Honda Showcases Electrified Future of Motorsports

Honda’s eGX electric racing kart and CR-V Hybrid racer concept give a glimpse into the future of electrified racing tech.

The HPD CR-V Hybrid racer is a rolling laboratory of current and future Honda motorsports technology. (Honda)

Honda North America has long had a presence in racing and motorsports at every level in the United States. The company has continually supported programs aimed at the highest levels of open wheel racing to weekend warriors dodging cones in their production cars. Honda even provides opportunities for their employees to let their hair down after hours and build some truly impressive machinery.

The HPD CR-V Hybrid racer features a tube frame chassis and carbon fiber bodywork but retains much of the current CR-V’s silhouette. (Honda)

SAE Media attended a press event at M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan where Honda let us sample a wide range of motorsports-oriented offerings such as their eGX electric racing kart and their one-off prototype HPD CRV hybrid racer.

Karting with kilowatts

The powertrain of the HPD CR-V Hybrid racer shares many commonalties with the next generation hybrid IndyCar powertrain. (Honda)

The first vehicle that we were exposed to was Honda’s eGX electric racing kart. The karts are powered by a pair of 50.26V/1.314 kWh lithium-ion battery packs that weigh in at just over 22 lbs. (10 kg) apiece. The batteries are easily swapable in seconds and wired in series to provide a run time of 35-45 minutes. According to Honda, total charge time is roughly five hours, but an 80% charge can be achieved in just one hour.

Propulsion is provided by a three-phase brushless DC motor which can propel the kart to a claimed top speed of 45 mph. Honda states that it leveraged its experience in generator production for the design of the insulation, cooling and winding technology, which reportedly minimizes total power loss. Honda also states that the eGX’s motor was designed to meet the performance of the GX100 and GX120 engines, which makes the electrified powertrain a suitable replacement for the 100-120cc engines.

The eGX electric racing kart features two 1.314 kWh lithium-ion battery packs. (Honda)

Honda set up a small course on the skid pad at M1 Concourse so we could sample what the eGX was like at speed. While a conventional ICE-powered kart was not on hand as a point of comparison, the eGX felt lively despite its 230 lb. (104 kg) curb weight (gas karts usually weigh in at just under 200 lbs./90 kg). The batteries are mounted flanking the rider on the side pods, but also within the centerline of the chassis and in line the driver’s seating position. As such, the overall weight distribution and cross-weight balance of the kart is essentially unaffected.

The eGX kart’s powertrain is intended to replace 100-120cc ICE powertrains. (Honda)

The sensation of driving the eGX differs in some key areas over its gas equilivent. For example, the electric driveline eliminates any powertrain related NVH. This not only reduces driver fatigue, but also results in less overall chassis maintenance. The engine braking from the electric motor may also change how drivers approach entry to certain corners. The added mass of the batteries will also likely make managing weight transfer on corner entry a more important skill in the eGX versus ICE-powered karts.

The eGX is slightly less powerful than the equilivent 100-120cc gas karts, with a power rating of 2.4 hp and 3.5 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm. The GX100, for comparison, is rated at 2.8 hp and 4.8 lb-ft. However, like in larger BEVs, the instant torque of the electric powertrain makes the eGX’s power delivery feel effortless. While we could not compare times between a gas kart and the eGX, it would not be surprising to find that the performance of the two is within standard deviation.

It's Frankensteen

The three-phase brushless DC motor which can reportedly propel the eGX kart to a top speed of 45 mph. (Honda)

SAE media was also afforded an on-track experience in the passenger seat of the HPD CR-V Hybrid racer. This mad science project was the result of many late nights on behalf of both Honda Performance Development (HPD) and HART (Honda of America Racing Team). HART is based out of Honda’s Development and Manufacturing center in Marysville, Ohio and is the same team that builds many of Honda’s factory-backed racing machines.

The CR-V Hybrid racer truly is a Frankenstein of current and future Honda motorsports technology as well as some current production car pieces. From the beltline up, it is all sixth-generation Honda CR-V bodywork down to the windshield. But below that is where really starts to take hold.

The eGX kart’s battery pack can be swapped in seconds and reach an 80% SOC in just one hour. (Honda)

A chromoly tube frame chassis is combined with carbon fiber lower bodywork incorporating flared fenders, butterfly half-cut doors, a HART-designed front splitter and rear wing and clamshell rear section to access the drivetrain. The rear suspension is from a Dallara IR-18 Indy car. The front suspension, Brembo front brakes, electric steering rack and diffuser all come directly off the GT-3 spec Acura NSX.

“We designed the frame and powertrain and then went to HART, our racing team in Ohio and asked ‘can you guys build this for us?!’ and they said ‘Sure!’” said David Salters, president and technical director for Honda Performance Development. “We want to make a rolling lab where we can add electrification to these powertrains and so the engineers have something to experiment with.”

Power trip

Total power output from the HI23TT 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine stands at 800 hp with the wick fully turned up. That thrust comes courtesy of a pair of Borg Warner EFR7163 turbochargers combined with an Empel-supplied electric motor generator unit (MGU). A Tag 400i ECU supplied by McLaren Applied Technologies manages the madness.

The hybrid powertrain reportedly has “lots of commonalities with the 2024 Indy hybrid system” according to Salters. “We made it ourselves, but it will be similar. Some of the components, for example, are upsized so we can do different things with this chassis,” he explained.

One of those components includes Skeleton’s super capacitor energy storage system. “Our collaboration with Honda Performance Development is interesting not only from an application perspective, but also because HPD’s fast-paced, results-oriented approach is a perfect fit with Skeleton’s culture,” said Sebastian Pohlmann, vice president of business development at Skeleton. “The integration of our high-performance supercapacitor technology into the HPD CR-V Hybrid Racer clearly demonstrates what supercapacitors can do in terms of high output, and the joint work on the Indycar hybrid system further emphasizes this.”

From the passenger seat, it becomes rapidly apparent that this may be one of the fastest rolling labs in the world. The auditory sensation tells you that you’re in an Indycar, but staring through a CR-V windshield provides a stark contrast to the soundtrack. While media was not permitted to sample the handling dynamics through the steering wheel, it’s obvious that despite the mix of Indy and IMSA-level suspension hardware, there’s a lot more engine than chassis due to the CR-V Racer’s DOT legal street tires.

A few pulls on the paddles of the XTRAC six-speed sequential transmission sends the occupants into the seats with truly impressive force. The acceleration performance is likely comparable to that of a current IMSA GTP machine, which says volumes about what the folks at HPD and HART have created. “The same men and women working on the GTP hypercar took what they learned and applied it here in terms of energy management and other aspects of the hybrid powertrain,” said Salters.