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Ready whenever: Next Gen car has ability to go hybrid, electric in the future

There’s freedom in the future with the Next Gen car.

As modern-day advancements are made not only in motorsports but in everyday transportation, the ability to adapt is practically required. NASCAR and its manufacturers know that, which is why there was an emphasis on hybrid and electric capabilities for the new set of wheels coming in 2022. The Next Gen car is built to change.

“The current Gen-6 car, it would be a complete overhaul to go to a hybrid system,” said Richard Johns, Ford Performance’s program engineer. “With this, it’s not a complete overhaul. It’s adding a few bits and pieces of electronics, and you’re ready to go on the race track.”

It’s a few more bits and pieces for a full-electric car, too.

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Quite simply, and for this purpose, the Next Gen car is divided into three parts: front, middle and back. Switching to a hybrid would involve altering one part. Electric would take two.

Ford Performance’s global director, Mark Rushbrook, can better explain in further detail.

“With this module of the car — with the center section and then the bolt-on front clip and bolt-on rear clip — you have a lot of architectural flexibility there,” he said. “The first step with hybrid will be relatively easy in the sense that the combustion engine stays the same, the driveline stays the same; well, the transaxle in the rear, you can put on electric motor to drive back there and a modest battery — and boom, you’ve got a hybrid. … For a full electric, there will be more changes required, but with the bolt-on front clip and rear clip, you can then have a unique front clip for an electric motor version.”

Johns also called it “package protected.” The package is the powertrain. It’s what has been modified to allow the car to go hybrid or electric.

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If the switch happens, then there’s the actual racing aspect on the competition side to consider, aka figuring out how to keep fast speeds once the car is hybrid or electric. Aerodynamics will continue to play a part there, with adjustments being made the same way they would normally.

“We have a driving simulator to run things; if we need to, we could put everything together there,” said Tommy Joseph, Ford Performance’s aerodynamics supervisor. “Here’s the effect of the hybrid-powered unit, here’s how much faster or slower it goes, this is the drag change we need to go with that — we can work through all that virtually.”

Of course, none of this is an immediate concern for 2022. The Next Gen car is going to remain non-hybrid, non-electrical for the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, when it’ll make its competitive debut. Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet are also the only manufacturers involved still; it’s more than likely too late for others to join for next year.

But say NASCAR does go hybrid in 2023 or even 2024. And so does the rest of the world. The sport then has the ability to gain additional appeal to potential partners looking to promote their own technological development.

“I don’t know that the car itself — if we kept running the internal combustion engine that we have today — will necessarily bring other manufacturers,” Rushbrook said. “But if we go hybrid and/or full electric, I think that will bring more manufacturers.”