be modular, with the standard battery charging routine done under braking on road and street courses and electronic power deployment returned through the rear wheels, and separate add-on charging components for the ovals. All Formula 1 cars, and the Le Mans-winning Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 prototype, have dual KERS units that add something akin to an electric turbocharger into the mix by using the heat and energy fired through the exhaust to spin a dedicated motor generator unit (MGU) that charges the battery. To date, IndyCar has not revealed how it will produce the 100 electric ponies on the ovals, but whether it’s through a heat-based MGU or some other form of technology, it will be a first.
“From an oval perspective, it’s never been done, and we’re excited for what’s coming,” Frye said. “And we’ll be doing more testing at Texas and back again at the IMS Open Test that’s not really about 2023, but more validation of what we started testing last fall at IMS with changes to the floors to try and make things better for the Indy 500.
“We’ve got seven cars that we’re going to do an organized group running test (with) next week at Texas, and then 17 cars at IMS a day or two after, so there’s been a natural progression. We made the changes to the underwing, and we’ve made it so there’s things you can do; adjustments can be made. So we feel good with where we’re at on Speedway testing as the season gets ready to get going.”