Kirkwood on the hybrid switch in IndyCar: “I’m looking forward to it”

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The Andretti driver was among the competitors chosen to take part in the hybrid test in October. The new engine technology is set to make its official debut on the IndyCar grid after the 108th running of the Indy 500, but not all drivers and teams have had the opportunity to test it out so far.

Kirkwood was extremely pleased to have been a part of the test, as he described his testing experience ahead of the 2024 season:

“Yeah, it’s kind of weird because usually you have like a huge break at the end of the season, but we were straight into hybrid testing, which was really nice, to be honest. I loved it”

Usually we’re sitting static for like four months or three months at least until kind of the 24 comes around. And this year that was not the case. We were testing a lot. We were testing a ton in the hybrid car.”

Photo credits: Penske Entertainment | Joe Skibinski

“It was really just doing laps. It wasn’t like we’re going to go test some items and be on absolute kill. We’re doing race stints time after time after time after time, which was an absolute killer. But it keeps us fit, which I enjoyed. I thought it was great.”

It has been a rather busy offseason for Andretti so far, as all three of their drivers have had the opportunity to test out the innovative technology, included newly signed Marcus Ericsson.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said the two times race winner about the introduction of the hybrid, who then expanded on the reasons behind his statement.

“ I think we as a team at Andretti kind of came to grips with it very well. It definitely takes some adjusting with the car and understanding kind of how it works and the way it works. It changes the balance when it’s charged and uncharged.

“But it’s been fun. It’s kind of like thrown something new to us that hasn’t been the case in IndyCar. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be great when it’s implemented.”

Asked about the uneven distribution of the hybrid testing opportunities between the teams, with Andretti allowed time for all of their drivers but others, like Rahal Letterman Lanigan, who have never been on track for it, Kirkwood mentioned that he believes that it won’t be that important, due to the collaboration between the manufacturers:

“You know, I think the fact that it’s kind of a joint program between Honda and Chevy, that they’re going to share the information that needs to be shared to the teams to make sure everyone is on a level playing field. The only benefit that we’re getting from it is the fact that we’re driving a car.”

“We’re not able to go out there and do like testing items. We’re not getting the same tires as what we would at a certain track. So none of that stuff is really relevant. The only thing we’re getting is seat time in the car. Honestly, it’s really just a benefit for all the other teams that haven’t had a chance to get into it.”

“But to answer your question, yes, I believe there’s no way INDYCAR or even the manufacturers will shy away the smaller teams because they haven’t gotten time, and they’re like, okay, here’s a hybrid unit, good luck. That’s not how it’s going to be. They’re going to share information. They’re going to make sure everyone is in a level playing field,” he concluded.

Another important discussion topic ahead of the 2024 campaign has been the fact that the hybrid engine will be introduced mid-season, potentially splitting the championship in two rather different halves.

However, in the former AJ Foyt driver’s opinion, that won’t be the case as the true speed of a challenger won’t be affected by the different nature of the power unit:

“You can never predict what happens in INDYCAR, you know, racing, weather, no matter what’s going on. Obviously it would be easy for somebody to say if they’re leading the championship, the hybrid comes in, they’re doing bad, that they blame it on the hybrid or vice versa. It could be the opposite of that.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be the case. I think it’s pretty transparent if you’re going to be quick with the current car that you have, you throw the hybrid in, you’re still going to be quick. That’s going to be the case. That’s how it is in racing no matter what. If you’re a quick driver, you’re going to be quick in any car. If you’re a quick team you’re going to be quick in any car.”

“I don’t see it throwing a huge wrench into the championship. I think it’s going to be a good thing for us. It’s a step towards sustainability, and I think it’s going to be a great addition for racing, as well,” Kirkwood added, focusing on the important reasosn behind the switch to more environmental-friendly machinery.