Graham Rahal

Six NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams started a fact-finding mission Thursday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, using the new hybrid system on the series’ 2.2-liter twin-turbocharged engine for the first time.

With thousands of miles completed during a thorough process of winter development, this was the first on-track time with the hybrid for AJ Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing, Meyer Shank Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The hybrid assist unit, unique to INDYCAR, will debut later this season, after the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

The early verdict from the debutants with the hybrid system? So far, so good.

“It’s fairly similar,” said Rinus VeeKay, driver of the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. “There's just a lot more buttons for me to press and a lot more stuff you need to go through.”

VeeKay joined Tom Blomqvist (Meyer Shank Racing), Romain Grosjean (Juncos Hollinger Racing), Jack Harvey (Dale Coyne Racing), Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and Sting Ray Robb (AJ Foyt Racing) on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course that will host the Sonsio Grand Prix on Saturday, May 11.

Between the six drivers, 400 laps were turned Thursday, with 975.6 miles completed.

INDYCAR’s hybrid power unit, a collaboration between Chevrolet and Honda, will enhance the racing action with additional horsepower and further the series’ efforts to deliver the most competitive motorsport on the planet. The new 2.2-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 engine with hybrid technology will feature additional overtake (“push-to-pass”) options, ultimately giving INDYCAR SERIES drivers more choices and control – enhancing the on-track competition and excitement.

Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, said he can feel the instantaneous power of the hybrid. The new technology will provide numerous new strategic options for the drivers and teams, Rahal said.

“It’s a whole new ball of wax for me,” Rahal said. “To understand how you do the (hybrid regeneration), whether it's automatic regen, braking regen, throttle regen manual, which is interesting because I think everybody will play it a little bit different. It's an element that you we're going to have to watch a lot. Manufacturers are probably going to be different, too.

“But I would say so far, so good.”

Rahal said the hybrid will create quicker times in qualifying and, interestingly, could change the handling of the car.

“It’s not like push-to-pass where that’s limited,” Rahal said. “You will be limited on the lap just from a usage perspective because there's only so many spots that you can get the deployment done, but also the regen side, you got to fill the battery back up before you use it. So, every brake zone, you're trying to fill the (Energy Storage System).

“But if you go too far, it changes the brake bias in the car, and we'll move the brake bias forward because it's not utilizing any regen, so it'll just move it forward 4 percent or lock up brakes and go crazy. So, you're trying to balance these numbers in your head on every straightaway, and we've got long straightaways here at IMS.”

Onboard starting also will be a key bonus of the hybrid. Existing INDYCAR SERIES engines need an external starter to fire, but the hybrid power unit will be able to start the cars – avoiding the need for the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team to be deployed if the car stalls on track.

VeeKay said he started his No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet from pit road, which brought a thunderous cheer from his timing stand. He said onboard starting should create less stoppages in practice, qualifying and the race.

Initial on-track testing of hybrid power unit concepts began in October 2022. Additional 2023 testing sessions included ovals at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Milwaukee Mile and World Wide Technology Raceway, and road courses at Barber Motorsports Park, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Road America. Before Thursday’s test, more than than 21,108 miles had been successfully completed with the new power unit among 15 NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers.

So far in 2024, multiple test dates have occurred, with this test March 28-30 at IMS being the latest opportunity.