INDYCAR looks to a future with more horsepower in Indianapolis Motor Speedway test

The No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet leads a quartet of cars during a March test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Owens)

By Steve Wittich

A quartet of drivers – Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Pato O’Ward, and Alexander Rossi – took to the 112-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval to help INDYCAR in preparation for the introduction of the 2.4 liter (146 cubic inches), twin-turbocharged power plants with hybrid power for the 2023 season.

To simulate the potential 200 horsepower increase – 100 hp for the change in displacement from 2.2 liters to 2.4 liters, and 100hp from the hybrid system – drivers were given various length pushes of the current push-to-pass system.

“We came into today thinking this would precipitate more questions than answers, and that’s probably what happened,” said Jay Frye, President, INDYCAR. “So that’s fine. We’re looking at how this could work in 2023 with the new hybrid system coming in.

“We did learn a lot. But it did also create a lot of other questions.”

After the test, the four drivers confirmed the pronouncement from Frye.

Some, like six-time INDYCAR champion Dixon, were measured in their adjudication, with the Kiwi saying:

“I think we’re still trying to figure out what areas need to be worked on. I don’t necessarily think it’s the acceleration of the car on the straight.

“I think this car, compared to the last car, the tow is double what we had. I think for me, it’s more a function of how it gets through the corner, how close you can run, and how the dirty air affects the front of the car. That, for me, is a bit of a standout.

“It was good to just run through those options and see how we can apply it. I think it’s an easy application on the road and street (circuits) once we get to hybrid.

“It’s just trying to figure out what applies for ovals, especially a superspeedway. I don’t think a short oval is too much of a drama.”

Then you have the always brutally honest Rossi, who, when asked if he thought an application of power similar to what was tested today would be helpful, answered bluntly:

“I do not.”

The 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion expounded on that, saying:

“I think that there are always areas to improve the oval package, and those areas are pretty clear and understood from all of us, and we all had the same balance shifts and sensations. This is attempting to be a solution to the problem. But, there is always a long list of suggestions of solutions, and this is just one of them.”

Those impressions were echoed by O’Ward and Newgarden and confirm Frye’s comment that there are more questions to be answered.

Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden – winners of 16 of the last 31 NTT INDYCAR SERIES – chat after a test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in March 2021 (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Owens)

The main thrust of the test was in preparation for the introduction of the new engine formula in 2023. However, with a green track needing rubber before the increased boost, the same four drivers tested in November were able to verify the aerodynamic changes in place for the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

“I think the aero changes we’ve made to the car for this year’s Indianapolis 500 will be really good,” explained Frye. “That’s what they were running today. And the same drivers we had last fall did the same program today and with the push to pass too, so there were no surprises.”

What else did we learn?

Frye told us that the timeframe for testing of the new engines to begin in January or February 2022.

Dixon told us that a power boost like this would mean more use of the brakes during the Indianapolis 500, and that would be especially true in traffic.

Rossi told us that the extra power exacerbated whatever handling ills your race car had and necessitated a different approach to the turns.

The hybrid solution will have the ability to produce 100 horsepower. Frye explained that it could be implemented over time.

O’Ward echoed Dixon in mentioning that push-to-pass could work on a shorter oval like World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway, where it can be tough to overtake.

Indianapolis Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II visited the track with the NFL team’s mascot Blue. He had a chance to chat with Newgarden and O’Ward.

Pato O’Ward chats with Indianapolis Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Owens)

Thoughts from Steve

“At the end of the day, we want to make the show better for the fans,” said Arrow McLaren SP’s O’Ward. “I think we’re heading in a good direction.”

First, what O’Ward said is the key to the survival of racing and the fact the INDYCAR is working two years ahead of the introduction of the new engine to put on the best possible show for the fans is hugely positive.

Second, at the very least, today’s test will give partners like Firestone, Xtrac, PFC Brakes, and Dallara some early data to help them provide the best solutions in 2023.

Alexander Rossi, in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda crosses the ‘yard of bricks’ during testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Owens)