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IndyCar Revs Up for the Future with Hybrid Technology

North American open-wheel racing is about to shift gears as IndyCar introduces a revolutionary hybrid system to its race cars. This exciting development, premiering at the upcoming Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course round on July 5th, marks a turning point for the series, integrating cutting-edge technology while acknowledging the sport's rich heritage.

"It's a bittersweet moment," reflects Alexander Rossi, driver of the No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. "We've grown to love IndyCar for what it's always been, but the world, and the auto industry, are constantly evolving. This move towards hybrid power is a crucial step for the series, our partners, and the future of the sport."

The all-new hybrid unit, a collaborative effort by Chevrolet, Honda, and IndyCar, seamlessly integrates with the existing 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engine that has powered IndyCar since 2012. This low-voltage (48V) system, nestled between the engine and gearbox, consists of two key components: a Motor Generator Unit (MGU) and an Energy Storage System (ESS) comprised of 20 ultracapacitors.

The hybrid system injects a significant dose of power into the already thrilling IndyCar experience. In addition to the existing push-to-pass system, drivers can now unleash an additional 120 horsepower through the hybrid assist, pushing the total output over 800 horsepower – a level unseen in IndyCar for over two decades.

Regeneration plays a vital role in this system. As the car brakes or the driver lifts off the throttle, the MGU captures this energy and stores it in the ESS. Drivers then have the option to deploy this stored energy on demand, with both automatic and manual deployment methods available. Similar to push-to-pass, the hybrid boost is driver-controlled through a latching button.

One key distinction between the two systems lies in their usage rules. Push-to-pass remains limited in total duration per race, while the hybrid system focuses on limiting the total energy deployed per lap based on track length. Interestingly, drivers can strategically combine these two power boosts for maximum horsepower bursts during permitted windows.

Unlike push-to-pass, the hybrid system offers an additional benefit on oval tracks. Here, drivers can utilize the stored energy to self-restart a stalled car, potentially eliminating the need for safety team intervention.

Colton Herta, driver of the No. 26 Andretti Global Honda, remains cautiously optimistic about the impact of the new system. "It's a short burst of power," he says. "It might help with overtaking, but I don't see it creating entirely new passing opportunities. Managing push-to-pass effectively will still be crucial. If you can't get your battery charged on a restart, you're probably getting passed anyway."

Regardless of the immediate impact on racing strategy, the introduction of hybrid technology signifies a bold step forward for IndyCar. This innovative system not only paves the way for a more sustainable future but also injects a fresh dose of excitement into this high-octane motorsport. The upcoming race at Mid-Ohio promises to be a historic moment, marking the dawn of a new era in IndyCar racing.

TopGear Magazine July 2024