March 29, 2007

IndyCar goes `green' with renewable energy

Paul Dana's legacy will fill the fuel tanks of all 20 cars that will line up on the grid for tomorrow night's IndyCar Series season-opening race at Homestead, Fla.

It was a year ago today, while practising for the same event, that the 32-year-old journalist-turned-driver for Rahal/Letterman Racing was killed in a horrific crash.

Dana was a passionate believer in renewable fuels, and his car bore the logo of the U.S. producers of ethanol.

Series spokesman John Griffin said Dana "saw a bigger vision for ethanol than just being a decal on the side of his car" that paid for his ride.

Jeff Simmons, who replaced Dana, credited his predecessor for bringing about the switch in fuels.

"If it wasn't for him the series wouldn't be making this switch, at least not at this time," he said.

Griffin added that everyone around the paddock is indebted to Dana for improving the aroma around that area.

"It smells like the melted butter you put on popcorn," he said.

IndyCar made a total switch to ethanol for this season after experimenting with a 10 per cent ethanol, 90 per cent methanol mix last year.

The rival ChampCar series, which does not kick off its season until next weekend at Las Vegas, continues to use methanol. Methanol, which is made by applying steam to natural gas, replaced gasoline in Indy-type open-wheel race cars in North American in 1965.

Formula One, however, continues to run on gasoline, as does NASCAR.

While ethanol produces less energy than gasoline when it burns, engineers can overcome that deficiency by building higher compression ratios into their engines.

Simmons said the transition to ethanol has been smooth and if anything it's improved the performance of the car.

"We have a broader power band and improved torque," he explained.

"That torque is really going to help us on restarts and road courses.

"We're also getting a lot better mileage than last year, so much so that we're reducing the size of the fuel cell from 30 gallons down to 22 gallons."

Ethanol is made from a variety of plants, but mainly from corn, and burns cleaner than methanol or gasoline, thus releasing less greenhouse gases that are linked to global warming into the atmosphere.

Simmons said he was skeptical about renewable fuels until he joined the program. Now he's a convert.

"We're trying to say we have this fuel that's made here in America that's a high-performance fuel and you can have environmental responsibility at the same time.

"The amount of ethanol that was already used last year was equivalent to removing one million cars from the road and lessened pollution by something like eight billion tonnes of pollution."

On the racing front, Dan Weldon will be seeking his third consecutive season-opening victory at Homestead tomorrow night.

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