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Indy 500 at a Crossroads: Last Non-Hybrid Race Marks the Dawn of IndyCar’s Electrified Era

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Indy 500 Faces Pivotal Moment: Iconic Racing Series Poised to Enter Hybrid Era

IndyCar has conducted multiple tests of its hybrid system on various tracks, including ovals, road courses, and a surface resembling a street circuit. The system is scheduled to launch in July.

This year, the Indianapolis 500, renowned as one of the premier events in global motorsports, stands out for a unique reason.

This event is anticipated to be the final occasion that the open-wheel vehicles will race without hybrid engines at the iconic 2.5-mile circuit, commonly referred to as the Brickyard.

The NTT IndyCar Series intends to introduce a 2.2-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine featuring hybrid technology during the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio track in Lexington, Ohio, this July.

The scheduling places the Indy 500, the most significant race of the year, and the league in a kind of pivotal moment.

The introduction of hybrid technology in IndyCar has been anticipated for quite some time. This shift mirrors the evolving nature of motorsports, as car manufacturers like Chevrolet and Honda, who compete in the series, navigate the financial challenges linked to the rapid advancement of electrification and hybrid systems, as well as changing consumer tastes.

David Salters, the president of Honda Racing Corporation USA, stated that hybrid technology is becoming progressively more significant in their racing initiatives as well as in the manufacturing of Honda and Acura vehicles.

Key Details of the Indy 500

Date and Time: May 26 at 12:45 PM ET

Location: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Track Size: 2.5 miles

Total Laps: 200, covering a distance of 500 miles

Recent Champions:

– 2023: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske (Chevrolet)

– 2022: Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing (Honda)

– 2021: Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing (Honda)

– 2020: Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Honda)

– 2019: Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske (Chevrolet)

In 2023, Honda achieved a new milestone in the United States with its sales of electrified vehicles. The combined sales of the CR-V and Accord hybrid models reached 293,640 units, making up over 25% of the total Honda brand sales for the year.

General Motors announced its intention to reintroduce plug-in hybrid vehicles to the North American market this year. Notably, the Corvette E-Ray, which is currently the company's only hybrid model available in the United States, is set to serve as the pace car in this year's race.

IndyCar has evolved its strategy for integrating hybrid technology over time.

The league initially revealed its combined approach in 2019, aiming for a 2022 season debut. However, setbacks occurred, causing the launch to be postponed, as reported by the Indianapolis Star.

At first, IndyCar, in collaboration with Chevrolet and Honda, intended to introduce a new 2.4-liter twin-turbo engine equipped with hybrid assistance.

Due to the high costs of development, the original plans were abandoned. In December 2022, IndyCar announced it would instead incorporate a hybrid system into the current 2.2-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine. This V-6 engine, now in its 13th season, generates between 550 and 700 horsepower, varying with the turbo boost pressure applied at different tracks on the IndyCar circuit.

IndyCar has announced that its upcoming hybrid system will include a 48-volt motor generator unit and an energy storage setup consisting of 20 ultracapacitors, all housed within the bell housing.

The magnesium bell housing, which is quite compact, is situated between the engine and the gearbox.

According to IndyCar, the motor generator unit generates power during its regeneration phase by acting on the clutch shaft. This power is then stored in the energy storage system. When the driver needs it, the additional horsepower is delivered through the motor generator.

According to IndyCar, braking or throttle position will trigger automatic regeneration, whereas manual regeneration will be controlled using paddles on the steering wheel.

According to the series, the regulations for the hybrid system will control the energy usage per lap, taking track length into account.

According to IndyCar, the increased power boosts performance by up to 120 horsepower, pushing the total horsepower of race cars to over 800 for the first time in 20 years.

The series also mentioned that they expect an increase in horsepower in the future as advancements are made in the hybrid system.

Furthermore, the low-voltage system allows drivers to restart the vehicle if the engine stalls.

IndyCar has conducted multiple tests for the hybrid system on oval tracks, road courses, and a street circuit-like track at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.

According to IndyCar, 28 drivers collectively completed 23,518 miles of testing with the hybrid system over a period of seven months. IndyCar announced that a comprehensive test of the hybrid system will take place on June 11 at the Milwaukee Mile racetrack in West Allis, Wisconsin.

IndyCar initially intended to implement the hybrid system at the beginning of the 2024 season. However, they later announced that its introduction would be postponed until the second half of the season.

It is fortunate for Honda that the Mid-Ohio race serves as the launch point for the hybrid system.

The Japanese car manufacturer has been the race's sponsor for a long time and has had a significant manufacturing presence in the state for many years.

The race scheduled for July 7 this year is sponsored by the 2025 Honda Civic Hybrid. This hybrid model of the well-known compact car is making its comeback to the North American market after almost ten years.

The Dallara chassis, which has been a staple in IndyCar racing since 2012, might soon be phased out due to advancements in technology, aerodynamics, and the development of lighter materials.

The engineering modifications come in the wake of a significant leadership change: In January 2020, Penske Entertainment Corp., a branch of Roger Penske's renowned Penske Corp. specializing in racing and auto retail, acquired the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar, and IMS Productions.

When IndyCar transitions to using a hybrid system, it will become part of the group of esteemed racing series such as Formula One, the World Endurance Championship, the International Motor Sports Association, and the World Rally Championship, all of which have already adopted hybrid powertrains in various capacities.

IndyCar has been on the lookout for a third engine supplier to help reduce expenses for Honda and Chevrolet. However, no other car manufacturers have publicly indicated any intention to join the series. Entering the series would require them to develop a custom racing engine and provide the necessary parts, technical support, and personnel at the races.

There are reports that Honda is thinking about exiting IndyCar once its current agreement concludes after the 2026 season.

Chuck Schifsky, who oversees motorsports for Honda and Acura, mentioned that no choices have been finalized regarding the company's involvement in the series. Honda's worries regarding IndyCar primarily relate to expenses.

Schifsky mentioned that participating is costly compared to factors like TV viewership.

Honda has communicated to IndyCar its desire for a reduction in expenses. According to Schifsky, the steep entry fees have also deterred other manufacturers from participating.

"We've been involved in IndyCar racing for three decades," Schifsky mentioned to Automotive News. "Our passion for the Indy 500 runs deep. IndyCar plays a crucial role in conveying to our customers that we are a dynamic, youthful, entertaining, and technologically advanced brand. It accomplishes that for us. However, we need to work on cutting expenses to enhance our return on investment even further."

This report includes contributions from Richard Truett.

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