Win on Sunday, sell on Monday, it’s an old adage the major manufacturers adhered to for years, believing that if you take your products racing, and win–on Sunday–shoppers will flock to buy your products on Monday. In recent years series like NASCAR, V8 Supercars, and others have drifted further and further from average dealership wares, still, racing has always been a hardcore testbed for numerous technologies that end up in road cars. This applies to suppliers of tires and fuel just as much as it does to OEMs, making recent developments from VP Racing Fuel, and Shell all the more fascinating as we try to keep the soul from being sucked out of car culture.
The arrival of IMSA’s new GTP cars at the 2023 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona also brought a new sustainability kick from the series itself. The cars now use hybrid powertrains which improve fuel economy by 10% and feature a mandated energy limit of 255.6 kWh per stint as measured by torque sensors on the rear axle. The cap is a mix of battery power used as torque fill and fuel burned.
For 2023 the GTP class is using a new fuel blend. Last year, the top-shelf DPi cars used VP’s E20 fuel mix which contained 20 percent ethanol. This year, GTP cars are using VP Racing’s new R80 blend. It’s a 100-octane fuel that’s made from just 20 percent gasoline and 80 percent ethanol. According to IMSA, 60 percent of the fuel content is sustainable, and eventually, the fuel will be 100 percent sustainable. The ethanol used is a mix of sugar cane, homegrown U.S. corn, and sugar industry biowaste.
IndyCar will also debut a new sustainable fuel blend from Shell when the 2023 season kicks off with next weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St.Petersburg. Like VP’s mix, the new E85 Shell race gas will use ethanol derived from sugarcane waste and other biofuels. IndyCar says all feedstocks are 100% renewable which allows for a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to if the fuel was entirely petroleum-based.
The ethanol will is sourced from Raízen, a Brazilian Joint-Venture created in 2011 by Shell and Cosan. Raízen is one of the largest sugarcane ethanol producers in the world and owns the first commercial second-generation ethanol plant.
Contrast that with Formula E’s headline-grabbing sustainability program, which includes ISO20121 certification for sustainability in events thanks to a ban on single-use plastics. However, FE’s lithium-ion battery packs are good for just 6,000 km, and while the series boasts about ABB’s wicked fast charging stations that can charge two cars at once, good luck finding out what powers those chargers. Either the series uses portable generators of some kind, or it taps into local electricity.
The local electricity in Cape Town, South Africa, the site of last weekend’s E-Prix is almost exclusively generated by burning coal. The last round in Hyderabad, India, gets 57% of its electricity from burning fossil fuels. And just where do you think the energy comes from in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia? Not exactly from a hydroelectric plant, as you might imagine.
In any case, motorsports have long served as a test bed for new technology and engineering methods that could prove useful to everyday customers down the road. Just how far away are we from mass-producing carbon-neutral, renewable fuels? Only time will tell.