IndyCar Pushes Hybrid Engines Back a Year

geothumbnail10
Thursday morning, the NTT IndyCar Series announced that the new 2.4-liter twin-turbocharged engine with hybrid technology was being pushed back a year. The engine was to make its debut at the beginning of the 2023 season, and the development is continuing to be right on schedule. The problem? The supply chain issues that have been plaguing our country and the world for the last several months.

I believe it. We have ordered a new dishwasher, after the one we bought in 2017 played out on us a couple of weeks ago. A repairman told us it would cost almost $700 to fix. We decided to just buy a new one, so we ordered one from Lowe’s. After our new Whirlpool refrigerator, microwave and now dishwasher all went belly-up after only four and a half years (or less) for each, I will never buy another appliance made by Whirlpool Corporation – which besides Whirlpool; includes KitchenAid, Maytag, JennAir and Amana. We bought a middle of the road GE, instead. Where I lived before we married, a basic GE dishwasher was installed in 2001, when I moved in. I lived there for eleven years and it never gave any trouble. We have no clue when the dishwasher will get here, due to the supply chain issues. In the meantime, we are eating off of paper plates and bowls, drinking out of plastic cups and doing minimal cooking. Soup, hotdogs and sandwiches are getting old, but I digress…

If it’s tough getting something as mundane as a dishwasher, imagine how difficult it is to try and get enough components for an IndyCar hybrid drive-train, consisting of a specialized Energy Recovery System (ERS) and extremely light magnesium gearboxes – enough to supply the entire grid for a season.

When timelines and deadlines are set, you like to think they are set in stone. But world events sometimes dictate that deadlines have to be fluid. We’ve all learned that with COVID. Apparently, Chevy was the main manufacturer that was pushing for the delay, and Honda finally reluctantly agreed – according to this Racer.com article by Marshall Pruett.

Like Pruett, I agree that this is a good thing overall. Development can continue throughout this season on schedule. The first test is scheduled for the end of March at Sebring.

But the absolute deadline to make a decision for 2023 was the end of February. Apparently, that decision was reached just before last week’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. With so much uncertainty surrounding the supply chain, and with the added uncertainty brought on by Russia and Ukraine – it would have been disastrous to reach the 2023 season-opener without an ample supply of engines and drive-trains. It could disrupt or even cancel the entire season. It simply wasn’t worth the risk.

When I first read this news yesterday morning, my first thought was about the upcoming new chassis. Marshall Pruett ended up writing an article about that, also. I was under the impression that the new chassis was scheduled to debut in 2024. I thought the plan was to debut the new hybrid engines in the current car for 2023, then an all-new car would be introduced for 2024. That would give teams two years – one to get used to the nuances of the new hybrid power-plant, then they could learn the new car. But according to Pruett, the plan was to ultimately mate the engine package to a new car at some unspecified time in the future. I’m not sure if I misunderstood the original plan, or if it changed and I didn’t hear about it.

As I wrote about at the end of January, this current car is now in its eleventh season of service. Since it was introduced in 2012, it has gone through several changes – the manufacturer aero kits in 2014, the unified body in 2018, the aero screen in 2020, along with adding side safety panels during its lifetime. Almost every one of these added weight that the original car was not designed for. The aero screens, alone, added as much as 60 pounds to the very top of the car. It is estimated that the hybrid units will add as much as 120 pounds to the rear of the car.

Pruett’s second article points out that four drivers have driven a simulated version of the hybrid car – ballast added to the rear of the car, and the power cranked up to almost 900-horsepower. The drivers, Pato O’Ward, Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Alex Palou, were almost unanimous in their disdain for this configuration. At Mid-Ohio, the car did not handle well at all. It was hard to brake going into the corners and the added weight made it practically undriveable. In their own way, each driver said they preferred that this engine package be saved for a car designed for the added weight; and not to add any more weight to the already too-bulky DW12.

According to Pruett, IndyCar is hesitant to do this. They are more inclined to mate the new engines with the old, and I mean old – in 2024, this car will be in its thirteenth season of service – and develop a new car at some point later. My question is…why?

The timeline is doable. If you recall, the ICONIC committee made its decision to award Dallara an exclusive contract in the summer of 2010, for a car that was ready for testing in August of 2011 and made its race debut in March of 2012. From being awarded the contract to racing was about twenty-one months. That also debuted the current 2.2-liter turbocharged engines, and served as Chevy’s return to IndyCar racing after a six-season absence.

Surely, IndyCar and Dallara have been having preliminary talks about a new car. IndyCar knows what they want, and Dallara knows what kind of weight they will be dealing with as well as the design of the aero screen and the additional hybrid components. I would like to think that Dallara already has a rough idea of what the new car needs to be and have already begun preliminary designs. If they went from July 2010 to March 2012 to take a car from (roughly) a clean sheet of paper to being race-ready; why could they not do that, given even a little more time, this time around?

Do the teams need more time to build their budgets to buy all-new cars? Surely they knew this was coming. Is it to spread out the overall cost of new engines and new cars?

The last generation car ran from 2003 through the 2011 season, and we thought it was ancient when it was retired at nine years-old. We have already exceeded that by two years and at least one more season to come. As Pruett pointed out, this is the first time that a car eligible to run in the Vintage Series, is also currently being raced in a major racing series.

I am sure there is a good reason why IndyCar is hesitant to debut new cars and engines in the same year, but I don’t understand what it is. The Pruett article never really addressed the why?

I am not an engineer, but I can read the driver’s impressions of the old DW12 with the simulation of more power and added weight. None of them are good. They all say it is not a fun car to drive and would be very difficult to race. This car was never designed to carry an additional 200 pounds in various spots in the car. Sixty pounds up top for the aero screen sounds very top-heavy. 120 pounds in the rear sounds like a boat anchor that also makes the car too light in the front. The intrusion panels added later, help make up the other twenty pounds that the car was never designed for.

My thought, whatever that’s worth, is for IndyCar and Dallara to get a new car ready for 2024 to race with the brand new hybrid engines. They wouldn’t have to worry about refitting them to the old DW12, and it would be a fresh start, just like in 2012 – new cars, new engines.

Plus, there’s the added benefit of an extra year to bring on a third engine manufacturer. Over the race weekend in St. Petersburg, Roger Penske confirmed to Jenna Fryer, of the Associated Press, that Toyota is the manufacturer that is closest to becoming that elusive third engine manufacturer. With the hybrid engines being pushed back a year, that would make things more attractive to be able to start off even with Chevy and Honda, rather than starting a year later. That would make 2024 an even bigger splash with new cars, new engines and a new engine manufacturer for the first time since 2012.

Whatever IndyCar’s reasons are for delaying a new chassis, it just makes a lot more sense to me to debut the new engines and chassis at the same time. The drivers want it, and I think the fans do too. Then again, what do I know?

George Phillips

7 Responses to “IndyCar Pushes Hybrid Engines Back a Year”

  1. OliverW Says:

    I agree we need a new chassis latest 2024. Halo not aero screen. More power even if it has to be hybrid to attract Toyota. Dallara build a F1 car, the F2 car plus numerous lesser formula. To go from design to running cannot take too long. It’s all about budgets.

  2. James T Suel Says:

    I believe IndyCar should make every effort to bring the new engine and chassis at the same time. The current car is going to be not only too heavy , but the weight is to high and way too far toward the rear.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    It doesn’t sound like Indycar had much of a choice in this matter, but it will be a positive thing if it encourages Toyota to join the series.

    In Marshall Pruett’s column, Mike Hull stated that he believed that staggering the introduction of the new motors and the new chassis would be more expensive over a short period of time due to the costs associated with preparing the existing chassis for the new engines. I suspect he is right. Engine leases are a yearly and agreed-upon cost to teams, so there is no real cost savings for the teams regardless of when the new motors debut. Chassis are where the teams’ costs can really be reduced or increased.

  4. Bruce Waine Says:

    There is something positive in the saying “MADE IN AMERICA.”

    Positive in the sense only if manufacturers take remedial action.

    Many countries, USA included, have come to heavily rely upon outside countries for supplying materials, medicine, and even dishwashers to the detriment of USA.

    This is not a new trend but the Covid shut down has brought this dependence finally to the forefront.

    So do we, as companies, return to the old days of Made in America or continue to sit back, take no corrective action and listen to our customers gripe?

  5. SkipinSC Says:

    As I recall, at one time, detractors of the series once called the original Dallara “flying crapwagons.” Simulation or not, do we really want to push the envelope of safety to rush a
    new car into production. It seems to me that with all the drivers’ complaints about the weight distribution, what I’m really hearing is that the “quickie” solution might not be the best solution.

    Do we reallywant tosee to see more cars getting airborne, especially with all the.positive things going on IndyCar right now?

  6. Agree on same time new engine / new chassis. Absolutely agree, as commenter OliverW mentioned, on halo instead of aeroscreen for the next car. I don’t believe it would hinder safety, but it would certainly enhance aesthetics. Much as I try, I just can’t get used to the aeroscreen. I still think it’s dogshit ugly. So hopeful for Toyota joining in as a 3rd supplier. I feel like the interest is there for upwards of 40 entrants nowadays for the ‘500’, but there’s never be more than 36 engines as long as there are only 2 suppliers.

Leave a Reply to SkipinSC Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: