A Thursday Morning Bombshell

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I don’t know about you, but I get some of my best thinking done in the morning while I’m in the shower. Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to go to work, I began thinking about what my topic for today’s post would be and what points I wanted to cover. I already had everything laid out in my head, so all I had to do was type it out.

Then about mid-morning yesterday, I got an e-mail containing the press-release from IndyCar that set off a social media firestorm. The plans for a new engine formula in 2021 had been shelved, in favor of a completely new power-plant based on hybrid technology beginning with the 2022 season. My topic for today was also shelved.

I’m not sure who saw this coming. I know I didn’t. This was one well-kept secret. The stir on social media from the Thursday morning bombshell was palpable, although it seemed to be mixed. While some praised IndyCar for getting with the times, others were bitterly opposed. Many times there have been news items announced, where my stance actually surprised people. This is not one of them.

I am not in favor of this at all. However, my disdain for it may be based out of ignorance because I don’t really understand hybrid technology. The press release described the new engine (do we still call them engines?) as a single-source system. I don’t even know what that means.

My only real exposure to hybrid technology was this past spring, when we went to the season-opener at St. Petersburg. Our rental car was a Kia Niro, which I had never heard of – only because the Jetta we reserved was unavailable. Of course it had a fob instead of a real key, and when I pushed the starter button, I heard nothing. At first I thought the thing was malfunctioning. Susan suggested I put it in gear to see what would happen, and sure enough – we started moving silently through the parking garage. It was very eerie.

It wasn’t until we got out on the street that the real engine kicked in. It was not what I would call a car for the driving enthusiast. It was kind of different to be silent at slow speeds, but the novelty wore off by the second day. I will say that it was kind of nice taking it back to the airport and filling it up just before we dropped it off. After driving all weekend, it only cost $6.00 to fill it up. I figured out that we got just a smidge over 60 mpg driving from Thursday night to Monday morning. That made taking the fun out of driving almost worthwhile.

I understand the concept of how our rental car worked. The energy from braking is captured, converted and stored in an on-board battery. The electric motor on the car would be used at low speeds before the gasoline engine kicked in. But that’s obviously not the way it works on a race car. Apparently, the captured energy is converted to use as more power. How that works is completely beyond me. This is a pretty savvy crowd that comes here, so I feel like several of you will explain it to me and other confused readers like me that don’t really understand hybrid technology.

And if the departure from a conventional internal combustion engine doesn’t rile up the traditionalist that resides inside of you, the press release also announced that cars will be equipped with on-board starters. Don’t ask me why I’m opposed to that. I’ve read the arguments how it will be less time for yellow flags and it will not expose the AMR Safety Team to a hot track as much. Had Josef Newgarden had a starter on his car ths past weekend, he probably would’ve finished higher than fourteenth at Mid-Ohio. Those are all valid points. But change is bad, and I’m not in favor of it.

And although I’m not keen on the hybrid engine – I get it. This past spring, it looked like Jay Frye had convinced Porsche to come on board as a third engine manufacturer. But the deal fell apart at the last minute, reportedly because Porsche insisted on using hybrid technology. Since the plans for the next generation engine had nothing to do with hybrid technology – Porsche bowed out.

It’s likely that other manufacturers have expressed similar concerns to Frye. I don’t know this to be fact, but my guess is that IndyCar finally made the decision that if they want a third engine manufacturer (or more) to join the series, they would have to bite the bullet and change their entire strategy.

It makes sense. The only reason a manufacturer would join the series is to advertise their product. It’s been a while that the rule of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” actually applied in racing. Although I’m not particularly interested in ever owning a hybrid automobile, I realize I am no longer the norm. Apparently, younger buyers (which describes almost anyone besides me) are very interested in hybrid technology. So it makes sense that if the market dictates that automakers pursue hybrid technology, that is what they want to showcase with their involvement in racing.

I’m old enough that I have seen roadsters race in the Indianapolis 500. I am probably one of the youngest that can say that I saw (and heard) the Novi run, as well as the turbines just a few years later. Older fans loved the Novi, but were bitterly opposed to the turbine. As a nine year-old, I loved the turbines. Now that I’m much older, I understand why so many older fans didn’t.

I have stated before that I fear for the long-term future of all motor racing. When I grew up in the sixties, cars were sexy and cool. The louder and faster, the better. Cars no longer appeal to the young generation. They are considered an evil necessity to get from Point A to Point B, or better yet – use Uber. So if introducing hybrid technology to the NTT IndyCar Series generates any interest in racing among new fans, or more importantly among new manufacturers, I will begrudgingly accept it. Besides, what’s my choice – quit watching?

George Phillips

17 Responses to “A Thursday Morning Bombshell”

  1. It’s pretty obvious that people don’t bother to read the actual articles and just get outraged at the headline. Had they read the article they would have seen that the hybrid system will basically only be used as a push-to-pass type boost system and possible for driving down pitlane. The 2.4 liter twin turbo engine should still be as loud as it ever was, adding electricity to the P2P is not going to suddenly make it quiet or drive like a Prius. F1 cars don’t sound as good anymore not because of the hybrid but because of fuel flow regulations that limit the RPM levels.

    The cars aren’t being equipped with onboard starters, per se. If you’ve watched F1 the last few years you know that they can divert some of the battery juice to start the car, then after a lap or two their battery juice is filled up and they’re good to go. The same will possibly apply to the new IndyCar system, and I cannot fathom why anyone would consider this a bad thing. I freaking hate cautions on street courses due solely to someone stalling it in the runoff area, and this would eliminate those unnecessary cautions….which of course means less “danger zone” time for the leaders.

    This is apples and oranges to your rental car, it’s probably more of a divide then that. Your rental car was setup for efficiency so it was not fun to drive. When the hybrid system is setup for performance there is nothing that compares to it, the instant torque at low speeds is incredible and addicting. My dad has owned two Teslas, I have owned several fun sports cars and none of them have given me the speed giggles like the Tesla does. IT’S INSANELY FAST!!! Many people say, and I agree, that people who say they don’t like electric cars simply haven’t driven a proper one yet. Anyone who has likely walks away impressed and wanting more.

    So to recap, this appears to be only used as an additional P2P system with the possibility of running in electric mode in pit lane and perhaps the ability to restart the car which will eliminate unnecessary cautions. This scenario is also probably a bit more likely to attract a third engine manufacturer. Being a single-source item means it will be the same system provided to everyone and regulated by the series so costs won’t get out of control. It also might get more young people interested (that’s a big “might”). I fail to see any real negatives here other than “change is bad”. I definitely think that not going this route would have led them further down the road of irrelevance and by the time the next new engine formula was due they’d be far behind the rest of the motorsports world.

    I’m not really for or against adding hybrid, really doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. But I believe it was a necessary evil. But being a single-source item means the manufacturers won’t be able to do any development on it so I’m not sure how attractive it will be to them, but it’s a start.

    • Alan Stewart Says:

      THIS ^^^^^

    • billytheskink Says:

      I’m sure that Indycar would have allowed the manufacturers to develop (and subsidize) the hybrid units had Honda and Chevrolet been interested. Heck, it is likely that Honda and Chevy needed some convincing to move this direction otherwise Indycar would have jumped in the spring when Porsche demanded hybrid motors.

      Single source hybrid units should appeal to potential new manufacturers interested in competitive balance, which seems to be the order of the day in most racing series outside of Formula 1 these days.

    • Yes^^^. Change is bad, except when it is not. So many people seem to hate hybrids because of the change in F1 from 2013 to 2014 with the new “power units” that restricted the fuel flow and changed the sound (per your comment). It’s like: Sound is awful –> hybrid is to blame (false) –> therefore hybrids are very bad (or: the spiraling costs in LMP1 from open development of hybrid technology that led to its demise, which isn’t the case here). Never mind that KERS (hybrid) has actually been used in F1 since 2009. Since IndyCar will still be powered by the same 2.4L twin-turbo V6 engines as originally proposed, I’m looking forward to see the fast and loud cars and am excited about the possibilities of additional manufacturers now being able to join the series.

    • Shyam Cherupalla Says:

      I totally agree with you Brandon. Its weird that the Car and Race enthusiasts are and have overlooked the development of the Car technology over the past 10 years and are surprised like what we are seeing by fans on this Indy hybrid engine announcement. Hybrid uses the wasted energy while cruising downhill and braking, to charge batteries and can be used in any which way one wants to. Indycar will now use that energy for boost power for overtaking. I am not blaming George for not being too familiar with these developments, but here is where I saw Robin miller mention few months ago that Indycar will not ever have Electric Engines running there and if it happens he will retire or something like that. The technology and Economics is going to dictate how racing series will have to make decisions on Engines. I will bet anyone in the racing circles, the next iteration (5 years from 2022) in 2027, when Indycar has to redo the engine specs it maybe more Electric and some gas based engine or even totally Electric. Why I say that is if you look at Volvo, Audi, BMW and few other manufacturers they already stated that beyond 2019 all their car models will have some Electric component for engine gas hybrid in the least case and complete Electric on the other end of the spectrum. If this is the trajectory of the technology direction why would manufacturers want to be involved in a gas based engine racing?

  2. That first paragraph wasn’t directed at you George, more at the few internet comments I bothered to read where people are getting upset about things that aren’t even happening.

  3. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    This is an awesome step forward by INDYCAR. If they want a third or more engine supplier they had to go there. Thank you Jay Frye.

  4. I think it is a huge step forward. Especially in the North American Motorsports market. Being the first big US Series to officially state clearly the objectives of the 2022 package as well as provide a timeline and explain.

    Great for Indycar to make the announcement even before NASCAR. Clear and concise. Looking forward to the future with the series. Very exciting times. Looking forward to Pocono. Tickets, hotel, everything is set. Hope to see you there George!!

  5. manufacturers want it so there really isn’t a choice. on-board starter of some sort = great. windscreen/halo = great, but please make it look cooler. I guess I’m more for change than I thought.

    Question: If new engine is ’22, when is “new” chassis? Same time?

  6. Mike from Vernon Hills Says:

    Marshall Pruett’s podacast interview with Jay Frye yesterday explains that the new formula will sound like a normal racing engine

  7. I don’t agree with George that change is always bad except in the case of #45. Marshall did a fine job of explaining the changes as he always does. I think the changes will be good for the sport of IndyCar racing. Hopefully the new cars will be like a wolf/dog hybrid, inherently dangerous and always ready to pounce.

  8. James T Suel Says:

    At first I was outraged also, but after hearing Jay Frye talk to Marshall Puritt I felt better. The engine will be the same 2.4 v 6 twin turbo. The electric motor will come on when you use the push to pass, and the cars will self start. So the driver can restart the car himself and maybe avoid a yellow. Frye stressed the point that IndyCar will keep its identity of fast loud. 800 to 900 hp.

  9. “Catch ’22?”

  10. If a manufacturer wanted to make such an engine available I would not have a problem with it. If there was a driver or team who thought it was a superior engine, then go for it. However, by making the whole field of drivers have to go to this engine is a big concern to me. It smells of politics.

  11. Ok. Hybrid technology is already available on several car models. My only exposure to it was in 2014 or 15 when we test drove a Buick LaCrosse hybrid. All I could think about was the lost trunk space to accommodate the auxiliary battery.

    My second concern was the expense if something should go wrong with the transition between electric and gasoline power.

    Only thing that bothered me was that anytime you had a repair of this sub-system it would be RIDICULOUSLY expensive. So, at that time, my reaction was a resounding NOT YET.

    That said, if it brings aboard more engine “badges,” I’ll deal with it. If the series is to continue to grow, more engines will be required. And, if IndyCar adds to the technology advancement, it will only speed up the practicality of this system in standard vehicles and reduce its repair expense, so much the better.

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