Renewable Racing - Part 3
By Bill Moore
Indy-class race cars have been using methanol for the last thirty years. It's a fuel that works and as Paul Dana pointed out in the previous section of his interview with EV World, if the system "ain't broke," IRL isn't going to be in any hurry to fix it.
But that being said, he also senses from his conversations with race officials that they are interested in continuing to be automotive pacesetters.
"In the case of the Indy 500, Tony George has always been a leader, especially in terms of track safety, in terms of bringing Nascar to the Brick Yard... He was a leader in terms of bringing Formula One back to the US. He's been a leader in terms of just outright writing a check to pay for the R and D for the soft wall, which I can tell you as a driver is a huge comfort to know that at Indy there are now soft walls."
Dana noted that the industry has talked about soft wall to help protect drivers for years, but it was Indy 500 owner Tony George put an end to the talk by doing it.
"You're going to see soft walls follow at other facilities around the country because of that.
"So, I would imagine because of 9/11, because of the obvious issue of energy security in our political life now today," Dana spectulated why IRL would express an interest in looking at ethanol as a potential future substitute for non-renewable methanol.
He also sees the league's "strong desire" to reconnect with its traditional American farming base and history as a third driver in its interest in ethanol. He also sees it as a way for Indy racing to differentiate itself from its other auto racing competitors.
He noted that as far as race sponsorship goes, what fuel is used in the cars really makes little difference to sponsors. It makes little difference to a Shell or Texaco that methanol is used and it wouldn't make any real difference if ethanol gradually began to be substituted in its place.
As for how ethanol would be introduced, Dana sees it happening initially as a 10% blend with gasoline in the Infinity Pro series, which currently uses gasoline. At the IRL level, he sees ethanol being blended gradually with methanol.
"It's extremely simple from a technical standpoint to do that," he commented, adding that both ethanol and methanol are both alcohol-based fuels.
Dana was candid in his analysis of the introduction of other future fuels or advanced automotive technologies, which he doesn't see finding their way into the sport within the current decade. "At the top levels, that's going to be a hard sell," he told EV World.
Part of the reason for this is because the industry's efforts to try and keep costs down for teams and sponsors by developing a fairly rigid set of specifications. For example, Dana noted that even though Toyota Chevy and Honda each build engines for Indy race cars, they must fall within a tightly controlled set of specifications; each engine is a 3.5 liter, normally-aspirated, V-8.
"We're not going to see a hydrogen-powered car at Indy or Nascar any time soon," he remarked. For him, ethanol represents a doable technological change in Indy-class racing. However, he senses that the ethanol industry hasn't taken as aggressive a stance as it might in marketing itself to consumers in general and the racing fans in particular using Indy racing as a platform. He said drivers and teams are going to go where the money is. They are going to help their sponsors sell their products be it motor oil or Viagra.
Historically, it has been oil companies and carmakers that have been the most loyal sponsors and heavy spenders in racing, Dana observed, because racing is so intrinsic to advancing their marketing plans. He hopes that the ethanol industry will also have to come to understand this and begin to take a more serious sponsorship role.
"For some reason, the renewable fuels industry has always limited itself to a format where their technology could be used. So you get these off-beat solar power races at the universities or you get an electric competition that happens once a year around some trade show, which is all great, it needs to happen. But it isn't speaking to 60,000 screaming race fans on a Sunday afternoon, on national television.
"So what I would like to see is where we can attain actual usage and real technical growth , as in the case with ethanol, we do it. But beyond that, you've got a captive audience of gearheads. Talk to them. Talk to them about hydrogen. Talk to them about electric power."
He thinks both Toyota and Honda, who are strong Indy car participants and have taken a pro-active stance by introducing hybrid and fuel cell technology, are perfect candidates for doing even more to advance the cause of renewable fuels. He'd like to see the ethanol industry at the traditional Sunday morning race breakfasts, doing business with the rest of the motor sport industry.
"It's a hell of an environment to put ethanol into..."
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