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Indy Racing League Makes Move To 100% Fuel-Grade Ethanol

The Indy Racing League’s move to ethanol to power its 225 mile-per-hour cars in 2007 is both logical and historic.

After 40 years of running on methanol, a non-renewable fossil fuel made from natural gas, the IRL began
looking into ethanol with a push from the late Paul Dana.

“It was early December in 2005 when I first met with the Ethanol group led by Paul Dana, Tom Sluenecka, Dave Vander Grind, Jeff Broin and Ron Fagen,” recalled Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 winner, who coowns the Team Ethanol Indy Car effort with David Letterman. “I was aware of the program they had initiated with the IndyCar Series to run on a 90 percent 10 percent methanol/ethanol mix in 2006, and to make the move to 100 per cent fuel-grade ethanol in 2007.

“As I sat across the table from these men discussing the Team Ethanol program, the wisdom of the concept was clearly visible. What better way to dispel the myths against Ethanol than to demonstrate weekly the high-performance aspects of the fuel?

“It made perfect sense and with a passionate advocate like Paul the basis of a partnership was forged.”

Ethanol is a clean-burning, renewable fuel produced from plants that reduces air pollution. Since the 1980s, all major auto manufacturers have approved its use by up to 10 percent.

Like the rear-view mirror, fuel cells or SAFER walls, it’s just another innovation from racing that’s making life better for the average American.

“Our series is at the forefront of ‘The Greening of Racing’ as the first in motorsports to embrace a renewable fuel source,” said Jeff Simmons, driver of the Ethanol car. “All of us in the IndyCar Series will be demonstrating under harsh automotive conditions that it is possible to have an environmentally-friendly fuel that delivers real performance.

“The message to consumers is clear: if a cutting-edge, 650-horsepower IndyCar Series vehicle can run safely and effectively at 230 miles per hour on 100 percent ethanol, so can a passenger sedan, mini-van or SUV on E10, or a flex-fuel vehicle on E85.

“And it has clear environmental advantages over the other available fuel sources.”

Switching from methanol to ethanol presented a new set of challenges for Honda.

“The most important aspect was making sure all the engine components that come into contact with the fuel are ethanol-compatible,” said Roger Griffiths, Race Team Technical Leader for Honda Performance Development.

“This includes the fuel injectors, fuel lines and seals. Plus, the ECU [Engine Control Unit] settings also have to be adjusted to meet the burn requirements of ethanol. But I think we’ve made a smooth transition.”

Besides getting better fuel mileage, the drivers have noticed one other thing during pre-season testing.

“My car runs the same, it just smells better,” said Scott Dixon.

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