INDIANAPOLIS — Four current NTT IndyCar Series drivers, using their 2021 cars, were testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. But, Friday’s session wasn’t about 2021. This one was with an eye towards the future.
See, two Honda drivers and two Chevrolet drivers were working on a potential use of push to pass on ovals when the new engine comes out for the start of the 2023 season. On Friday morning, Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward were working on single cars runs to establish a good baseline setup. They’d do so for two hours.
Following an hour break for lunch and to also work on the cars, the four of them would spend the remaining time on track to work on multiple push to pass options that could potentially be used once the new engine regulations begin in a couple of years.
How well did this work? Well, the session ended almost an hour earlier than the scheduled time due to the amount of data that was accumulated from the session.
“When we came into this, we thought really at the end of the day that this would precipitate more questions than answers. That’s probably what happened, right,” said Jay Frye, President of INDYCAR. “Which is fine. That’s what we expected.
“We did learn a lot. But it did also create a lot of other questions.”
Frye said that when we get to the 2023 season, the new 2.4-liter engine will produce 100 more horsepower than we already have now. When the hybrid kicks in, that’s an additional 100 horsepower on top of that.
“This push to pass program we can simulate on how that could possibly look. So that what we tried to do today,” Frye continued.
He also said that the drivers all had their moments on Friday due to the cornering speed been vastly higher with this formula than the current one, but they all had different reactions and all had a good day of learning.
“I think today we’ve got a lot of data off the car in a direction on what approach to go with,” he said. “In the way that we have push to pass, with the hybrid system that would kind of be obsolete. You’ll have a bank of energy that you have with the hybrid system that once it will go away, that you will be able to recharge it so it will be on all the time basically. With push to pass there’s an amount of time or there’s an amount of pushes. That’s what we looked at today. We just gave the drivers for every 200 seconds, you’re going to go do a 20 lap run. Use it as you want it. Most used about half, so 100 seconds. It was interesting to see how it played out.”
Frye said that they did get some interesting data in that one of the interesting things today, they had a 20 lap run without it and a 20 lap run where it was 10 seconds in duration and one with 5 seconds. The drivers actually liked the shorter one.
“We learned that. We thought that was interesting,” Frye said. “We thought they would have liked that for a longer time. This is new. We’ve never done this on an oval. We’ve tested it at Pocono, Texas and Phoenix before but that was with the old package. For this new one, it definitely is much better than it was before which is cool.”
Scott Dixon said that today was loads of differences between the current car that he’s running in comparison to the direction that INDYCAR could end up in 2023.
“Obviously there’s a lot of power and some of the durations are quite long,” Dixon said. “10 seconds at 70-80 horsepower, especially in a car that’s trimmed out. Your average lap speed could jump by several mph. There’s some good changes to see how you can apply that and to what effect or not effect on the tire and in regards to running in traffic.”
2016 Indianapolis 500 champion, Alexander Rossi, agreed.
“Yes it’s a pretty big horsepower boost with the push to pass,” said the Andretti Autosport driver. “We’re going to have to look at it to see if it changed anything for the better or worse. It’s definitely different. We got that test accomplished and have some hard data to look at for the future.”
Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden said that it was a good day from his perspective and that he came into today without any expectations on what to expect.
“I came into today with no expectations just because it’s a mission gathering day for all of us,” the Team Penske driver said. “We were here all four cars to help INDYCAR. We do these tests periodically. Whether new components for the future or new thoughts processes for the future. INDYCAR wanted to gather some data on push to pass and I understand that for some future engine regulations in the future in terms of usage.
“I thought it went well. When you learn something in testing you’re happy about it. I thought we learned some stuff today on our cars on how things works and how they could potentially work in use scenario.
“The horsepower bump was tunable. You could definitely raise the horsepower increase up or down so that jump in the performance off the corner could be bigger or smaller. The length of it is all adjustable. We ran through a couple of scenarios and a couple of configurations. It’s definitely noticeable. A couple of configurations were noticeable. If you want to run a system like that, it’s really what’s the right configuration to give to the field. I think that’s the type of info we were trying to arm INDYCAR with and now it’s on to them to see what we do in the future.”
Both Dixon and Rossi felt like some changes could definitely be made still and that the 2.5-mile oval here on the west side of Indianapolis may have an averse effect in the sense that you can still get a large tow on the long straightaways.
“The tow is still very strong here,” Dixon said. “We’re trying to figure out what areas need to be worked on. I necessarily don’t think it’s the acceleration of the car on the straights. I think this car, even in comparison to the last car, the tow is probably double of what we used to have. For me I think it’s more of a function of how close you can run in the corner and how the dirty air affects the front of the car. I think that’s the standout. It was good to just run through those options and to see how we can apply it. I think it’s an easy application on road and street once we get to hybrid. It’s just trying to figure out on what it applies especially for a superspeedway. I think a short course won’t be much drama.”
Dixon said that one frustration with the current use of push to pass is that drivers use it to defend also. With getting a tow on the straights here, does push to pass counter that for the lead car?
“Most of the time you have push to defend on the road course races which becomes very, very frustrating when you’re trying to overtake lapped cars. Then you get manufacturers fighting when you’re trying to get the lapped car in trying to defend the opposite manufacturer,” Dixon said. “On the oval, you could definitely push to defend but then again the tow is pretty big and it affected the cars more two, three and four in line than the first two. There was some difference in some different options.”
Both Dixon and Rossi both said that the speeds entering the corners were definitely higher which obviously changed their approach to corner entry.
“It just upped the speeds, so the tire got hurt more,” Dixon said. “It’s an interesting situation when you have lots of overtake.”
Rossi, said that you had to go slower in the corners to make up for that.
“The faster you go the more load that goes into the tire,” he said.
Another part of the data that some changes could occur in are for how long the push to passes are used and if the button locks you out.
“Say you have 10 seconds of use but once you use the 10 seconds how long does it lock you out for,” Dixon said. “So that can be a problem too. Then you also have the factor if you get 10 seconds and it locks you out for 30 once you got off the throttle, that’s not really fair if you’re only going to use 5. So you should be able to turn it off and on depending on use that full 10. Today was trying to understand how it applies.”
Rossi fully agreed.
“That was a conversation that was actually brought up with Scott (Dixon),” he told me. “With the way that it was currently setup, when you push it, you were then locked out for a period of time. So, if you pushed it, the last thing you want to do is not make the most of it. So, you have that dynamic that comes into play, especially on starts and restarts. A lot of guys have it and some guys don’t, it could create a big effect.”
Rossi, was the most outspoken of the four about the push to pass as he doesn’t necessarily think that they need it here. He said that they tested different iterations on how long the push to passes were active for. It was a little bit better in one configuration than another but he didn’t think it ultimately changed much.”
“I do not,” Rossi said on if this would be helpful for 2023.
“I think that there’s always areas to improve the oval package and I think those areas are pretty clear and understood from all of us and we’ve all kind of had the same balance shifts. This is attempting to be a solution to the problem but I think there always is a long list of suggestions of solutions and this is just one of them.”
Part of his concerns are that Indy is a fuel mileage place. If you’re leading, you’re burning more fuel. The more horsepower boosts you also use, you’re burning even more fuel. So, he feels like most won’t use it much until the end anyways.
“It’s hard to say because ultimately we had the same amount (of push to passes),” Rossi said on Friday. “Everybody is doing the same thing. I think you can get in a situation where you have a guy who’s used them all against a guy who hasn’t and that’s going to make a huge difference. But, Indianapolis for the most part is a fuel race. You don’t want to lead and burn fuel. So, using push to pass liberally doesn’t seem like a reality. When you get to the end of the race everyone will probably have the same amount which would be a moot point in that respect. I think with the way that our current system works that it won’t change anything. But this is all for view to 2023 where push to pass could have different applications on how you use the energy and restore the energy and so forth.”
Rossi did like the fact that you could feel the power activate but not necessarily feel it go away when it ends.
Jay Frye said that the new engine formula will push 900 horsepower as is. But, he doesn’t think the addition of 200 additional horsepower from 2022 to 2023 is smart.
“It’s pushing 900. So even in the hybrid system, it has potential to have 100 more right out of the box. That doesn’t mean that we’ll do that,” Frye said. “We might do that over a period of time. The new 2.4-liter will have 100 right out of the box. Probably going into 2023 with 200 more is a little bit too much. So you just look at the hybrid system to look at how to limit that and then in a period of time, we’ll increase the power for the hybrid.”
Fall Test Session Paid Off
INDYCAR held a test at the end of October at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help the superspeedway racing package. The race last August featured a lot of single file racing with on track passing being really hard to do.
See, from 2012 through 2017, the racing at Indy looked like something you’d see NASCAR have at Daytona or Talladega. No, it wasn’t a “pack race” but rather a sling shot race to where you don’t want to be leading. The tow as well as the drag was so big in those cars, that it made passing easy.
INDYCAR wanted to reel that in a bit. Unfortunately, they went too far in the other direction. Since this new car came out in 2018, passing has been great on road/street courses as well as short ovals. Indy, well it’s been really difficult.
The series knows that they can’t go too far the other way because it could create artificial racing. Passing isn’t supposed to be easy. The faster cars are supposed to be up front. They’re just searching for a happy medium, hence the potential of push to pass for 2023.
But, for the immediate future, the test in October was to help for the 105th Running this May. Well, by the sounds of things, it seems like the test went so well that setups from that test were used as a baseline for today’s session.
“Everything that we’ve found in the November test from that aero dynamic side was already on the cars today,” said Rossi. “So that package that we kind of adjusted for 2021 already exists. It’s what we had here is what we will race in May. The push to pass was just with a view to the future and once the hybrid systems become a reality and we can use that to change the way the race goes.”
Frye said that he thinks the aero changes they’ve made to the car for this year’s Indy 500 will be “really good.”