ALMS cuts petroleum use while improving racing

Being green isn’t what most fans think about when high-powered race cars roar past, but the American Le Mans Series thinks differently. Race cars obviously use a lot more fuel than a typical Prius, but efficiency is actually very important to most racers.

Weight is the enemy of performance and the more fuel a car uses, the more it has to carry, adding mass. In endurance racing, especially on long tracks like Le Mans, guzzling fuel also means more pit stops and time standing still while other cars are circulating.

ALMS CEO Scott Atherton led the charge starting in 2006 to make the series the “green racing” leader. ALMS regulations are based on those set down by the Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO) which runs Le Mans. Le Mans organizers have given prizes for the efficiency index going back to at least the 1960s and the ACO rule book made allowances for all manner of different powerplants including Wankel rotaries and different fuels such as diesel.

Atherton took this idea and expanded on it, deciding that the ALMS was going to make a concerted effort to reduce oil and petroleum use. There were a number of reasons for going down this path, not the least of which was to find an angle that would set the series apart and hopefully attract new fans. Adopting new fuels starting with E10 and diesel and allowing experimental powertrains would also provide an outlet for manufacturers looking to test new technology that could have production applications.

In 2008, Atherton announced the introduction of cellulosic ethanol E85 blends as one of the allowable fuels in the series as well as the launch of the Michelin Green X Challenge. Starting with the Intersport LMP1 team and the GT1 Corvettes that year, the use of E85 has grown to the point where virtually the entire GT field is now using it along with several prototypes.  The diesel powered Audi prototypes were regular competitors and winners and the diesel Peugeots also join in the fun at Sebring and Petit Le Mans as part of their preparations for the French endurance classic. In 2010, the Dyson Racing squad also began using a 20 percent bio-butanol blend for the entire season after testing it in 2009.

2009 also saw the debut of the Corsa racing team with a hybrid LMP1 car that saw limited success and Porsche ran its more competitive flywheel hybrid 911 GT3R at the 2010 Petit Le Mans.

The Green Challenge is a second championship in addition to the race for outright victory. Working with the US Department of Energy and the Society of Automotive Engineers, ALMS developed a formula that rates the cars on a combination of distance run on the track and overall carbon footprint. The teams that demonstrate the best combination of performance and efficiency take the prize.  In 2010, the Highcroft racing team took both the overall LMP championship and the Green Challenge for prototypes, while E85 fueled Flying Lizard Porsche took the GT class.

So what does it all amount to? For the Corvette Racing team, the struggle for efficiency saw the team improve from getting 10 laps per tankful at the 8.5 mile Le Mans circuit during their debut season in 1999 to 15 laps per tank in 2009. The 911 hybrid gets 25-30 percent better fuel efficiency than its conventional equivalent despite added weight. At this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring, the combined field will use over 28 percent less petroleum than the 2007 field. The Sebring field also includes a number of European teams that aren’t set up for running on E85, so once they go home and the rest of the ALMS season continues that improvement will get even better.

According to ALMS spokesman Bob Dickinson, if the entire U.S. vehicle fleet achieved a similar improvement, oil imports could be cut in half and 338 million gallons of gasoline would be saved.

We won’t kid you, we love the sound and fury of sports cars chasing each around a road course for hours on end and the technology is damn cool. The fact that it can be done while using less of the planet’s resources at the same time, is a serious bonus.

Aston Martin AMR-One Le Mans Prototype flips its lid

 

Aston Martin’s new 2011 Le Mans Prototype flips the script on its predecessor. The LMP1 car fielded by Aston Martin Racing for the last two years was a modified Lola coupe powered by a competition version of the 6.0-liter V12 that propels most Aston road cars. Despite being the fastest non-diesel P1 of the past two seasons, it couldn’t compete with the Audi R15 and Peugeot 908.

While Audi has switched to a closed cockpit for its new R18, the AMR-One does away with its roof to make driver changes quicker. The aerodynamic hit is balanced by speed in the pits. The carbon-fiber chassis of the AMR-One has been developed in-house by Aston Martin rather than use off-the-shelf Lola parts. Like the new Audi and Peugeot racers, Aston Martin has opted for 18-inch wheels all around which is expected to provide better balance. Despite the rear-mid-engine layout and the now-mandatory shark fin on the back, the flat sides of the AMR-One mean that it most closely resembles the front-engine Panoz LMP1 Roadster of 1999.

2011 P1 rules  limit non-diesel normally aspirated engines to 3.4-liters  and boosted engines to 2.0-liters.  Aston engineers have created a brand-new 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-six-cylinder that cranks out an estimated 540 horsepower. Power is fed to the rear wheels via an Xtrac six-speed semi-automatic gearbox with a pneumatic shift mechanism.

Aston Martin is planning to build six examples of the AMR-One but they won’t be ready to race at the ALMS/Intercontinental Le Mans Cup season opener at Sebring this month. Aston hasn’t said if they will run a Lola at Sebring although the Cytosport team will be campaigning one of the Lolas in Florida and throughout the rest of the year. Aston does plan to run a car in the rest of the ILMC races and two cars at Le Mans in June.

2011 Daytona 500 Shocker – The Next Generation Rises

One of the most notable NASCAR showdowns in the last decade, the 2011 Daytona 500 had many on the edge of their seat.  The 1-on-1 drafting technique on the freshly paved surface (at a cost of $20M) made for a very action-packed racing Sunday.

This was the ten-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death at this very race.  The crowd observed a lap of silence during lap 3  in remembrance of the tragedy.  After a relatively quiet first few laps, the action didn’t stop. Fans and experts alike had favorited the usual suspects in taking the checkered flag in the February 20, 2011 duel: ’04 winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr.; ’06 winner, Jimmie Johnson; even 3-time winner, Jeff Gordon were all names that everyone was looking to be sitting in the winner’s circle after the checkered flag. That’s not how it turned out, as the veterans dropped out one by one, culminating with Dale Earnhardt Jr’s crash with 4 laps to go.

The lead changed hands a record 74 times, and after all those laps, it came down to .118 seconds between winner and second place. That winner was newcomer Trevor Bayne, who’s now suddenly a star. In addition to taking the checkered flag, Bayne set a couple other records. He’s the youngest driver ever to win the Daytona 500, just 20 years old.  Not including the inaugural race in 1959, Bayne is also the first driver to win his first attempt at the race.

Not a bad birthday weekend for Trevor Bayne, who turned 20 the day before the race.

If the Daytona 500 is any indication, the 2011 chase for the cup will certainly be exciting; but most of all, anyone’s for the taking.