The year 2022 still sounds, upon first mention, like when Zenon is scheduled to graduate from college. But it’s actually no more than a few years from now, and it also happens to be the year that NASCAR could possibly maybe introduce some element of hybridization into its race cars.
Yep, hybrid NASCAR. Welcome to the future, folks.
While some of you are probably getting your torches and pitchforks ready, there have been whispers about hybridization in NASCAR for a little while now, considering that the series is testing a seventh-generation race car scheduled to debut at the start of the 2021 season and that driver Brad Keselowski published a column in favor of going hybrid on the NASCAR website just last year.
But now we’re starting to hear some actual recognition of the idea from NASCAR, such as what its vice president of innovation and racing development, John Probst, told TechCrunch recently—that some hybrid element could arrive by 2022.
Probst also mentioned NASCAR is “pushing to go full electric.” From the story:
“We travel the world visiting other sanctioning bodies and are not ignorant to the fact that the world’s going towards more hybrid technology,” Probst told TechCrunch during a track-side interview at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“We’re pushing to go full electric. I don’t know where the balance nets out for us long-term, but some form of hybrid technology is certainly on our radar…after 2021,” he said.
A NASCAR rep speaking on background added further clarification saying, “Nothing is fully confirmed until it hits the race track. That said, hybrid tech could certainly be in our cars by 2022, if all plans stay on track.”
With the planned 2021 rollout for the seventh-generation car, it would mean, if things stay on schedule, that hybrids would come after at least one full season without the technology in the new car.
The interview then went toward application of the technology, and TechCrunch wrote that NASCAR would likely debut hybrid tech where cars brake more, like road courses and short tracks, for the purpose of regenerative braking. NASCAR now runs a low-horsepower, high-downforce package at many tracks that leads to drivers running wide open, and that seems to be the idea for the future, but Probst told TechCrunch he thinks “there are also some deployment options for intermediates and our speedways that can be explored.”
Here is more on ideas for deployment, via TechCrunch:
“Is it deployed automatically in some pre-canned strategy? Is it deployed in the form of a button that the driver hits to get extra power to make a pass or complete a pass? Those are all areas that we have to look at,” Probst said.
“I think you could…use the engine to actually do the regen. So the driver gives up an amount of power, knowing that he’s recharging the battery to then strategically use the boost later on in the race.”
While it might seem sensible for NASCAR to move toward hybridization and “keep up with road technology,” NASCAR’s been in its own realm for a long time. The top-level Cup Series currently runs pushrod V8 engines that, as of a few years ago, got just over 4 mpg.
When thinking about the hybridization or future electrification of a racing series, though, it’s important to remember that motorsport of any kind is a wasteful extravagance no matter the means by which it’s powered. It’s a sport in which race cars eat tires and drivers wreck into each other, after all, totaling entire pieces of expensive machinery and building new ones in the process.
But slightly less waste and environmental harm is some improvement, even if “hybrid NASCAR” sounds, well, weird.