The notion that racing hybrids need regenerative braking to keep their batteries topped off led many to immediately discount the usefulness of similar systems for IndyCar oval racing with little to no braking on track. However, Honda believes the opposite will be true when hybrid systems are finally introduced to the IndyCar Series in 2024.
Motorsport.com reported that Honda Performance Development (HPD), the automaker’s American motorsport division, has found that the spec Mahle-built hybrid units are most capable on ovals through the system’s development. HPD President David Salters told the outlet:
“The original discussion was ‘we’re not sure you can actually use this on an oval’ but it might turn out where it’s the most effective. We’ll see. I think we might end up with some unintended cool stuff.”
“You tend to draft a lot on ovals, and the car in front makes the hole in the air, so maybe you want to be clever, so it actually gives you much more control. We don’t really want pack racing, we want more overtaking, but with the electrical stuff you can recover here, then you can do what you want.”
“We want to give more [control] to the drivers, so they can do some different stuff to use it. There are places on ovals where you save energy, and then you can redeploy it, so maybe you use the smarts of the driver over when to do that.”
The theory is that instead of easing off the throttle to stay tucked in the slipstream of a leading car, a following driver will feed the excess power into the hybrid system’s supercapacitor. The stored energy could then be deployed to make a difficult pass or defend from cars behind.
Hybrid deployment will likely become another tool for drivers to use on ovals alongside the weight jacker, the anti-roll bars and the engine fuel maps. Its introduction might have been delayed by two years, but hybrids could be quickly embraced as a new element to oval racing in IndyCar.