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Green Racing at Petit Le Mans: The Beginnings

Green Racing, Original Writing, Opinions Advanced Biofuels USA
October 8, 2009

by Joanne Ivancic  (Advanced Biofuels USA)  In search of the real people doing real work on real technologies to develop advanced biofuels and improve the efficiency of our personal modes of transportation, I’ve begun following the green racing espoused by the American Le Mans Series of races. 

I live with a true life-long car guy, so I had some exposure to car racing BD (Before Danica).  Attending an IndyCar race with him and his mother in Cleveland, I noted that half the guys in the stands looked like Bobby Rahal.  Agnes and I cheered for heartthrob Danny Sullivan.  Some years later, we joined friends of his at drag races s at Budd’s Creek in tidewater Maryland.  Thurman was the car builder and coach; Wanda the driver.  She was goooood.  We combined looking at furniture in High Point with my brother with a Charlotte NASCAR race; and I’ve been to an IndyCar and a NASCAR race in Richmond.  As part of a Congressional campaign, we talked to folks who were saving good seats at the local dirt track before the gentlemen and ladies started their engines.  

That was the extent of my experience with live races.  It was exciting to be part of these cultural entertainment events, but I couldn’t find any deep meaning in them.   As far as I was concerned, NASCAR races had become something akin to the living history events we attend in charming 18th century towns along the east coast.   A window to a historical and cultural experience with lessons for contemporary living, but definitely something of the past.

With Danica Patrick racing IndyCars, I got more interested.  I started to appreciate the zen concentration needed to keep those rockets on the ground in a chosen direction.  I, like many, many others, connected with her in a way I didn’t connect with her fellow drivers.

I’ve always been frugal and conservative.  I blame it on my Slovenian upbringing.  The Slovene people in the US (and, I believe in Slovenia, too) pride themselves on two things:  singing and getting the most out of whatever you have.  I’ve been recycling, reducing, reusing and composting all my life (oh, yes, Slovenes MUST garden if at all possible).  Being green is not just in my thumbs.  It’s part of my being.  Car racing didn’t seem all that green.

My car guy friend has spoken reverently about the days he and his sister spent at the Mid-Ohio track, about the people they met there and the impact they had on his life.  He mentioned Jim Hall, Mark Donohue, Carroll Shelby and David Hobbs.  He wanted me to see the place, even if it might not live up to his memories. 

He said that the ALMS series was using cellulosic ethanol; and, in Europe, biodiesel.  We could take information about his biofuel enzyme development company and about Advanced Biofuels USA.  We might find some kindred souls.  He said it was that kind of a track-where you could talk to people and share ideas and meet interesting characters.  Or, it used to be back in the day.  Besides, Danica would be there-and a number of other women drivers.  I was psyched.

He was absolutely correct about the friendliness of Mid-Ohio, except that it was even better than he remembered.  We talked to many people who did share our views about advanced biofuels development and about the potential for racing technology to improve consumer vehicles.  We talked to people, shared ideas and met some fascinating characters.

We were especially excited to discover around one race team, posters extolling the importance of energy efficiency, in “green” living and in using our resources as effectively as possible.  It was the Barwell/Drayson team with the green 007 E85-powered Vantage GT2.   

The Drayson-Barwell team displayed their philosophy up front.

The Drayson-Barwell team displayed their philosophy up front.

This was a unique group, indeed.  The owners included Elspeth Lady Drayson and her husband, Paul Lord Drayson, who also pilots the car.  In 2008, Paul took a leave of absence from his work as Minister of Defence Procurement and Spokesman for the Defence in the House of Lords Government and Minister of State Business and Regulatory Reform so they and their 5 children could caravan through the US from race to race.  They were having a great time doing so. We spoke with the now team manager, Dale White, who has not only won multiple Le Mans and other endurance races, is body and soul dedicated to living conscientiously, but also hails from a career in nuclear engineering.  That combination alone qualified him in my book as one of the promised characters-and one I was very pleased to meet.

We cheered for 007. And for Danica.  And for all the other female drivers who weren’t competing with Danica.  We had a good time.

Before Labor Day Weekend 2008 in Detroit, in conjunction with the IndyCar/ALMS races, the UK-based Motorsport Industry Association and GM (before it became Government Motors) each sponsored a day dedicated to green racing and advanced biofuels.    

GM Biofuels Summit, Detroit 2008 featured Emerson Fittipaldi, Joel Velasco, Bruce Dale, Randy Kramer and Beth Lowery.

GM Biofuels Summit, Detroit 2008 featured Emerson Fittipaldi, Joel Velasco, Bruce Dale, Randy Kramer and Beth Lowery.

It was the heady days before the economic collapse; days of optimism and hope for the future.  Anticipation bubbled about all the new efficient technologies that were being developed and about devising challenging formulas and specifications for future racing that would motivate technological breakthroughs in efficiency and emissions reductions. 

David Brabham, Bobby Rahal, Paul Lord Drayson, Emerson Fittipaldi, and other leaders in their fields spoke or attended.  The key word was “relevance.”  And everyone had exciting ideas about how it could be achieved-how “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday” would revive as a competition mantra because people would really see how new technologies in safety, efficiency, durability and performance worked.  Everyone there was excited–and smiling.  (See photos, watch slideshow of MIA day)

The Green Challenge was announced.

The meetings ended in time for us to watch some of the practice sessions along with the Detroit public.  Out in the stands, we got to talking to the family sitting in front of us.  We explained the meetings that brought us to Detroit.  We told them about the IndyCars racing on ethanol and the ALMS cars using cellulosic ethanol and about the Green Challenge.  The woman turned to me and said, “So now I can feel better about being here?”  Yes.  And that’s exactly how I felt, too. 

Detroit family happy to hear about the green racing's commitment to developing energy efficiencies and sustainable technologies with the motto, "From the Raceway to Your Driveway."

Detroit family happy to hear about green racing's commitment to developing energy efficiencies and sustainable technologies with the motto, "From the Raceway to Your Driveway."

So, what is the Green Challenge and how did it come to be?  The Green Challenge is a race event that has embedded a “green” race within the “get to the finish line first” race-a race series with relevance for today and the future.

One legend about the development of this race is that David Brabham, currently with Patrón Highcroft Racing, didn’t want to watch motorsports die due to becoming irrelevant entertainment.   Whether from truly green chromosomes in his being or from a burning desire to continue quality, credible competition,  or a combination of those, it is said that he was the moving force behind bringing Scott Atherton, President and CEO of the American LeMans Series, to champion the idea of a Green Challenge.  It would be a race within the race to see who could not only get to the finish line first, but also to do so most cleanly and efficiently.

Green Racing Protocols were developed in collaboration with the US Department of Energy, US Environmental Protection Agency and the Society of Automotive Engineers International to provide a framework of fuels and specifications which sanctioning bodies must follow for an event to be recognized as a green racing event.  The American LeMans Series’ competition is called the Green Challenge.  More specifically, in 2009, it is the Michelin Green X Challenge. 

Michelin Man, the 2009 sponsor of the Green X Challenge.

Michelin Man, the 2009 sponsor of the Green X Challenge.

It seems to be working, at least to highlight the idea that racing can be a platform to develop technologies that will be used in non-racing applications.  To a great extent, that is already part of the ALMS ethos and regulations.  Competition vehicles are supposed to use components and technology that can have consumer applications.  The Green Challenge provides incentive to work on developments that focus on energy efficiency and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through use of such technologies as advanced renewable fuels and regenerative energy powertrains (hybrids).

Last year at Petit Le Mans, the Green Challenge awards were presented.  This year more races are included and the last race at Laguna Seca decides the winners.

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