In the greater world of global motorsports, the technology really isn’t new. For several seasons now, the current Formula 1 rules have specified hybrid drivelines for those race cars, using the KERS system, which stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery System. The same type of hybrid powertrain is heavily employed in today’s World Sportscar Championship, with the Toyota Gazoo Racing team that won Le Mans in June using a similar energy-gathering system. Now, it’s going to be part of the revised IndyCar engine package that will take to the track beginning with the 2022 season.
Outwardly, the new engines won’t look a whole lot different than the one pictured, the 2020 Honda HPD V-6. It’s what you can’t see that will make this change so critical. Right now, IndyCar is largely a spec series, spectacular racing notwithstanding. There’s one chassis provider (Dallara), one tire producer (Bridgestone/Firestone) and two engine suppliers (Chevrolet and Honda). The 2022 engine formula will retain the familiar twin-turbo V-6 engine architecture, but displacement will increase to 2.4 liters, up from the current 2.2. On top of that, IndyCar powertrains will be augmented to include an electric motor, power inverter and storage device. The way this all works is that heat energy generated by braking is converted to electricity and stored in the onboard battery. The stored energy will then be tapped by the driver hitting the push-to-pass button, which allows a time-limited burst of additional power. The new powertrain should be good for at least 900hp, something both past and present IndyCar drivers have been promoting as a way to put more of the competition back into the driver’s hands. We can hope that the KERS system adds both quantity and timing of additional power for late-race action once it’s implemented. Beyond that, hybrid power is fast becoming the norm in passenger vehicles of all sorts. Perhaps IndyCar’s adoption of a hybrid system that’s analogous in many ways to that of street vehicles will also encourage more auto manufacturers to get involved in the sport, at least as engine suppliers. We’ll have to see how this all plays out.