IndyCar, the top open-wheel racing series in the United States, just announced that its racecars will use hybrid powertrains starting in 2022. The new cars will be powered by a combination of combustion engines developed by Honda and Chevrolet (the two manufacturers that currently compete in the series) and a single-sourced “multi-phase motor, inverter and electric storage device that will create energy recovery from the car’s braking system.”
The result will be IndyCars that can create north of 900 horsepower, putting them close to the current power output of Formula One’s racecars. Current IndyCars generate between 550 and 700 horsepower, depending on their configuration, which changes based on what track is being run.
It’s not the first series to race hybrids, and it won’t be the last
As automakers develop electric and hybrid cars in the face of the growing climate crisis, a number of motorsports have already adopted hybrid powertrains, like Formula One or the World Endurance Championship’s top Le Mans prototype class. Since EV racing series Formula E launched in 2014, a bevy of all-electric series has launched as well, including one featuring all Jaguar I-Paces, one based around Smart ForTwos, and one for electric motorcycles.
IndyCar didn’t release much more detail about how the hybrid powertrain will work, but it sounds similar to the kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) that Formula One introduced in 2009. By spinning the electric motor backward, the car will be able to turn the kinetic energy of braking into potential energy that’s stored in something like a flywheel or a small battery. That energy can then be redeployed to the electric motor to help power the car forward in combination with the combustion engine.
IndyCar has spent the last few years remaking itself in an effort to rebuild its fan base, and the move to hybrid cars will now become a crucial part of that shift. The series quickly did away with the overly complicated aerodynamic kits it introduced in 2015. Instead, it relaunched a much simpler, sleeker car in 2017 that harkens back to the designs that made the series popular a few decades ago. The series will also add a reinforced windscreen to its cars in 2020 to better protect drivers from head injuries.