Roar of the engine could be a thing of the past at Indy 500

IndyCar at Andretti Autosport Headquarters

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — With the first 100 Indianapolis 500s heading to the rear view mirror, many people are already working on the next century of speed.

The cars of the future could take many different forms, especially when it comes to power.  Current development suggests internal-combustion engines will fill the “Field of 33” for many years to come, but it also seems likely that some day an alternative power source like hydrogen or solar or something as-yet-undiscovered will arrive to edge aside the old motors.

One possibility is already on a racing grid. Formula E is an all-electric series running internationally through the FIA. It is not in development specifically for IndyCar, but it definitely has the attention of many people here.

“Certainly the first time you’re at a race track and the cars take off out of pit lane, it’s a very different feeling,” says Rob Edwards. He’s Director of Engineering and Race Operations for Andretti Autosport, which is running a Formula E team. “It’s kinda cool to project the next 50 years, the next 100 years, what’s the car’s gonna look like at the 200th Indy 500!”

Formula E cars very closely resemble current IndyCar and Formula 1 cars. They are open-wheel, winged and low-slung.  But the similarities end abruptly when the driver steps on the throttle.  Instead of a full-throated turbocharged scream or roar, the electric motor makes virtually no noise at all.  Instead, you hear the high ‘whirr’ of the transmission putting power to the wheels, and you hear those wheels squealing away. Both sounds are a revelation, because usually a race fan cannot hear anything other than the explosive force of the motor through the exhaust.

“You can carry on a conversation much easier in the garage or pit area here than you can at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when cars are out running,” says Andretti Formula E engineer Dave Seyffert.  He spoke with 24-Hour News 8, quietly, from France during preparations for an April race in Paris.

Although our questions centered on the future of the Indy 500, Seyffert says he is squarely focused on developing the car to win in the Formula E series. He says top-end speeds are currently in the 140 mile-an-hour range for the road and street circuits the series uses, and the cars are extremely nimble in the turns.

Seyffert says power consumption is the biggest hurdle to an electric motor running longer distances. Currently (so to speak), recharging the electric motors would take too long to make them competitive. But Seyffert feels time and technology will take care of that concern.

“I think as development continues, it’s something that could possibly show up one day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

For more on the Andretti effort, including examples of the “sound” of Formula E and reaction from IndyCar rival Scott Dixon, click on the video version of this story above.

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