When the cars take to the track in the Petit Le Mans on Saturday at Road Atlanta in Braselton, they won’t be filled with regular, unleaded gasoline like most of the cars that take to the roads everyday.
Instead, the race cars’ combustion engines will be burning alternative fuels such as sulfur-free clean diesel, E10 or cellulosic E85 ethanol.
The American Le Mans Series requires that all entries in its races use these alternative fuels as part of its green racing initiative. The goal of green racing is to cut down on the harm that regular, gasoline-burning vehicles cause to the environment.
Scott Atherton, the president and CEO of the ALMS, believes that the effort that the Series has put forth toward becoming eco-friendly is among its most important aspects.
“We’ve really tried to reduce the negative impact that racing can sometimes have on the environment,” Atherton said. “And I think it is just one more reason why the American Le Mans Series is a step ahead of most other racing series’ in North America.”
The ALMS is the first major racing series in the world to require the use of alternative fuels which are considered safe for use by private citizens.
The 2010 season also marks the second year of the Michelin Green X Challenge, a competition that at each event rewards race teams for their overall performance and environmental impact. The Challenge ranks teams on the amount of energy used, greenhouse gases emitted and petroleum displaced.
Lord Paul Drayson, former Minister for Science and Innovation for Great Britain and current member of the Drayson Racing team, joined the ALMS specifically because of its Green Racing initiatives. Drayson uses racing as a platform campaign for the use and development of alternative fuels and sustainable technology.
“I’m worried about climate change,” Drayson said. “While I was science minister in the UK, I saw all of the data and it was really frightening. I began thinking about what I could do to make a difference.”
Drayson didn’t begin racing in the ALMS until the age of 43 and credits the worldwide impact that racing has as the main reason he joined the sport.
“I firmly believe that motor racing has a responsibility to explore these issues,” Drayson said. “It inspires a lot of people, and if we can show them that science and engineering can effect change, then you have made green racing exciting.
“If motor racing can go green, it will encourage manufacturers— mainstream manufacturers —to develop solutions through technology.”
Some of the effects that Drayson desires to see are already coming into reality. Porsche, an acknowledged worldwide leader in luxury and racing automobiles, will run it’s 911 GT3 R Hybrid on Saturday for the first time in North America. The company also plans to release a hybrid version of its popular Cayenne S SUV into the private sector beginning this fall.
Along with using alternative fuels, the ALMS recycles all of the oil used by each racing team and the Series’ four major tire manufacturers (Michelin, Yokohama, Falken and Dunlop) take each tire used during racing and practice back to their research centers for analysis and recycling.
Last year’s LMP1 champion, David Brabham, believes that the responsibility that the ALMS has taken in its Green Racing initiatives to be a big step in the right direction for the worldwide racing community.
“For racing to survive, we have to make that change,” Brabham said. “We have to look at going greener, but I think we can definitely, actually do a lot of good in that sense.
With racing we have competition and all we need is a slight change of rules — which is the adaptability side of it — all we have to do is change our thinking and all of a sudden we have a playing field for technology to come (and) push (changes) down the road into the future that will help everybody, and I think racing can play a major platform in that.”
Brabham believes that the flexibility of the rules in the ALMS plays a major part in the ability of the series to push green racing ideals.
“We are a lot more flexible with our rules. We have multiple engines and chassis. It is quite rare for a series to have that,” Brabham said.
Brabham also believes that the toughest part of going green has already passed, and now all that is left is to follow up on the ideal.
“I think the hardest decision is to make the change first,” Brabham said. “The series has made that a few years ago. I think the difficult part has kinda happened.
Now, we have to work with the teams, the Series, the manufacturers, the organizers and the ACO (Le Mans’ governing body). We all kinda have to work together to make sure that whatever we are doing is obviously good in terms of racing for the future but also ... the perfect platform to bring on these technologies into our series and just keep developing it.”
Despite the strides that the ALMS has made toward ensuring that racing becomes more environmentally friends, both Drayson and Brabham believe there is a lot left to do.
“We don’t know yet what is the best answer to fuel efficiency, but we have to start somewhere,” Brabham said. “That is where we are right now.”
“The biggest challenge I think to overcome will be energy storage and control systems,” Drayson said. “I think you will also be seeing advancements in chassis construction in response to things like hybrid systems. There will be new stresses on internal components ... those are areas that we will all be exploring in the near future.”