Could auto racing go green?
American Le Mans Series meets EPA "Green Racing" standards.
Fri, Oct 09, 2009 at 08:29 AM
EFFICIENT ENGINES: Autor racing industry starts green overhaul. (Photo: jcornelius/Flickr)
Auto racing, particularly endurance auto racing, is hardly the first thing to pop into mind when thinking about green recreation. But organizers of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), North America's series of hours-long races, say they are up to the challenge. Within the series itself, teams are competing for the Michelin Green X Challenge award, given to the manufacturers and teams for overall performance combined with energy efficiency at each series race.
Most recently, the Petit Le Mans race (held at Atlanta's Road America track), saw the diesel-powered Peugot team take gold. The race, typically 1,000 miles or ten hours, which ever comes first, was shortened for the first time in its history due to torrential rains making the track unsafe. But regardless of the weather, according to autoblog.com's Sam Abuelsamid, the Peugeot 908 coupes "demonstrated that they still have an outright speed advantage." Even though the cars use air conditioning to cool the drivers in the closed vehicles, the extra power and "superior aerodynamics" of the vehicles give them a performance advantage.
Other manufacturers are rising to the Green Challenge as well. According to racingwest.com, Mazda and partner BP are working to develop "advanced environmental technology" and entered prototypes powered by biobutanol fuel. The research and development car was not eligible for official placement in the race, but BP's other car ran on E10 (10% ethanol fuel) that met race specifications.
ALMS had been a leader in green racing for several years before the Michelin Challenge, allowing multiple alternative fuels in competition, according to the ALMS website. This has been a trend with the race series since 2006 when the first turbo diesel car, an Audi, competed and 2007 brought the introduction of E10 to the pit crews. This fuel is nearly the same as the ethanol fuel used by regular consumers, which, according to ALMS, demonstrates "the Series' dedication to automotive relevance."
Relevance is paramount for the ALMS. Scott Atherton of SAE International talks about the progressive approach to research and development of efficient automobile technology that matters not just to the racing community but the consumer sector (see videos of his speech and other green technology explanations here). The EPA, the U.S. Department of Energy, and SAE International (along with American Le Mans and Michelin) recently declared the ALMS the only race series to meet its Green Racing Protocols, put in place to encourage the racing industry to develop better, more planet-friendly vehicles that will eventually reach the consumer industry.
Green features of the ALMS that helped it obtain this classification included renewable bio-based fuels (such as wood-waste based ethanols or zero sulfur clean diesel), regenerative energy powertrain technology, and exhaust pollution control, among several other strict criteria.
Additional green initiatives by race organizers include an "adopt an acre" program which aims to preserve over 150 acres of land in the Las Californias region. With one race to go in the ALMS, Acura, Maza, and Audi respectively are leading in the prototype category with Porsche, Ford, and BMW driving away as Grand Touring leaders, but overall, ALMS has placed itself firmly in the lead of green racing worldwide. While they take pride in leading the green racing initiative, they are working with other major races to help them meet EPA Green Racing criteria.
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