“The new engines will start testing in the first quarter of next year,” Jay Frye, IndyCar president, told Motorsport.com. “We have delayed this a couple of times but now feel good about where we’re at, so the first quarter of next year we’ll be on track.
“We’re sorting through the procedure right now, but I would envision doing the testing very much like how we did the aerokit testing, where the manufacturers have a big impact on the teams chosen to test the cars, and the two engines testing on track simultaneously.
“It was useful with the aerokit testing to be able to get drivers who were current but weren’t full-time – Juan [Pablo Montoya] and Oriol [Servia] – and that is how I’d imagine we’ll go testing the 2.4s to start off with, but we’re not there yet. Until that on-track test, Honda and Chevrolet can’t do anything except bench testing.”
While the hybrid unit – the manufacturer of which remains unannounced – can fit in the bellhousing, it will require a cooling system, extra wiring, a control box and energy storage unit, all of which various team engineers reckon will add around 100lbs to the weight of the car.
“One of the things we’re sorting through now is what has to be done to the car to accommodate a slightly larger engine with a hybrid unit,” said Frye. “There are always ramifications, right? Whether it’s to cooling, engine-cover design, overall weight, weight distribution, and so on. So we’ll manage those details first before we make any announcement about the hybrid unit supplier.”
Frye said that conclusions have yet to be drawn from the mock KERS test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in March, when extra push-to-pass boost was used to trial how the hybrid units might be used to facilitate passing on ovals. The cars ran at 1.3-bar – as they do for the Indy 500 and most practice days – and then to simulate KERS-supplied power, they had a push to pass facility that took the BorgWarners up to 1.5-bar, as per Fast Friday and Qualifying for the 500. The four drivers that took part in the test – Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and Pato O’Ward – were unconvinced by the experiment.
“As we said at the time, we expected more questions than answers,” said Frye, “but that’s fine; that’s why you go test. We had to understand how it was going to work because to the best of our knowledge, no one has ever run a hybrid on an oval. We know the current system of push-to-pass will go away, and the hybrid energy won’t run out on road and street courses: it’ll be something that’s on the whole time. But working out the best way to generate the energy for an oval is something we’d have to go through, too.
“The horsepower amount we ran to simulate the hybrid at Indy in March was probably too much – too much for the tires. But that’s another thing we learned. On the plus side, you remember a couple of years back we trialed push-to-pass during tests at Phoenix, Pocono and Gateway? The drivers didn’t like the abruptness of slow-down when they came off the push-to-pass boost. Well, we fixed that, so we learned something from those tests, too.”
Car changes for 2022 will be “minimal” according to Frye. He said: “Updates to the car always involve some expense, as does the new system on the car. That’s one of the first things we look at whenever there’s a change to consider: What will be the costs for our teams? In that area, I think we’re in good shape.
“For ’22 there are a couple of different things to look at. We’ll keep looking at the oval package, for example, and obviously if there was ever a safety issue, we’d address that as soon as possible, too.
“But a lot of what we do this fall, winter and into ’22 will be stuff for ’23. Economics matter, so anything we can take off the owners’ plate earlier or push back to ’24 because we know there’s an engine formula change for ’23, that’s what we do to spread costs.
“Enhancing this car as we go along is the way to go. For example, Pankl has a frame for the aeroscreen that is just as strong but lighter – much lighter – but again you have to manage the economics. The current screen works well, it just has some weight to it [60lbs]. Is it worth going to the next version that weighs half as much but costs twice as much?
“Going forward from when the new engine regs start, we will then populate each year up to say, 2028, with more updates that we want to implement, some of them visual.”
Regarding the regular question of IndyCar landing a third engine manufacturer, Frye commented: “We’re talking to different OEMs like we always have, and we’re encouraged. And if you’re thinking, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve heard that one before,’ I understand. It’s not for lack of effort that we haven’t been able to confirm a third manufacturer yet.
“Part of the problem has been timing. There were a couple we got pretty far down the road with, but for them to spend money on something new that has no form of electrification was not going to happen. So we’re solving that part of the equation, and we remain talking to several possibilities. We’re hopeful.”