Corvette and E-85 dominate inaugural Green Challenge

  • 31-Dec-2008 02:30 EST
­The E-85 Corvette team came first in class and first in the Green Challenge.­

­The environmentally friendly and alternative fuel movements, commonly known as “green” initiatives, have reached a new audience—that of the American Le Mans Series. Called Green Racing, the new protocols were brought to fruition from cooperation between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), SAE International, the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The protocols were turned into the Green Challenge, with the first awards presented at the Petite Le Mans held at Road Atlanta on Oct. 4. While the awards carry no monetary prize, the bragging rights to such a positive achievement led to determined competition by some of the teams.

­­T­he 10-h or 1000-mi, whichever-comes-first, race lasted until the final minutes of the 10 h before the Audi team broke the 1000-mi mark. Audi’s diesel-powered cars came in first and third in the overall race, with close competition from the Peugeot diesel, which came in second.

The winner of the Green Challenge was the E-85 powered Chevrolet Corvette in the GT class. An E-10 powered Porsche won the prototype class of the green challenge, competing in the slightly smaller LMP2 category. Aided by its 3.4-L V8, the Porsche grabbed first and second in front of the race-winning Audi. A new direct fuel injection system was given credit also, as it simultaneously increased performance and lowered fuel consumption.

The E-85 powered Corvettes and an Aston Martin were hopefuls for the Green Challenge prizes, and not unexpectedly, it was a Corvette, Aston, Corvette win in the GT class, as well as the best score overall. E-85 was favored in the well-to-wheel contest as it was produced primarily from wood waste, lowering the energy used in fuel production.

“Going into the second half of the season, Corvette Racing’s goal was to win the first Green Challenge,” said Steve Wesoloski, GM Road Racing Group Manager. "Winning the Green Challenge with the best score among both GT cars and Prototypes was a team effort that combined the expertise of GM Powertrain, our engine supplier Katech, and Pratt & Miller Engineering.

The race was lengthened by 11 caution periods, some of which dashed the hopes of competitors who would have been competitive in the Green Challenge.

The Aston Martin of Drayson-Barwell was in and out of the Green lead throughout the race but was unable to finish due to driveshaft failure. One of the advantages of the complex mathematics employed by the Green Challenge is that the vehicle needs only to have completed 70% of the race and still be running by the end, thus the Aston, despite not finishing the race, came in second in class and overall.

Another hopeful for success in the challenge was Corsa Motorsports and the team Ginetta-Zytek 07-S that was not a gasoline-electric hybrid at the Petite Le Mans but was planning to be soon. During the race, the car was run with ballast in place to simulate the weight of a hybrid system to set up the chassis for the impending additional drive system. Despite additional dead weight, the car performed competitively during the race and was up to fourth overall and second in the LMP1 class. An accident knocked them out of the race, but the team should be even stronger competitors when the additional hybrid system is in place.

Audi's 5.5-L R10 TDI engines are V12 powerplants producing 650 hp (485 kW) and over 1100 N·m (811 lb·ft) with the assistance of two Garrett superchargers. A Bosch injection system forces fuel in at high pressure.

“Audi was one of the pioneers of direct injection,” said Hartmut Diel, Head of Design, Audi Race and Special Engine Development. “Diesels are most efficient at 2000 bar or more, and the fine mixture helps in combustion and to meet environmental laws."

The car is also extremely quiet while at speed, a noticeable difference from the screaming E-10 and E-85 competitors. This is in part due to the twin turbos and partially from the cooperation with Dow Automotive, the supplier of the diesel particle filter system. “We have good cooperation with Dow; it’s a sophisticated filter with low back-pressure,” said Diel.

The future for Audi could lie in a diesel-electric hybrid. “(A hybrid) is pipelined in racing and production development, and we will be working on it depending on the regulation changes from the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO),” said Diel. As it was, though, Audi came in third and fifth in the Green Challenge with its two entries in the Petite Le Mans.

The diesels are formulated to run on Shell’s gas-to-liquid (GTL) diesel, which is extracted from natural gas. “Because of the process to make it, it is a clean and clear fuel,” said Richard Karlstetter, Shell Global Technology Manager, Racing Fuels, pointing to the water in a vase of flowers, “much like that.”

While the GTL diesel is already on sale in Europe, it may be more than a year before it arrives on sale in the U.S. “The biggest challenge is that 90% of diesel is used for trucks, which don’t need high-quality diesel,” said Karlstetter. Even though the GTL fuel is more environmentally friendly, more steps are being taken. “The biodiesel version is biomass, or wood residues, to liquid, which reduces CO2 emissions more. We used a small amount at Le Mans this year, and the engineers couldn’t recognize the difference.”

Peugeot, the other diesel entry in the ALMS and archrival of Audi, uses a clean-diesel technology similar to Audi but is also experimenting with diesel-electric hybrids. A prototype production car was shown at October’s Paris Motor Show, and a Le Mans Series prototype that could be entered into the 2009 series for testing was demonstrated at the final round of the Le Mans Series held at Silverstone.

“We would like to continue to develop this, and it is company policy to continue to develop hybrid cars,” said Bruno Famin, Technical Director, Peugeot. The hybrid shown at Silverstone eliminates the conventional battery and starter and replaces them with three components for the hybrid system: a 60-kW gear-driven electric motor, 600 lithium-ion cells divided into 10 battery packs, and a power converter. The system captures the kinetic energy from braking and stores it for additional performance or reduced fuel consumption. “Peugeot Sport is developing the hybrid to win, but the current rules penalize against it, said Famin.”

Peugeot is currently having issues balancing weight, power, and consumption and remaining competitive. “A diesel is already heavy,” said Serge Saulnier Team Manager, Peugeot. “Then add the batteries, which are about 45 kg (99 lb). On one side, you find power and you save fuel, but you have to balance that with performance.”

With support from major competitors in the ALMS Series, the future of the Green Challenge appears bright. Whether or not other forms of motorsport will join the green trend is questionable.

“The Nascar business model doesn’t support other fuels,” said Doug Robinson, Executive Director of the International Motor Sports Association. “Formula One is high-tech and will try to capture some technology, and IRL (Indy Racing League) technical changes coming up could go back to cars that could vary versus spec cars.”

The increasing social pressure to be environmentally conscious is the driving force behind the ALMS. “For those still questioning a decision to go green,” said Scott Atherton, President and CEO of Panoz Motor Sports Group, the ALMS controlling organization, “our perspective is this: you’re either at the table or you’re on the menu.”

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