When IndyCar announced earlier this month that it was delaying its new engine formula from 2023 to 2024, it was another sign of how worldwide supply chain issues were having an impact in professional motorsports.
The March 3 announcement meant IndyCar’s return to 900 to 950 horsepower “Beasts” would have to wait another year, as would the series’ leap into the hybrid era.
But there are unintended benefits to delaying the 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged, V-6 engine featuring hybrid assist. It gives team owners more time to financially prepare for the major expense.
The NTT IndyCar Series has grown to 26 full-time entries. There were 27 cars that competed in the March 20 XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway. The 106thIndianapolis 500 on May 29 will feature its traditional 33-car starting lineup.
Back in the so-called glory days of Cart in the 1990s, a full field was 28 cars.
Because of the supply chain issue, IndyCar, its teams, and manufacturers have one more year to develop the hybrid assist engine and financially prepare for the major change to the cars and the added budget expenditure.
Forbes SportsMoney had an exclusive interview with IndyCar President Jay Frye last Thursday as his staff prepares for a manufacturer’s test of the new engine scheduled for March 28 and March 29 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
“Any time you can delay an expenditure, or the timing of the delay, it can help you,” Frye said. “If you delay an expenditure and it is on top of another one, maybe that is worse because you aren’t spreading it out over a number of years.
“In this regard, however, I’m sure it helps. We talked to the owners last October to give them an initial look at how much it will cost. We talk to them often and it was in the same ballpark of what we’ve been talking about.
“But again, the delay will give them another year to plan for it so that does help.”
The 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged, V-6 engine will eventually include hybrid assist that is expected to boost horsepower by 50 hp to 100 hp to exceed 900 to 950 total horsepower.
Ideally, that will provide an additional boost of speed, creating even faster cars in every IndyCar contest and make the racing even more thrilling.
But with key parts, components and materials all delayed, there was simply no way IndyCar could guarantee the 75 to 100 additional new engines in time for the 2023 season.
“That is why we announced the delay of the engine a month ago,” Frye said. “We had to decide at that point, we were at a point of no return with the 2.2-liter. If we had gone full speed ahead and couldn’t have gotten the inventories of the 2.4-liter engine done in time, we would have been in trouble because they couldn’t have gone back and got parts for the 2.2.
“It seemed like why we were pulling the plug so early on the engine for 2023 when we announced it a month ago. That’s basically why. Because of the supply chain issue that is going on right now, if we didn’t do it at that point, there was no return and no insurance policy. We have to go race in 2023.
“Now, we know we are going to in 2023 with the 2.2s and will be fine. The manufacturers have inventories. There will be updates, but it’s not starting over.
“Starting over would be a big deal.”
In Frye’s position, it is important to forecast years into the future. In fact, he loves to come up with what he calls five-year plans.
He only needed to look one year into the future to come to this decision.
“The biggest issue going forward won’t be the development part of the process, it will be when the engines need to be built for the following season, they will need to build 70 to 100 of them,” Frye continued. “That is where the supply chain comes into play.
“It’s not to build a one-off, or four, or five or seven of them; it’s more about the volume of engines that have to be built. That’s where the supply chain has the largest effect.
“Chevy and Honda have both done a competitive job. The 2.4-liter engine could have come on line in 2023, but when we do this program, it’s supposed to be a package deal. So, we have delayed the entire project to 2024.”
Team owner Michael Shank can be used as an example of an IndyCar success story as a team owner. Already a highly successful sports car team owner in IMSA, Shank started out as an Indy 500-only team owner in 2017 with Jack Harvey as his driver. He increased his schedule to six IndyCar races in 2018, 10 in 2019 and a full-season 14 races during the COVID-plagued 2020 season.
He added Helio Castroneves to the team for the final three races of 2020 and to a part-time schedule in 2021.
Castroneves gave Meyer-Shank Racing its first IndyCar win in the 105thIndianapolis 500 on May 30, 2021. With the victory, Castroneves became the fourth, four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.
Harvey left for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing; Castroneves was named to a full-time ride in 2022. The team expanded to a second full-time driver with the addition of 2016 IndyCar Series champion and 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud.
During IndyCar’s renaissance, Meyer-Shank Racing was able to grow from a one-race effort in 2017 to two full-time, fully sponsored cars in 2022.
In an interview with Forbes, Shank said he can defray costs for another year with the new engine, but believes it is very important to Chevrolet and Honda to move forward with the hybrid-assist engine to align itself with the automotive industry.
“I can tell you it’s not the greatest thing to our engine partner at Honda just because of the way they had to sell this to corporate Honda in Japan,” Shank said. “It’s probably not the best thing for that and that is important for me.
“From a team standpoint, it’s OK for us because it does shove it down the road a little bit longer and it allows for the process to develop a little better.
“My fear is we get into this development cycle, and we are DNFing (did not finish) races because we aren’t ready for it yet, the integration of the hybrid and power units. I like the idea of pushing it off from that perspective. It’s a little bit of a mixed bag for me.
“From the sports car side, we are bringing in the hybrid for 2023 so that part is good, and we’ll have some experience with it in-house.”
Frye believes the extra year in development will help fine-tune the hybrid assist component so that it is even more reliable in 2024.
“Just like from a budgetary perspective, the delay has helped from a development standpoint with that,” Frye said. “They have had at least a 12-month start on the hybrid part. The manufacturers were very comfortable and wanted to get that part of the project out and tested.
“There are two pieces to this. There is the engine and there is the hybrid. If we can start testing the engine and working out any bugs and issues we might have now, and then the hybrid being a bolt-on piece, in that regard this will probably work out even better.
“Do the engine first, then the hybrid.”
With the addition of the cockpit protection system known as the aeroscreen that began in 2020, and with the extra weight from the hybrid assist component, the current Indy car needs to go on a diet.
Drivers who have tested a simulated car with the extra weight on it said the cars are getting too heavy.
“We have knocked off 40 percent of the weight of this project from the beginning to where it is now,” Frye said. “The delay can help with that part. Maybe there are a few more things we can do between now and its implementation in 2024 to lighten it up even more.
“That is one of the benefits of the delay – we will continue to work on the overall weight of the car and hybrid project to see if there is something we can do there to make it better.”
There are other issues for Frye and IndyCar to consider. When does IndyCar consider the development of a new car? That doesn’t appear to be high on the priority list at the moment.
“We could probably use a new car in IndyCar,” 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.”
There is also growing talk by several IndyCar team owners connecting Toyota to IndyCar.
Frye indicated with IndyCar’s growing field; a third engine manufacturer has become a necessity.
“We talk to many; many manufacturers and we talk to them every day,” Frye said. “We couldn’t be prouder of our two partners at Chevrolet and Honda to do a long-term extension with them during a pandemic. That can’t be understated.
“From a new partner coming in, there are only so many. Of course, we are talking to all of them. It would be great to have a third or a fourth. That is ongoing and I don’t know that will stop even if we get a third OEM.”
The extra year delay in implementing IndyCar’s new engine could allow a potential third manufacturer to make the leap and join IndyCar.
First, that manufacturer would have to consider if IndyCar is worth an additional investment of several hundred million dollars as an engine supplier.
But if that were to happen, it would be the most valuable benefit to IndyCar’s new engine delay.