Opinion: are hybrid and electric a smart play in motorsport?
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The American IndyCar series is going hybrid.
In 2022 the series will join Formula 1 as the second leading open wheel formula to adopt a turbocharged, partially battery-powered, electric motor equipped, motive power unit.
The specific details of how the power will be harvested and then distributed is yet to be revealed but in an effort to keep costs down, a standard, much less expensive, system will be used across all cars, unlike Formula 1.
IndyCar already boasts its “green” credentials by using E85 fuel, a blend of 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent petrol, unlike F1 but very much like New Zealand’s Castrol Toyota Racing Series.
Many think the move is going to harm the series by making it more expensive and potentially quieter, although IndyCar maintains hat the series’ criteria being “fast, loud, authentic and unapologetic” will be maintained.
The British Touring Car Championship also announced plans to go down a similar route by introducing regulations that will include hybrids from 2021.
Admittedly the system the series is envisioning is different from F1 and IndyCar — and considerably cheaper — but the BTCC will be the first front-line touring car category to adopt the principle.
The system will be used as a short term “boost” for overtaking.
For the BTCC, the move to hybrid is logical as the cars used are based on production models, and identifiable as such, and with hybrid vehicle development becoming an integral part of almost every major manufacturers model range, it is a rational step.
So, who will be next to join the hybrid rush?
It seems that may well be the Australian Supercar series.
Technology is getting more affordable by the week and lends the right image to any racing category, particularly a “tin-top” series.
The Supercars are identifiable as production road cars, despite their racing chassis, mechanicals and engines, with purebred racing DNA hiding under the innocuous cloak of the exterior shell.
Supercars is looking at its future and technical specifics are among a raft of changes that will arrive with its Next Generation of cars, slated to be in 2021-2022.
Series boss Sean Seamer says he is “always talking” with the IndyCar and BTCC series around the technology.
It seems that the much loved, definitive roar of a V12, V10, V8, or even a naturally aspirated V6 racing engine may soon only be seen on track in historic racing or exist in the memories of misty-eyed race fans watching old replays of famous races of the past.
But wait, we still have Nascar.
As much as hybrid technology advances, as much as the technology of the battery or the method of harvesting energy from the brakes pushes forwards, I cannot see those Nascar fans accepting any further dilution of that quintessential style of racing.
As one of them said recently “We already use ethanol [E15 — 15 per cent ethanol, 85 per cent petrol).
“Just how much more green can we get?”