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Ilott involvement headlines latest successful IndyCar hybrid test

Written by Archie O’Reilly


In two weeks’ time, the first race weekend of the NTT IndyCar Series season will be in full flow on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. Initially, it was planned for the all-new hybrid system to be introduced in St. Pete. That was until logistical issues forced a change of plan at the back end of 2023.


In December, the series announced that the introduction of the hybrid unit would be pushed back beyond May’s 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Since the turn of the year, though, IndyCar has been back on track for more hybrid testing.


The first of two hybrid tests so far in 2024 was run at the end of January, with an encouragingly interruption-free three days on the Homestead-Miami roval. This week, ahead of a full-field test at Sebring International Raceway on 26th and 27th February, the series returned to Homestead for another three day, four car, 12 driver hybrid test. 


IndyCar have described it as another positive test, with a combined 1,202 laps, described as ‘trouble-free’ by the series, turned across the three days. Once again, the test featured two Honda-powered cars, from Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Global, and two Chevrolet-powered cars, from Team Penske and Arrow McLaren.


Ganassi ran Marcus Armstrong on the opening day, followed by Alex Palou and Scott Dixon on days two and three. Andretti’s new acquisition, Marcus Ericsson, took to the track on Monday, before Colton Herta and Kyle Kirkwood completed their running. Penske ran Scott McLaughlin on Monday, Josef Newgarden on Tuesday and Will Power on Wednesday.


The headlines were grabbed by McLaren, though, after they were recently hit with the blow that new signing David Malukas will be sidelined for around six weeks after dislocating his left wrist in a mountain biking accident. The team have not yet confirmed his replacement for St. Pete, but free agent Callum Ilott featured for the team on the second day of the latest hybrid test.


Either side of Ilott, Pato O’Ward ran on the first day and Alexander Rossi on the third. Next week in Sebring, it has been suggested O’Ward will run in both his No.5 car and Malukas’ No.6. This further suggests Ilott is their primary option as a deputy for the recovering Malukas, who was due to have stitches removed on 22nd February following surgery nine days prior.


Speaking to DIVEBOMB in December, Ilott said he was “definitely going to go to some of the races” this year, including St. Pete, which falls one week after the World Endurance Championship (WEC) opener in Qatar. Ilott is racing in the Hypercar class of WEC with Jota Sport this year after a breakdown in relationship saw him depart Juncos Hollinger Racing in IndyCar.


Ilott was one of five drivers to notch over 100 laps across their day of duty in the recent IndyCar hybrid test - a successful first outing for McLaren. Palou, Herta and Kirkwood also completed a century laps, while Power was the sole driver to pass the 150-lap mark.


“It was very fun to be back in the Honda hybrid,” Palou said. “We had quite a bit of running, progressing through all of the systems, and making sure everything is perfect. We got a lot of mileage, which was the target. The weather was great, and it was nice to be back in the car, so can’t wait to get the season started and to see the hybrid on the track.”


The hybrid power unit, which is a collaboration between Honda and Chevrolet, will give drivers additional horsepower once introduced. Drivers will be handed more choices and control through new overtake options beyond the previous push-to-pass system through a regeneration and deployment system - similar to that used in Formula One.


“The car and hybrid system have made huge gains over the last few months as far as reliability and performance,” Herta said. “It adds an interesting element for the drivers. There’s still a lot to learn from it, but from the testing we’ve done, it seems like it will make racing a bit more interesting. It gives us drivers more crucial decisions to make inside the car.”


Recent hybrid tests have focused further on testing multiple strategies for the new regeneration and deployment system. Whereas there has been a limited amount of push-to-pass available for drivers each race, there will not be a restriction on hybrid power use given drivers are able to recharge and regenerate this during races. 


The general mood with regards to the hybrid system now appears to be positivity after a somewhat rocky off-season at points. There have been far fewer issues reported in the recent two tests than those prior to the turn of the year. Rossi described the latest test as having had “minimal challenges”.


“We still don’t know what the rules will be surrounding its use, so knowing how it will impact race strategy is a question we are all asking,” Rossi added. “I look forward to its introduction onto the car at some point this year.”


There remains no exact race at which the hybrid system will be introduced yet, and as mentioned by Rossi, the exact rules are yet to be clarified.


There remain only four teams - Ganassi, Andretti, Penske and McLaren - that have tested the hybrid unit during a rigorous programme this off-season. But, after the postponement of an all-team test at the back end of 2023, the series has tentatively scheduled a test for the remaining teams on 28th and 29th March.


Should the test go ahead as planned, duty will be handed to the three remaining Chevrolet teams of AJ Foyt Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and Juncos Hollinger Racing, plus the three remaining Honda teams in the form of Dale Coyne Racing, Meyer Shank Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

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