July 15, 2024
Video: Blasting around Long Beach in Honda’s rolling hybrid laboratory

The car is a one-off build – which looks like a reimagining of a Group B rally car – and was conceptualised by the engineering brainboxes at Honda Performance Development in Santa Clarita, California. 

Built at Honda’s Automotive Development Center in Ohio by the Honda of America Racing Team, ‘The Beast’ is being unleashed in the wild at selected IndyCar events this year, and we took our turn at the most fabled of all American street circuits – Long Beach.

At the front end, ahead of the cabin, are the suspension and brakes from an Acura NSX GT3, so there is plenty of front-end grip to balance the compact SUV. In the middle, atop the tubeframe chassis, is a standard, sixth-generation CR-V steel body straight off the production line – it even has a sunroof!

At the back, it’s pretty much an entire IndyCar rear end in terms of engine, suspension and gearbox, with the hybrid’s supercapacitors (positioned on top) and motor generator unit bolted on to the back. 

Having admired the engineering, Autosport got racesuited and booted with helmet and HANS device on, and it’s quite a squeeze through the butterfly doors into the passenger bucket racing seat to get strapped into the safety harness. Hinchliffe then jumps on board, and after a handshake and pleasantries, we’re good to go. 

Just like the Hybrid GTP cars in the IMSA SportsCar Championship that are also racing at Long Beach, we start rolling on electrical power only – which acts as a starter for the 600hp-plus twin-turbo V6. At the flick of a switch, the ICE fires and Hinchcliffe nails his right foot to the bulkhead and, simultaneously, the back of my helmet to the headrest. 

To keep the race organisers happy, he’s not taking this mad machine to its top speed, but Hinch is still booting it for all its worth through the gears to fourth and then cruising along Shoreline Drive and the back straight. But that’s a good opportunity to regen that hybrid system for added punch off the corners! 

Honda CR-V Hybrid Racer detail

Photo by: Charles Bradley

Running on treaded Firestone rubber, the car skips and hops off the kerbs as Hinchcliffe expertly wheels it around – “It’s got quite a lot of grip,” he says – and really gets his elbows out in the slower section around the fountain, which follows the big braking zone for Turn 1. The walls zap past just inches from my shoulders, and I’m relieved my chauffeur is a six-time IndyCar Series race winner, who signed off his career here in 2021 before taking up the mic in the TV booth. 

They’ve been racing around these streets since 1975, and Long Beach held Formula 1 grands prix between ’76 and ’83, before becoming a staple of Indy car racing. It’s amazing to get this view of the track at speed, and I can even spot my hotel room window on the run into the right-hander down Pine Avenue!  

After two laps of making lots of wheelspin, slides and loud noises to entertain the early-bird fans on raceday morning, we coast back in the pitlane and fistbump before climbing out. “Fun, isn’t it?” smiles Hinch. Yes, it certainly is. We have a quick chat about where IndyCar is heading with its hybrid future in 2024, which will be based along a similar supercapacitor lines, before Hinchcliffe departs to call the Grand Prix for NBC. 

Earlier, the Canadian had checked with HPD’s Steve Gough on the weight of The Beast and is told “3000 pounds but we’ve got more horsepower”. Hinch adds: “The IndyCars are pretty heavy, and of course this is heavier, but when you’re out of the corner and get the power down, it’s amazing – this thing really gets up and goes.” 

Autosport bumps into HPD president David Salters in the IndyCar paddock straight after my run in what he likes to call “a beast in sheep’s clothing”.

“Sounds good, doesn’t it?” he grins. “When it goes from electric to ICE, it’s like Tron turning into the Voice of God!”

Almost 800hp is unleashed by that 2.2-litre, twin-turbo V6 motor, coupled to a huge box of Skeleton Technologies supercapacitors and the Empel MGU [which protrudes from the rear of the powertrain] that either adds power or regenerates at speed as it suits. The ICE also runs on Shell’s 100% renewable race fuel, so it’s got sustainability credentials too. 

It all adds up to a lot of fun… Go and see it for yourself at selected IndyCar street and road course events.

Honda CR-V Hybrid Racer

Honda CR-V Hybrid Racer

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

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