Where Is Sports Car Green Racing in 2016?
by Robert E. Kozak* (Advanced Biofuels USA) This weekend the 49th Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona kicks off the American sports car racing season. It promises to be one of the best with the brand new EcoBoost Ford GT joining a tough GT field that includes Corvettes, Porsches, and new turbocharged BMWs and Ferraris. In the prototype class, if the Ben Bowlby designed radical DeltaWing can maintain the pace it showed in the Roar Before the 24 three weeks ago, it could score a well deserved upset victory.
Unfortunately, two significant parts of recent US sports car racing will be missing – E85 fuel and the Green Challenge. Why, you might ask?
The simple answer is sponsorship money, or more accurately, the lack of sponsorship money from ethanol and other biofuel/bioproduct producers.
But then you might also ask why was the American Le Mans (now the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship) racing series the pioneer in making renewable fuels and Green Racing a key aspect of their brand (The premiere Le Mans GT sports car class ran on cellulosic E85, while prototypes ran a variety of fuels including renewable diesel, E85, and bio-isobutanol.) even without much in the way of sponsorship money from the biofuel industry?
I went to the Roar Before the 24, three days of testing at the Daytona International Speedway in early January to find some answers. I talked to team managers, drivers, and race officials. Here’s my take on the situation.
- The roughly decade-long run of high visibility Green Racing started because of dedicated pioneers. Primarily, these were: Doug Fehan, the Corvette team director who brought E85 to race wins and series championships; and Lord Paul Drayson whose small privateer team carried the flag for Green Racing with panache worthy of James Bond. (Drayson Racing did field an Aston Martin #007 at one point.)
American Le Mans Green Racing had an unexpected run of luck in the mainstream media that led to it becoming a key part of their brand. As 10% ethanol became a reality in all gasoline due to its unique oxygenate and octane qualities (and not government regulations), $4/gallon gasoline prices were the standard, and worldwide calls were made for energy innovations, green fuels and the Green Challenge became a hot topic for media outlets from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal.
- By the time NASCAR purchased the American Le Mans series in late 2012 the heady days of the evening news showing the Secretary of Energy in victory lane were yesterday’s news. Instead, the mainstream media embraced the “RFS ethanol mandate” backlash as the new zeitgeist. Reacting to this trend, under NASCAR, Green sports car Racing would not be a significant branding activity.
The officials currently running the NASCAR-owned sports car sanctioning body, International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), and race team leaders still value and want to maintain the relationships with EPA, DOE, SAE, and others built up through the Green Racing Challenge. IMSA officials expressed a desire to have some type of Green Racing event this year, but as of today, 28 January, nothing has been announced.
- The IMSA WeatherTech series has a “Hot” marketing direction this year and doesn’t really need Green Racing. Ford has revived the iconic and revolutionary Ford GT which won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1966-1969. Ford’s marketing of this very racy looking car, which shares its basic 3.5L EcoBoost engine with the F150 truck, is to once again win Le Mans. Before Le Mans, the Ford GT will race in the IMSA WeatherTech series beginning with this week’s Daytona 24 Hours.
- Without revisions to the CAFE standards which would restore biofuel credits (the “F” and “R” provisions, vehicle manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors do not have the marketing incentive to use E30 or E85 in their Ford GTs or Corvettes to sell cars and trucks using flex fuel vehicle (FFV) engines based on their racing technology. Instead, they will use E20 which is the new international specification.
- The current set of sponsors, including the Series Title sponsor WeatherTech, do not have any bioproducts or biofuels in their portfolios. Without that presence, there is no commercial incentive to include Green Racing.
So, I’ll be watching the Rolex 24 at Daytona on television this weekend. I wish I was there but with the lack of Green Racing, not this year unfortunately.
I hope all of you tune in for at least for a bit of the race. (In the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic what else are you going to do? Finish shoveling?) Watch and think what those Ford GTs, Corvettes, BMWs, Ferraris, Porsches, and the DeltaWing would look like with your biofuel or bioproducts company name on them. Pretty cool I’d bet. MORE Photos and MORE (DeltaWing at Petit Le Mans)
2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Television / Streaming Schedule
January 30-3, 2016, Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway
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*Robert E. (Bob) Kozak is the founder of Atlantic Biomass, LLC, and a co-founder of Advanced Biofuels USA. Having worked for about 40 years in the transportation, energy, environmental, and government relations industries and in enzyme development, he serves as a fuels/engines and policy expert for Advanced Biofuels USA. He can be reached at atlanticbiomass @ aol.com