Q&A with … Jay Frye, Mark Stielow, Wayne Gross about Hybrids

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Jay Frye

INDYCAR President Jay Frye was joined July 2 by Mark Stielow, General Motors director of motorsports competition engineering, and Wayne Gross, Honda Racing Corporation manager of trackside engineering, to discuss the debut of the new hybrid unit this weekend during The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the 2025 Civic Hybrid and the collaboration between NTT INDYCAR SERIES engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda to develop the system.

Jay Frye: This project, basically in its current configuration, was born in November of 2022. That's when we helped put this really unique partnership together between Honda and Chevrolet. Since then, we've ran almost 21,000 laps, almost 32,000 miles. Just a spectacular achievement to date.

Now we're headed to Mid-Ohio with 27 cars, so this has all happened within about an 18-month period. I know it seems like a long time, but a lot of work has been done in a really short amount of time.

Big thanks to Honda and Chevrolet as well as our other partners, Dallara and XTRAC. A lot of people have touched this, been involved in this and done a lot of work to get us to this point. We couldn't be more excited about going to Mid-Ohio with the new INDYCAR hybrid era this weekend.

Q: Mark, we'll come to you next. I know from Chevrolet's perspective, it's certainly a unique collaboration, but what has this meant for your program, and why are you so excited about this moment?

Mark Stielow: It's an interesting moment, as Jay alluded to. Honda and Chevy are used to trying to beat each other up every weekend, and this was an opportunity for us to work collaboratively on something for the good of the sport and the good of the series.

I think this has been a huge effort. Thanks to my partners at Honda. Every week, twice a week, we're having meetings, pushing the ball forward on this, and really we got a package pulled together that I think we should all be proud of and happy with, and I couldn't be more thankful to our partners at Honda and our other partners at Ilmor to pull this whole partnership together.

Q: Wayne, it's clear how important hybrid technology is for Honda. It's a project that's really more than just about racing. It's become a part of the fabric of the company, has it not?

Wayne Gross: Absolutely, and I think that's part of why we were so excited to get involved in this project. It's engaged all of our engineers. It's very relevant to the road cars.

You look at Mid-Ohio this weekend presented by the 2025 Civic Hybrid, it's been core to Honda's DNA for many years now, and I think as we go into the electrified future and relating what we do on the racetrack to selling cars -- the old race on Sunday, sell on Monday mantra, so it's really tying it together, and it's something we were pretty excited to get behind and work together with Chevrolet and Ilmor and put them on the racetrack this weekend, so looking forward to it.

Q: Will you start off focusing on reliability, making sure all these units have a long-lasting life before you start pumping up the speed and the horsepower?

Frye: Yes, from our perspective, that's absolutely true. We have nine races left in 2024. We'll bump this thing up in '25 and '26. So, there's a lot of runway to go with this project and this program. Yes, it's very robust where it's at starting in 2024, but there's definitely some runway in '25 and '26.

Q: At the Milwaukee hybrid test, some of the drivers that I spoke with afterward said you really feel it. Others said they would rather feel more. Obviously, drivers always want to feel more horsepower, but where do you have it set at the moment? And how confident is everybody with the supply chain issues?

Frye: I think from the supply perspective, we're in good shape. Obviously, you always want to be better, but I think we're in really good shape right now.

From a performance standpoint, I think we've mentioned this weekend with Push to Pass hybrid unit, they'll be pushing close to 120 horsepower, which is legit. That's a lot of horsepower.

Going on the ovals, they won't have Push to Pass, but it should definitely make a difference. I think it's funny when you mentioned some of them felt it, some of them didn't feel it. Well, that's part of what's going on with this whole program.

We've put all this technology in the drivers' hands. There are multiple ways for them to use it. So, if someone’s feeling it on ovals and others are not, maybe they need to do it a different way?

Again, it was important that the drivers have big input in this, and I think over the next couple years, they'll have even more.

Q: How long do you think it'll take for the drivers to get the hang of yet another tool to use in the cockpit along with all the other Push to Pass, the ride heights, the adjustments, everything else that they have to use inside that cockpit? It can seem like it would be pretty chaotic, especially when they're racing inches apart from each other at very high speeds?

Frye: We've talked to them. We think we have some of the greatest race car drivers in the world, and I know they're excited about this additional tool.

The thing about it, like we've mentioned earlier, we've ran 21,000 laps, 32,000 miles, so there's been a lot of testing on this already. Again, I think it'll be interesting to see this weekend different drivers use it different ways.

They'll all get better at it as we go on, and with us having the most diverse schedule in motorsports, we go from Mid-Ohio this weekend to Iowa next weekend, so it's going to be a completely different thing. So, there will be a lot of different scenarios that I think will play out over the next couple years.

Q: Maybe the two OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) can weigh in on this: How efficient was it to be able to have each OEM focus on one part of the hybrid, one focused on the ESS (Energy Storage System), the other focused on the MGU (Motor Generator Unit)? How efficient was that, and how much did that speed up the timeline?

Stielow: I think it sped things up quite a bit. Honda took on the ESS and owned it. Ilmor and Chevy, with our MGU supplier being in Great Britain, it was good to have them on that side of the pond working on that side. Every week, like I mentioned before, we had meetings working through issues, and I thought we were constantly pushing the ball forward.

Gross: I'm just going to echo that. I think it was one of those things where to get it done in a timeline, it needed both of us and all of us to come to the table. It was a lot to take on, just one of us independently, so it was good to split up and work together.

Like Mark said, we try to beat each other as much as possible every weekend on the racetrack, and then we come away on Monday or Tuesday and have some meeting and work together and go back to the racetrack on Friday and beat each other up again. It's been a very unique project but pretty rewarding from that perspective, as well.

Q: How much horsepower is coming solely from this unit, the hybrid unit? And number two, will the driver have sole control of it, or will the racing entity be able to control the on-off switch, so to speak, in certain situations? Number three, how have you solved the situation of harvesting on an oval? I'm very intrigued by that aspect of this.

Gross: So, the system itself is about 60 horsepower from just the hybrid system with the full capacity.

As far as the sanctioning body having control, it's pretty much all in the drivers' hands. There's certain situations where it can be turned off via timing loops, say in pit lane, those kind of things, so there is some control there, but most of it is in the drivers' hands, like Jay said.

So, the regeneration, there's some things we've been doing on the software side with mapping, whether it's throttle-based or brake pressure-based, but the driver can always use the paddles up on the steering wheel to regenerate or a button, so it's very much in their hands.

Then coming to the oval question, that's kind of why we're pretty excited to see it, really, because when a car is in traffic and you're kind of pedaling or just driving along, you can pull the paddle and kind of regenerate or harvest energy in those moments.

It'll be pretty exciting, I think. Watching the cars go around Iowa last week, everyone is playing with different scenarios and different ways to get a feel for it. It's racing: Some people get on top of it quicker than others. That's kind of the exciting thing. But a lot of opportunity there to shake up the racing, which is cool.

Q: On Mid-Ohio, where do you anticipate it being used the most? I know that sounds like it could be used anywhere, I'm sure, but where do you anticipate it being at its most efficient, I guess, from a use standpoint?

Gross: To complement the Push to Pass. I think the same place you see drivers use that, you can use it for overtaking on the straight stuff, or a lot of people use it for in laps, out laps, start a straight kind of application for lap time. It'll complement all of that, but unlike Push to Pass where you're limited for your 150 to 200 seconds a race, it's as much as you can regenerate over a lap, you can use it throughout the event.

We'll work with our teams to where a user would apply it, where it's optimal, and then they'll take it and go from there.

Q: Mark and Wayne, how do you judge success from this engine this weekend? Obviously, success is winning, but what are you looking for when you look at the whole unit, the engines and all the cars? What's good?

Stielow: From the Chevrolet side, we want it to be good racing and we want the units to not interfere with the race, number one. Number two is for it to be used by the drivers to make the racing more dynamic and more interesting for the spectators.

So, this is another tool that we're bringing to the drivers to enable there to be a little bit better competition, a little more passing. The fans at home like to see active racing, so we're hoping this is another tool in the drivers' tool bag to demonstrate the talent between the drivers.

Gross: Very much the same from our side. We want to win. That's why we're all here. But it's just like Mark said, adding more tools, more things to separate the drivers and add some variability to strategies in how the race plays out and just more tools in the arsenal to go racing with.

Q: Jay, if you could talk a little bit about qualifying and practice and how the hybrid unit is going to be used there because we've read about how it might be used in the race and how the drivers might use it but not so much maybe about the rules surrounding qualifying and how it'll all play out there. Can you talk through a little of that?

Frye: We're going to do our standard Firestone Fast Six qualifying format this weekend, so the hybrid unit will be at the drivers' disposal, just like it would be during a race. Again, it’s a driver’s tool. They can use it when they want it. They can deploy it when they want it. We won't have Push to Pass in qualifying – that’ll just be turned on in warmup and in the race like we normally do.

One of the things we wanted to avoid was introducing too many things all at once, so at Mid-Ohio, basically standard practice, standard qualifying procedure. They'll have the hybrid unit at their disposal for both of those, and then in warmup and the race they'll have the Push to Pass.

Q: Do you guys expect any fuel savings from this unit?

Stielow: Yeah, there's an energy recovery system, so you're taking some of the energy that would be thrown away to brake heat and being able to use that for propulsion.

As we start racing this thing in anger and we learn more about it, I'm sure Honda and on my side, we'll be going through a lot of driving simulator optimizations on how we can best use this for performance and fuel economy gain.

In these first few races we don't know what we don't know, so I think we're going to be using it in anger, and once we kind of -- I think Sunday afternoon we'll all be standing around going, ‘Wow, I didn't expect that,’ but it's classic it'll be some engineering learnings and as the season goes on, we'll learn a lot more about it, and then we'll probably have a much stronger and more refined package for next season.

Q: Jay, are there any concerns with the hybrid coming in midseason, and can you give a quick overview on why the decision was taken to introduce the hybrid now as opposed to waiting until the start of next season?

Frye: We thought this was kind of a natural break in the season launching it at Mid-Ohio. We certainly wanted to be 100 percent ready, like we mentioned, so we feel really good about where we're at. We feel really good about the technology, the performance, the supply, all of it.

This is as good a time to do it as any. We've been testing it a lot. We've been running a lot. We're really excited to see this launch this weekend.

Q: I know a lot of this the selling point is there's a lot of room for growth within this powerplant, within this hybrid unit. What do you view as the trajectory as we get finished with this year, go into the next few years? Where do you see that growth? Is it a horsepower percentage? Where do you see this needle moving upward?

Frye: It's around 60 horsepower now. It has the potential to get up more in the 150-ish range, so there will be a natural progression over the next couple years to get it more toward that. There could even be a certain point where it completely replaces Push to Pass, where it gets to a certain point where it's a big-enough, robust-enough system that we would just have the hybrid system and eliminate Push to Pass.

Q: Jay, there's going to be no limit to how much they can use this hybrid unit on a per-lap basis, per-race basis, anything like that?

Frye: Push-to-Pass has a finite number of seconds it can be used in a race, 150 or 200. The hybrid will not be restricted to that. It'll be (available) as much as you can deploy it and regenerate it within certain time (energy) limits per lap.

Q: Jay, will there be an indicator on the car anyplace where fans at the racetrack will be able to see who's using the hybrid, who isn't? Those little flashing lights or anything like that?

Frye: Right now, it'll be on the INDYCAR App. You'll be able to monitor it, and it'll be on the NBC broadcast. They'll have graphics that show who's using it and who's regenerating it.

Q: Jay, Push to Pass is still a completely separate system from the hybrid system, right?

Frye: Yes, 100 percent. The hybrid really is an enhancement to what we're currently doing with the Push to Pass. We've always talked about more power, more power, so we're going to have more power at Mid-Ohio.