There are so many reasons to be excited about the 2023 IndyCar season, and we’ve outlined the potential storylines of excitement and intrigue here. But there’s another reason IndyCar and its fans need this year to fully absorb. it may help distract from the series being confused by the introduction of its next engine formula.
Let’s recap. On the eve of last year’s season in St. Petersburg, IndyCar revealed that the 2.4-liter hybrid formula is being pushed back to 2024. Naturally, we understood that hybrid manufacturer Mahle was struggling with global supply chain issues. , this was predicted in many auto-related industries in 2018-19 and was greatly exacerbated by production issues related to COVID. It seemed a little late in the day for an announcement – just 12 months before the new engines and their hybrid units were due to make their race debut, but… OK.
On March 28, just 25 days later, both Honda (in a Chip Ganassi Racing car driven by Scott Dixon) and Chevrolet (in a Team Penske machine shared by Will Power and Josef Newgarden) tested their 2.4 liters – minus their hybrid units – in a seldom-used Indianapolis Motor Speedway road configuration. Even without the hybrid’s excessive electric boost and with the engines still unoptimized, these angry-sounding engines produced over 100 horsepower more than today’s 2.2s.
Then, over the summer, there were no comment–or “ask IndyCar about it”-type responses from HPD and the Chevy public when asked about the intended first test of their 2.4 with the addition of hybrid element. It turns out that behind the scenes there were increasingly urgent discussions about the fact that Mahle’s design might not be fit for purpose in an extreme application – eg. racing – and so Chevy and Honda were getting pretty crazy.
Autosport has it on good authority that in light of this problem, Chevrolet wanted to delay the introduction of the hybrid units and go ahead with the 2.4-liter engines for 2024, given 1) their power advantage over the 2.2s and 2) the fact that Chevrolet/Ilmor – and possibly Honda Performance Development – had spent millions of dollars and two years developing these larger engines.
But HPD, after consulting with Honda Japan, said no. For IndyCar to be relevant with its road vehicles, increasing the capacity of internal combustion engines was far less of a priority than introducing hybrid units. Put the 2.4 ICE on ice and let’s work with Chevrolet and an alternative outside supplier to develop a new spec hybrid unit.
The 2.4-liter engines were tested at IMS last year, but without hybrid units. They have now been discontinued, with the hybrids being added to the existing 2.2-litre engines
Photo: Honda Racing
On December 6th, IndyCar released a press release talking about Shell’s 100% renewable fuel coming in 2023 – very impressive – and Firestone rubber derived from guayula, a bio-cyclic material from the woody desert bush, for everyone road races. Again, well deserved. The third point of the release appeared as an “incident,” but was understandably the main focus for most IndyCar correspondents. The range will stick with the proven 2.2-litre engines as it introduced hybrids for 2024 and development of the 2.4 had ‘stalled’.
A furious engineer told Autosport: “Of course the 2.4 had to stop: the next 12 months is about making sure we both find an alternative hybrid unit that doesn’t embarrass us at St Pete in March 2024. It’s too disappointing.
“I don’t know why it took so long for the alarm bells to go off in IndyCar that the hybrid unit we had before wouldn’t work. I think if they had admitted it sooner, there is a chance we could have found a solution that didn’t involve a setback. With more lead time, we might – and I emphasize ‘might’ because the supply chain issues were very real – we could have found an alternative hybrid supplier and be able to run 2.4 next year.”
All we will do is move forward with hybrids, 10 years after Formula 1. I can only imagine how we are perceived from the outside
Said a senior spokesman for the other manufacturer: “It’s just unfortunate that we as an OEM and the range as a whole have been forced to fix a problem, instead of creating a completely positive narrative for 2024: ‘Here are our new engines, here are the hybrids units”.
“Everyone would have forgiven us for delaying the new formula until 2024 if we had still done what we promised – stronger engines and hybrid power associated with the road car. Instead, all we’re going to do is go ahead with hybrids, 10 years after Formula 1. I can only imagine how we’re perceived from the outside.”
When the green flag drops in St. Pete, and throughout the year in IndyCar’s wonderfully diverse racing series, the excitement over the next powerhouse in the series will join the excitement generated by the action on the track. IndyCar has produced some of the best racing action of the past decade, and Penske’s 2020 acquisition has had far more hits than misses. There is a sense of direction, signs of prosperity rather than mere survival.
Insight: Who needs a big year in IndyCar 2023?
But I hope that IndyCar’s perhaps mythical “third engine manufacturer,” while doing its due diligence, doesn’t delve into how the series handled its transition to the next formula. We also hope that the people in Detroit and Tokyo who have written the checks for the current OEM participation in IndyCar are of a forgiving nature when the next time comes to commit.
The on-track product should provide enough distraction from backtracking, but key stakeholders have been irritated by the experience
Photo: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images