A Step Towards Greener Racing
As the motorsports industry begins a new season under dark clouds of a bleak global economy that continues to shrink grids, dry up sponsorship budgets and cancel events, racing leagues and their member teams would surely be forgiven if they chose to merely focus on their own survival for the time being, leaving ambitious projects for more favourable economic conditions. While the pain of the souring economy has been felt deeply in the motorsports community worldwide, the industry’s appetite for more environmentally friendly practices and initiatives has hardly diminished despite the grim forecasts. The shift underway to make motorsports greener, more sustainable, and thus more relevant to growing public concern for the environment continues to gain momentum as leagues and teams move towards a greener future.
As the 2009 season dawns, many of the world’s most well know motor racing leagues have embarked on measures large and small designed to burnish their green credentials in order to get on side with environmental concerns that are taking hold within the general public.
Here now, a closer look at some initiatives underway as the 2009 season begins.
The world’s most prestigious form of motorsport has elevated concern for the planet to near the top of its list of priorities in recent years and is actively engaged on several fronts to make the sport greener.
Although F1 racing has seen environmental concern grow among some of its participants in recent years, like Honda’s much-publicized- and criticized- foray into green racing in 2007 when it replaced all of the sponsor logos on its racecars with giant images of the Earth, the sport has taken a more unified, broader approach more recently.
The engine development ban passed in 2007 (reduced from ten to five years in early 2008) by the world motorsport governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), designed to defray some of the increasingly exhorbitant costs of running an F1 team, may have slowed the process of introducing more energy efficient engines to the series, but teams are still permitted to experiment with energy storage and recovery using engine flywheels, batteries and electric motors. The FIA has pledged, however, to work with F1 teams during the ban in order to develop a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly engine concept than the current 2.4 litre V8 powerplant. The sport already mandates race fuel that contains 5.75 percent biofuel, a figure that will likely increase once the new engine is introduced into competition.
Despite the ban imposed on new engines until 2013, Formula 1 does have a new environmental innovation ready for rollout in 2009. All teams will use racecars that feature the Kinetic Energy Return System (KERS), which is hybrid technology designed to store energy under braking that can be reused for acceleration. The FIA has left the rules governing KERS relatively open to encourage teams to innovate. The response from the teams towards the technology has been positive. “KERS is not only good for the manufacturers, who can benefit from its technology, but also for F1 itself- it will change the sports image, reposition it and attract new sponsors,” said BMW motor sport director Mario Thiessen, in a statement posted on the FIA website.
In addition to KERS, Formula 1 has also helped to promote awareness of the FIA’s, Make Cars Green initiative with the assistance of its business partners. One of the more visible examples of this effort was the use of green grooved tires at last year’s Japanese Grand Prix which were produced especially for the race by the league’s official tire supplier, Tokyo-based Bridgestone.
Criticized by some for being a laggard when it comes to environmental concerns (the Sprint Cup series just moved to unleaded race fuel in 2007), NASCAR has taken several steps in recent years to be more in synch with public concern about the future of the planet. Chief among the initiatives the league has taken to help address these concerns was the creation of an official directorate for green racing strategies, announced in late 2008. NASCAR Green Innovation, headed by Director Dr. Mike Lynch has been charged with the task of leading the league go green.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France appears to have fully embraced the decision to chart a greener path for big league stock car racing. “Mike will be developing and coordinating an industry strategy to ensure we are embracing green as an opportunity for all of us,” he said in a company statement last fall. “He’ll be working with teams, tracks, and our partners to develop and environmental plan that’s right for the sport and all its partners, one that can include and mobilize our fan base in this important issue.”
To underline the attempts underway within NASCAR to move more in line with greener public sentiments, the announcement of Lynch’s hiring and the creation of NASCAR Green Innovation was made the same weekend of a high-profile first for the league: the use of a pace car with undeniable green credentials. Prior to the start of Ford 400 Sprint Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a Ford Fusion hybrid showcasing the company’s next-generation hybrid system circled the track in a very public display of the league’s green intentions.
Visible statements of NASCAR’s greening will become more evident in the coming years. Near the top of Lynch’s to-do list are attaining Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for two new buildings currently under construction- the NASCAR Plaza in Charlotte, NC (slated to open this month) and the Daytona Speedplex which will serve as the new headquarters for International Speedway Corporation (ISC), NASCAR and Grand American Road Racing. LEED is part of the Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Solely, a U.S. initiative when it began in 1998, LEED has grown to encompass more than 14,000 projects in 30 countries. LEED is designed to represent an open and transparent process where the technical criteria proposed by the LEED committees are publicly reviewed for approval by the more than 10,000 membership organizations that currently constitute the USGBC. Aligning itself with well-regarded environmental groups like the USGBC will only help NASCAR improve its green credentials.
NASCAR has also partnered with some of its partners to help reduce its environmental impact off-track. Sprint has created a phone recycling program at its races where fans are encouraged to dispose of old cell phones at races. Coca-Cola has a bottle recycling program with in place at NASCAR events and tire supplier Goodyear has received help from the league to set up a program that recycles old racing tires into material used for playgrounds. Safety-Kleen has also pitched in to ensure that brake, transmission and other fluids from the race cars are reused.
The top rung of North American open-wheel racing has been making steady progress towards the use of renewable fuels in its cars over the last few years. In 2005, former driver Paul Dana introduced Ethanol to the IndyCar Series through his sponsorship deal with the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC), a consortium of ethanol producers in the United States and Rahal/Letterman Racing.
Although Dana’s sponsorship arrangement with EPIC was brief (he was killed in an on-track accident in 2006), the Indy Racing League decided to move forward with plans to use ethanol in its cars. The IndyCar Series used fuel containing 10% ethanol in 2006 and by the following year it was up to 98% with 2% gasoline, and the league began to advertise that its cars ran on “100% Fuel Grade Ethanol.”
The 2009 season sees the IRL continuing its use of ethanol-based fuels in its cars, although some controversy has dogged the league since it elected to change suppliers last November. A multi-year pact with APEX-Brasil, a Brazilian trade promotion organization, will supply ethanol fuel to IndyCar Series teams after EPIC ceased operations late last year. The APEX deal also includes the cooperation of UNICA, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association. The IRL has stated that UNICA will attempt to partner with a US-based company to supply American-produced, corn-based ethanol to IndyCar Series teams. Given the attention the United States’ dependence on foreign energy sources received during the recent Presidential election, the IRL has attempted to alter some of the negative perceptions stemming from the change in ethanol suppliers.
“The ethanol producers recently notified the IndyCar Series that it would not be renewing the agreement for 2009 and beyond and EPIC is ceasing operation. No one from any other part of the American-based ethanol community stepped forward with a substantial proposal. Soon after, the IndyCar Series and APEX-Brasil reached a preliminary agreement. As part of that agreement, we plan on starting our 2009 season with American-produced ethanol,” said Terry Angstadt, president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League in a statement.
While the APEX deal may eventually lead to a US partner for the supply of ethanol to IndyCar teams, the loss of EPIC has proven to be a devastating blow for Rahal/Letterman Racing. EPIC was the primary sponsor for the team’s one-car effort driven by up and coming American driver Ryan Hunter-Reay for the past two seasons. At press time, Rahal/Letterman has stated it will not it field a team in 2009 due to the lack of a primary and Hunter-Reay was still without a ride.
Although the strides made by Formula 1, NASCAR and the IRL to become greener represent big moves for them, no series seems more enthusiastic about incorporating concern for the environment into its racing program than the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).
One of the key tenets of ALMS racing is relevance. The series is very aware that one of the primary reasons it enjoys a high level of manufacturer participation is due to the fact that the series provides a platform for carmakers to test, develop and refine new technologies that could eventually find their way into production vehicles. Because the series does not employ single suppliers for engines, chassis, tires or even fuel, many manufacturers have been attracted to ALMS racing due to the fact that it provides an ideal arena for them to innovate against stiff competition on many of North America’s most challenging tracks.
The open nature of competition has played a significant role in helping the series go green. In 2008, the ALMS became the first motorsports league in the world to feature three forms of street legal alternative fuels being used in competition: cellulosic E85 which contains a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline) and clean diesel. The series also soon expects a fourth to arrive: a hybrid.
Last season also marked the beginning of an ambitious new environmental program within ALMS competition- the Green Challenge. In January 2008, the ALMS announced at the North American International Autoshow that in concert with the US Department of Energy (DOE), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International, it had created an on-track competition for its teams and manufacturers called the Green Challenge. ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton announced that the showcase for the first Green Challenge would take place during the ten-hour Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta in October before being implemented at all 10 races in 2009.
The Green Challenge is another layer of competition during a race that ranks the cars based on criteria that measure environmental impact. The three categories that comprise the Green Challenge are performance, fuel efficiency and environmental impact. The rules, regulations and specifications were created by the Green Racing Working Group, comprised of members the DOE, EPA and SAE in conjunction with Argonne National Laboratory. The result is a system that ranks the cars according to the amount of energy used, greenhouse gases emitted and amount of petroleum displaced. The E85-powered Corvette Racing team won the inaugural Green Challenge last October amongst the Grand Touring (GT1 and GT2) classes, while Porsche was victorious in the Prototype classes (P1 and P2).
It was a proud moment for Atherton and the Series. “We have begun something that will have a profound effect on the motorsports and automotive industry,” he said in a statement after the race. “When you get the type of support we have had from the highest levels of the EPA and DOE, you know that you are involved in something that can really make a difference. Fuel efficiency and energy independence are two of the most relevant topics we all face today and the American Le Mans Series is prepared to lead the way.”
With motorsports bodies now increasingly concerned with alternative fuels, recycling, and the use of more energy efficient offices for their operations, racing is becoming greener. New announcements concerning initiatives to reduce the sport’s carbon footprint will undoubtedly continue in 2009. Some may cast a suspicious eye on these efforts, but change has come to the way motorsports entities conduct their business and the environmental impact of racing has now begun to take its rightful place amongst the sport’s most pressing concerns. The progress might be too slow for some, but it is progress nevertheless.