Team Ethanol driver Jeff Simmons practices at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This year, Indy 500 racers will drive cars that run on an ethanol-blended fuel. Image Credit: MSNBC
"Gasoline Alley" will never be the same.
In a race from a place that exudes nothing but tradition, The Indianapolis 500, the open-wheel race cars will be running on "Cornfuel" (ethanol) this Memorial Day weekend for the first time in 95 years.
This change is now fueling speculation for a name change of the place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where all of the cars for the race are prepared.
Should "Gasoline Alley" now become Ethanol Avenue? ... Corn-fed Court?
So!, are we going to now change the nickname of the place from "The Brickyard" to "The Cornpatch"?
Excerpts from MSNBC with contributions from AP -
Ethanol boosters hoping for Indy 500 win
Race cars to use ethanol blend for first time, boosting corn fuel’s profile
By Roland Jones - Business editor, MSNBC - Updated: 3:03 p.m. PT May 25, 2006
Speed will be of the essence for drivers racing around the oval at Sunday’s 90th running of the Indianapolis 500, but it won’t just be the drivers hoping to win big.
For the first time in the race’s 95-year history, cars in the Indy 500 will burn a fuel that is 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent methanol. It’s a fuel change that some in the ethanol industry hope will hasten the adoption of the alternative fuel among ordinary drivers.
Three big names in the ethanol industry are driving the fuel switch — ICM Inc., Broin Cos. and Fagen Inc. The companies, which engineer and build ethanol plants, have put up several million dollars as the prime sponsors of the No. 17 Team Ethanol Honda/Panoz/Firestone car to be driven by Jeff Simmons in the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Simmons replaces Paul Dana, who died in a practice accident March 26.
The aim is to promote the power, fuel-efficiency and safety of ethanol in front of the estimated 300 million people who will view the race, said Tom Slunecka, executive director of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, which represents the three ethanol companies.
The Indy Racing League said this year that its Indy Car series would switch from pure methanol — a fuel derived from natural gas that replaced gasoline in the 1970s because it is less likely to ignite — to the new 90-10 blend of methanol and corn-derived ethanol. In 2007, the league plans to switch permanently to 100 percent ethanol.
“We could have put our name on the side of a car to promote ethanol, but instead we did it the hard way, so we arranged this fuel switch," said Slunecka. "It’s not marketing hype -- it’s true performance, and the IRL would never have agreed to this change if it lessened the performance of the vehicles in their races. We had to prove that these cars would perform just as well, and they’re already setting new records burning ethanol.”
Cars running on ethanol certainly pack a powerful punch. Pure ethanol — made from renewable plant sources like corn, wheat and sugarcane — has an octane rating of 113, compared with 107 for methanol and about 91 to 95 for gasoline. Several track records already have been set this season using the new fuel blend. In general the higher a fuel’s octane rating, the better the engine will perform.
The most common use of ethanol by American drivers is in E85 — a mixture of gasoline and ethanol with up to 85 percent ethanol by volume. E85, which is widely used in Brazil and Sweden, can be used in engines modified to accept higher concentrations of ethanol, which is corrosive and can damage ordinary engines.
“This is also going to decrease the amount of fuel a car needs, so the weight of the cars will be reduced and they’ll be able to increase their speed,” he said. “From a safety perspective, if there’s an accident there’ll be less fuel to burn. And unlike methanol, which is difficult to see when it’s burning, ethanol gives off more color and smoke when it burns, so if there is an accident it will be much easier for people to see it."
There are environmental advantages too. Ethanol burns more cleanly than gasoline or methanol, reducing emissions of carbon monoxide and particulate matter that can contribute to the greenhouse effect.
But not everyone is as excited about ethanol, which is doing little if anything to reduce fuel costs, currently above $3 a gallon in much of the nation.
“[Ethanol] has some good features. It's less of a pollutant than gas, but the mileage is not as good and we have serious problems to work out," he said. "Ethanol is not pipeline-friendly, as it can be easily contaminated with water, and if we want to replace gasoline with it, we’d need to use 87 percent of our farmland, so it has practical limits. In the end I’d say ethanol has its niche, but it has lots of problems that politicians tend to gloss over."
Slunecka is more optimistic.
“There’s always going to be some question about this. After all, we produce 4.6 billion gallons annually, compared with the 130 billion gallons of gasoline Americans use each year,” said Slunecka. “But we have increased production by 20 percent annually for the last few years, so changes are coming about, and at a certain point Americans who want a better environment and want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil need to stand up; you need to stand up as a consumer and say you are making a difference.”
UPDATE - 5-26-2006, 7:00 PM PST:
This from USA TODAY -
Dana's memory continues on in ethanol crusade
By A.J. Perez, USA TODAY
INDIANAPOLIS — Paul Dana won't be remembered years from now for what he accomplished in his three IRL IndyCar Series starts before his death.
His legacy will be in what fuels the series he strove to compete in.
Through his efforts, Dana helped sway series officials enough on ethanol to fast-track the bio-friendly fuel's inclusion in the series.
"The best tribute to his legacy is to continue promoting ethanol through racing," David Vander Griend, president and CEO of ICM — one of the premier design/engineering firms for ethanol processing facilities in the world — said in a statement.
Ethanol, which is typically derived from corn in the USA, currently comprises 10% of the fuel blend for the IndyCar Series. Next year it will be 100%, ending the reign of methanol that has powered IndyCars for nearly four decades.
Dana, 32, was killed when his car — sponsored by an ethanol lobbying group, Ethanol Promotion & Information Council (EPIC) — ran into the back of Ed Carpenter's stalled Vision Racing entry during the final warm-up for the season-opening race March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Jeff Simmons replaced Dana at Rahal Letterman Racing and also took Dana's role as an ethanol advocate.
"Having the ethanol consortium behind me is a cause that I can get behind," Simmons said. "It's something that everybody can believe in."