Hybrid Gives Drivers More Options, Mental Challenges

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The much-anticipated NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut of the 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine with hybrid power takes place this weekend at The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the 2025 Civic Hybrid.

The advanced technology will change the way the drivers attack the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, and every other track moving forward.

“This (existing engine) is all I’ve known for INDYCAR since I’ve been a driver in it,” said Andretti Global with Curb-Agajanian driver Colton Herta, who made his full-time series debut in 2019. “It is exciting to have a little bit of a change with the hybrid technology. I know a lot of people are excited about it from the engine manufacturer’s side because it’s a new challenge for everybody.

“And definitely for the driver’s side, it seems more challenging, as well.”

While the cars feature the same look and the noise erupting from the engines producing the same pitch, drivers will be busier inside the cockpit than on previous race weekends.

“I think the drivers that have a lot of brain capacity are going to be the ones that come out on top,” Andretti Global driver Marcus Ericsson said. “Now we have the hybrid unit and different settings on that and deploy and regenerate. A lot of things going on behind the wheel, and to do all that with tire wear with cars side by side with you, it’s going be tough. It’s going to be tricky.”

Deployment of the hybrid assist is only available through a latching button similar to the existing Push to Pass system. On road and street courses, the hybrid assist can be used with Push to Pass. Both have parameters in place. Push to Pass will still have a restriction on the amount of time per use and total time used over the course of a race. Rules for the hybrid power unit will limit the amount of energy deployed per lap based on track length.

For competition, options for automatic regeneration via braking or throttle position and manual regeneration via selected steering wheel paddles and buttons will be available.

“Some drivers like to jump in and just drive and don’t think about anything, and I think that’s not going to work very well in these cars with the hybrid,” Ericsson said.

When combining the hybrid assist and Push to Pass, a combined 120-plus additional horsepower will be pulsating through these machines. When the hybrid assist button is deployed, additional horsepower is engaged. More horsepower will change the car’s handling.

The other aspect is when using the hybrid assist, eventually the power is going to run out. A driver must regenerate the hybrid unit for future use. When losing horsepower during regeneration, the car will handle differently than it would when having additional horsepower.

With an option not to use the hybrid assist, some drivers wonder if they should focus on landing the ideal car setup for a stable gameplan, especially on short ovals. Does the counterbalance of the added power versus losing power during regeneration outweigh a better setup?

That decision on how engineers attack a race weekend could come into play.

Inside the cockpit, a driver can alter tools on the steering wheel through a variety of options to counter the balance shifts, too.

“You have to be on top of your tools,” Ericsson said. “The best drivers are the ones that really are on top of their tools, and the hybrid is going to make it even more important.

“It’s definitely a tool that I think from track to track, from team to team to manufacturer to manufacturer, you have different techniques on how to use it. That’s what I like about it, that it hopefully is going to be something that you can do different to your competitors.”

2015 Mid-Ohio winner Graham Rahal said managing tires is another factor. Rahal noted that more horsepower means there will be more power transferring through the rear Firestone Firehawk racing tires, which could change driving styles to reduce tire wear.

With all those factors at play, a driver will need to be strategic in use of the hybrid system.

“When do you use it?” Rahal said. “How much do you use it? There’s a lot of thinking to do in a short period of time I think this is going to be important.

“Also, you have your amount of deploy you’re allowed per lap, right? Where do you utilize that? How much do you utilize it per straight? Do you use it once into the headwind? Twice, once in the front, once in the back? What is the net effect?

“There’s a lot you can do.”

Ericsson said being busier behind the wheel could increase the likelihood of mistakes being made, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Drivers who grasp how to use this technology better than others will stand out.

“It’s going to be a bit more difficult, but that’s why we’re here,” Ericsson said. “We’re some of the best drivers in the world driving this car. If it would be easy, everyone could do it.”

Another challenge will be in qualifying. The extra power from the hybrid could increase rear tire wear, which could limit drivers to just one flying lap on the softer, grippier Firestone alternate tires during the Firestone Fast Six competition for the NTT P1 Award.

On road and street courses, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES uses a knockout qualifying format. The first two rounds will feature at least 13 cars on track. At a place like Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as an example, finding a gap with only 2.258 miles to work has always been a challenge. Now, with a hybrid assist tool with more horsepower available, if a driver is on the lever for more power and runs into traffic on track, they are trouble because the tires will already have worn past optimum grip, compromising a chance of making it out of a round.

“I think, especially qualifying, it’s going to come down to just use it when you feel like you’re going to use it or you just burn it all on the first lap and leave it as it is,” Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Christian Lundgaard said. “That comes down to you’re going to have a balance shift for the second lap.”


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