Green cars take top prize in U.S. racing series

Source: Julia Pyper, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Audi R18 Ultra

The Audi R18 Ultra, a turbocharged-diesel prototype running on bio-to-liquid fuel, won the 2012 Sebring race and the Michelin Green X Challenge. Photo courtesy of Michelin.

The checkered flag dropped at the Le Mans Series Toyota Grand Prix this weekend, and the most efficient, least carbon-emitting cars dominated the standings for the fourth year in a row.

The Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team won the race with its High Performance Development Honda prototype and won the Michelin Green X Challenge, an award given to one team at the end of every American Le Mans Series (ALMS) race based on its vehicle’s environmental performance.

Now six of the eight winners at Long Beach in both the Prototype and Grand Touring (GT) categories have also taken victory in the Michelin Green X Challenge since the award program was launched.

“The fans think of green as being slow, but actually it’s really quite the opposite,” said Silvia Mammone, motorsports manager with Michelin.

“The Green X Challenge is about being clean and efficient, but also to be fast,” Mammone said. “Car manufacturers are now very involved and want to win the award at every race because it shows they’re producing parts and cars that are fuel-efficient, and that transfers to the products they’re putting out on the show floor.”

In addition to featuring the Green X Challenge, ALMS is currently the only race car platform that complies with the “Green Racing” standards developed by the Department of Energy, U.S. EPA and engineering association SAE International.

The protocols are based on the use of renewable fuels; multiple engines, fuels and propulsion systems; regenerative powertrain technologies that reuse brake energy; an allocated limit of energy use per team; and exhaust pollution control.

Speed and efficiency ‘a natural fit’

The fourth season of Green Racing kicked off last month in Florida with the 12-hour Sebring race, where the Audi R18 Ultra, a turbocharged-diesel running on bio-to-liquid fuel, came first on the track and off the track in the Prototype class of the Michelin Green X Challenge

The team that receives the most points in the Michelin Green X Challenge by the end of the season is given an invitation to participate in the 24-hour Le Mans race in France — the pinnacle of endurance racing — where efficient technologies can deliver big payoffs.

“Racing is a natural fit for efficiency, because if you can use less fuel and you have to stop fewer times to take on more fuel, whether it’s petroleum or bio-based, you’re going to spend less time in the pits, more time on the track, and finish first,” said Lee Slezak, vehicle systems manager at DOE.

The Green Racing program was conceived six years ago to make racing a more relevant space to develop clean technology that could be transferred from the track to the marketplace, said Slezak.

“Part of this is about demonstrating to the most discerning car people there are — the racing community — that if these fuel-efficient technologies can perform in the racing field without any compromise, they can certainly perform in the cars that you and I drive every day,” said Patrick Davis, DOE program manager for vehicle technologies.

Some advances on the racetrack have already trickled down into mass production.

Audi, for instance, pioneered the direct injection gasoline engine for its R8 prototype racer in 2000, which was one of the most successful prototypes in Le Mans history. Today, the same direct injection technology, which uses less fuel, is found in Ford EcoBoost engines that deliver up to 20 percent better fuel economy and 15 percent less carbon dioxide emissions.

Low-carbon races earn appreciation, if not more money

The Green Racing protocols were designed so that they could be adopted by any racing series around the world, but so far, Le Mans is the only race to fully comply. Since the program began five years ago, ALMS has reduced its oil consumption by more than 40 percent.

According to Edward Triolo, a spokesman for ALMS, the emphasis on low-emissions racing has not necessarily helped the series sell more tickets. “But I think that fans recognize and appreciate the fact we’re trying to advance the cause of green racing,” he said.

Earlier this year, ALMS announced it would launch the first global, non-fossil-fuel race series in 2013, in partnership with the International Motor Sports Association and the sustainable research and development group Quimera.

The electric vehicle championship will initially be run in conjunction with existing ALMS races in the United States and will eventually expand internationally. The organizers also plan to feature a separate category for electric motorcycles.

“We have often quoted the fact that the most important race in the world is the race among automobile manufacturers to develop new sustainable transportation solutions,” said Scott Atherton, president of ALMS, in a statement. “Our alliance with Quimera is the embodiment of that race. It enables us to continue our leadership in green racing and truly takes us to the next level.”