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During a weather-interrupted private manufacturer’s test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that took three days to finally complete, part of IndyCar’s future was finally revealed.

It was the 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine that is capable of producing 900 horsepower that took laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The initial test did not include the new hybrid-assist unit that will increase the horsepower even more – into the 950 to 975 range.

A new engine is on its way, scheduled to hit the track in 2024 after a one-year delay because of supply chain issues prohibiting Honda and Chevrolet from build 75 to 100 engines in time for the 2023 season.

But don’t expect a new car for that new engine any time soon.

In an exclusive interview with IndyCar President Jay Frye, there are many reasons why a new car is not a high priority.

“There has been conversation of a new car, but what is the new car?” Frye asked. “Is it where we continue to work on what we have and update it to make it better, lighter, that type of thing?

“There are 100 things we are working on. The first part is the engine and hybrid piece, how it is going to fit in an existing car and how it is going to work moving forward.

“Our racing product has been very good. Why would a new car make what we are currently doing better?”

The current Indy car debuted in 2012 and was termed the DW-12 after two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16, 2011. Wheldon had been the lead test driver for Dallara during the development of that car.

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By utilizing Dallara as its single constructor, IndyCar was able to cap the price of each car at $349,000 per chassis at that time.

Since it debuted in 2012, however, the car itself has had several iterations. From 2012 to 2015, the rear wheels were nearly covered with bodywork. While that may not have been aesthetically pleasing, the shape of the car created an aerodynamic “wake” that produced some incredible racing.

The original concept called for aero kits that could differentiate one car from another. Without bringing in a new company to build the aero kits, Honda and Chevrolet agreed to utilize competitive aero kits beginning in 2015.

Although there was a tremendous amount of engineering in the design of each piece, the competitive kits looked cluttered, like a car built from the children’s toy, LEGO.

The competitive kits also split the field in half. Chevrolet had designed a kit that performed better than the Honda kit and put half the field at a disadvantage.

Honda team owners squawked, none louder than Michael Andretti. Other team owners, such as Dale Coyne, thought it was a ridiculous expense for the teams to pay $75,000 for aero kits and even more for parts when that money should be spent on promoting the series and increasing its television package.

Then IndyCar President of Competition Derrick Walker felt the brunt of the controversy and resigned, effective the final race of the 2015 season.

Frye took over as IndyCar President and one of his first projects was scrapping the competitive kits in favor of a universal aero kit. He froze the rules in 2017 while the universal kit was being developed, tested, and ultimately approved.

The result was a cleaner, sleeker car that appeared more like a traditional Indy car but also had a forward look to its design.

The car was renamed the IR18 hit the track in 2018.

“When we went from the 2017 OEM aero kit to the 2018 car, from a fan perspective, did it look like a different car?” Frye asked. “Of course it did.

“We could have a new tub tomorrow and it could be lighter and have no effect or look to that car. There are many parts and pieces to this equation.”

Essentially, that is the same car that is on the track today but includes one major addition.

It’s the cockpit protection device known as the aeroscreen that was added in 2020. It looks like a jet fighter canopy that is open on top but rises enough over the driver’s helmet to provide significant protection.

According to my interview with Frye, with a new engine including hybrid assist on its way, the series does not want to add another major expense to the team’s budgets with a new car.

“When we do this plan, the worst thing we can do from an economic standpoint to a team is obsolete parts and pieces without them being aware,” Frye said. “Any time we do something like that, unless it’s for a safety thing, we try to give them 24 months’ notice.

“For example, if we are changing brakes, you have 24 months to go through your current inventory, manage your inventory like in 24 months those parts are going way.

“Anything we do has that kind of lead time on it. That is why when we do these plans, it will be built four or five years out.

“It evolves,” Frye continued. “When people talk about a new car, that means lots of different things. Right now, we know in 2024 we are doing a new engine with a hybrid. What does that look like and what does that take?”

Frye has informed IndyCar teams of its plans through “Black” and “Red” topics.

“Black means it’s locked in, something we have confirmed we are doing,” Frye explained. “Red means it’s something we are looking at and are evaluating.

“The teams have input on all of this. The hybrid and the engine part, there are certain things we had to do, it was just part of that equation. Other things that are more ancillary to the car, we get lots of input on it and it evolves all the time.”

As stated on March 3 and further explained in a recent article on Forbes SportsMoney on March 28, supply shortages led IndyCar to make the decision to delay implementation to the 2.4-liter, hybrid-assist engine from 2023 to 2024.

Creating a new car soon after that could also create additional financial and economic issues for the teams and the series.

“If we were going to make this drastic change to the car, too, some of the supply chain would come into play on that,” Frye said. “When I talked about obsoleting things, teams have cars. We have 26 full-time teams, 27 at Texas. The teams have a good inventory of cars right now. Dallara does a phenomenal job. To make a huge, drastic change, it’s going to take some time.

“That’s something three or four years ago, you wouldn’t have considered. Now, there is also this element that you don’t know because what used to take one month to get takes six months now. Two months from now, it might take eight months to get it. Who knows?

“It’s something we have to be very conscious of.”

Drivers want a new car because the current car has become quite heavy by IndyCar standards. Even with the increase of horsepower, the addition of an aeroscreen and the weight of the hybrid assist component could wash out any gains in speed and acceleration. Several drivers have complained the extra weight means the cars won’t be “nimble” especially on street and road courses.

Engineers want a new car because they want something new to develop. That’s what engineers do.

Team owners however have mixed feelings.

From a racer’s standpoint, they would love the evolution of a new Indy car. But from a business standpoint, they want to maintain a healthy bottom line.

“We could probably use a new car in IndyCar,” team owner Michael Shank said. “I hate to say that because I’m always busting down Jay Frye’s door about costs. The car now is getting so heavy and so dated, we ought to look at here sometime fairly soon and bite the bullet. It will be interesting to see what happens.

“Jay has done a marvelous job at phasing things in, not only the phase-in for team owners, but also the way we pay for them. He has arranged a different way we pay these suppliers when we bring on these big, big updates, and made it really palatable for teams like ours, or any team to be honest.”

Frye and IndyCar are looking for ways to trim weight from the current car to help address that issue. But don’t expect to see a new Indy car on the track any time soon.

Source: Forbes

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