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Toyota: Electrification in NASCAR remains "a work in progress"

Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson says work towards reducing carbon emissions in the NASCAR Cup Series through efforts to introduce electrification "continues to be a work in progress”.

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro, Todd Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports, gener8tor Skills Ford Mustang, Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, Celsius Chevrolet Camaro, Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, FedEx 50 Toyota Camry

Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

NASCAR took a big step in 2012, moving from engines with carburetion to electronic fuel injection, which followed a change in 2011 to the use of Sunoco Green E15 fuel, blended with 15% bioethanol.

While NASCAR and its OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) all appear to agree on a next step to a form of hybrid technology or electrification, how that will begin and on what timetable seems much more elusive.

NASCAR’s chief operating officer Steve O’Donnell said at Phoenix Raceway last autumn that the sanctioning body was “still targeting 2024” at the earliest to introduce a separate exhibition electric vehicle series, however there is no timetable for changes to the engines currently used in its premier Cup Series.

Speaking in a specially-convened press conference ahead of this weekend's Daytona 500, which kicks off NASCAR's 75th anniversary season, Wilson was joined by counterparts from Chevrolet and Ford to discuss the future. 

Wilson said: “Obviously social and market forces are driving all of us as car manufacturers to be respectful and to be sensitive to put carbon reduction at the front of our business.

“When you take it to the race track, I think every motorsport globally is faced with the same pressures, including NASCAR. The question is how and when and what.

“What I’ll say is all of us sitting up here have been working very closely with NASCAR on new technologies, on a focus towards reduction of carbon, but it continues to be a work in progress.”

Insight: What’s new in NASCAR 2023?

Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet, said the OEM is working on “steps to hybridisation or testing” in every series in which it participates.

“In IMSA [with Cadillac], we are running in the GTP category and we have a hybrid, in IndyCar we have a hybrid coming next year,” he said.

NASCAR OEM press conference: David Wilson, Toyota; Mark Rushbrook, Ford; Jim Campbell, Chevrolet

NASCAR OEM press conference: David Wilson, Toyota; Mark Rushbrook, Ford; Jim Campbell, Chevrolet

Photo by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images

“I think every series has a hybrid consideration and I think there is going to be some testing in the EV space where we are really going to learn.

“We have a lot of great internal combustion engines, so we have a foot in both camps and we just have to work with the series and the teams around when is the right place to bring that in, plus the sustainable fuel. The low carbon fuels are important.”

Mark Rushbrook, global director for Ford Performance Motorsports, agreed that an intermediate step could involve moving to a “low carbon fuel or a responsible fuel” while still utilising a combustion engine.

“You see that in a lot of other series,” he said. “There’s certainly an opportunity to do it here as well as the overall carbon footprint of the sport, not just what we’re doing on track.

“I think those are areas we continue to work together as OEM partners and with NASCAR on that, and then electrification, it’s just when the time is right and when the technology is right.

“We’ve got a great formula here with Cup and Xfinity and Trucks and three good national series, but there’s an opportunity to look and do more and try to introduce that technology in a way that makes sense.”

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