Hybrids in Motorsports Shift into High Gear
Green technologies and programs are being introduced in NASCAR, Formula One, Formula Three, Champ Car, and Le Mans.
After more than a year of effort, Toyota received approval from NASCAR to use its Camry Hybrid as an official pace car. The Camry Hybrid will make its debut in next month’s Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, North Carolina. This is the first time a hybrid will be used as an official pace car. NASCAR used a Ford Fusion hybrid for the parade laps before the start of last year’s season finale at Homestead in Miami—but it was replaced by a Ford Fusion Sport with an internal combustion engine for the rest of the race.
In order to get approval from NASCAR, the Camry hybrid had to take off from a standstill position on pit road and reach 100 miles per hour by the time it got to the second turn of the racetrack. The car was able to hit the magic number and averaged about 105 miles per hour over multiple laps. “That’s pretty impressive, considering that we’re talking about a hybrid here. It’s going to help dispel the notion that hybrid cars are synonymous with being slow and underpowered,” said Ben Davis, a track test driver and road test producer for PBS’ MotorWeek.
NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin gave people rides around Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord to demonstrate the Camry Hybrid’s track prowess. The Camry, including the hybrid version, is known for its steady—some would call it sedate—ride. “A couple times I found myself just puttering around there because it was so smooth,” Hamlin said. “You’ve almost got to force it to get out of shape.”
The Camry Hybrid is slated to run as a pace car in several more NASCAR races this year. Its appearance is merely one sign of a larger trend of motorsport becoming more eco-friendly.
Planting Trees for Speed
Last week, Champ Car driver Nelson Philippe announced that he will enter the first carbon neutral team to compete at the Indianapolis 500. Philippe is working with the National Arbor Day Foundation to plant trees to offset the team’s carbon output—but his vision goes beyond the track. He is partnering with EcoDrivingUSA—an educational organization backed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg—to hold a series of events to educate people on how they can drive the cars they currently own in a more efficient manner. He told Fox News, “You don’t have to have a hybrid car to get better mileage. You can have a big pickup and if you learn how to become an eco driver, you can increase your fuel mileage by up to 33 percent and drastically reduce your future emissions right now.”
Philippe will go flat out on the track, but to achieve his carbon-reduction goals, he is asking his team to drive with fuel efficiency in mind. “All the crew members and all of the mechanics, they’re not happy about it but they have all had to become eco drivers, the truck driver has become an eco driver as well,” he said. “The goal is to make sure that we can offset our carbon footprint.” Philippe hopes this year’s efforts—starting with his own team—will pave the way for the entire 2010 Indy 500 event to become carbon-neutral next year. The goal is to have one tree planted for every one of the 350,000 spectators who attends the event.
F1 Goes Hybrid
In Formula One, this is the first year than an energy-saving device known as Kinetic Energy Recover Systems, or KERS, is being put to use. KERS is a form of regenerative braking commonly used in hybrid cars. The idea is to reclaim energy lost during braking, capture it in a capacitor, and use it for a burst of speed at a strategic moment. Unfortunately, no KERS car has won an F1 race. Nonetheless, many believe KERS equipment will continue to improve to eventually become a key advantage—making the sport more exciting while educating the auto industry about the benefits of green auto technologies.
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Warwick in England are trying to build a Formula Three racecar entirely from sustainable products. Formula Three is like the farm league of Formula One racing.
The so-called WorldFirst F3 racer uses composite materials traced back to carrots, potatoes, flax fiber, soybean oil and other natural products. It also uses recycled carbon fiber and composite body panels, and runs on biodiesel made from vegetable oil. The WorldFirst F3, designed to take corners at 125 miles an hour, will make its debut on May 7 in Belgium.
Ethanol-Burning Hybrid Racing in Le Mans
The American Le Mans Series is perhaps the greenest of motorsport leagues. It’s the only major race series in the world in which all cars race on street legal alternative fuels, using clean low sulfur diesel, E85 ethanol or E10 gas-electric hybrid powerplants.
At the next race, at the Utah Grand Prix on May 17, Corsa Motorsports and the Zytek Group will unveil the Corsa Zytek hybrid. The car is powered by a 625-horsepower ethanol-burning V8 with an electric motor powered by a lithium ion energy storage system with KERS. The car’s top speed is more than 200 miles per hour. Zytek and Corsa hope the vehicle will eventually become the first gas-electric hybrid to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Last year, Scott Atherton, chief executive of American Le Mans, told the Wall Street Journal that the Corsa team’s effort is the beginning of widespread acceptance of hybrids. “I think hybrid power will soon be part of the automotive fabric across the board.”