Automobile racing isn’t the first sport that comes to mind when one ponders alternative energy or environmental causes. That said, not all racing series are alike: the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) has taken clear steps towards promoting the use of alternative fuels and technologies.
In 2008, the ALMS launched the Michelin Green X Challenge, which gave awards to teams for being fuel-efficient and using renewable fuels. Competing teams have run everything from E85 through isobutanol, and even Michelin has helped by producing a longer-lasting race tire.
Porsche used the series to help highlight their flywheel-hybrid 911 GT3 R Hybrid race car, and the technology developed for racing ultimately trickles down to production cars. Porsche’s range-topping 918 Spyder hybrid is likely to use a refined version of the flywheel hybrid system to boost power without using additional fuel.
Next up for ALMS: cars fueled by compressed natural gas, which the ALMS wants to highlight as a currently available alternative fuel source. Racing is an ideal way to dispel myths about power, range or even refueling issues, and ALMS president Scott Atherton believes his series can help aid mainstream acceptance of CNG as an alternative to gasoline.
Electric cars aren’t in ALMS’ near-future plans, only because current battery technology limits range under racing conditions. Still, Atherton believes that electric cars have a place in racing and is even considering an all-electric spec-series separate from ALMS itself.
Another technology being considered for the near future is a radical departure in race car design. The ALMS is looking into adopting the Delta Wing racer originally developed for IndyCar. The platform weighs roughly half of a current ALMS prototype car and would be powered by a significantly lower-output engine. That’s still enough to yield performance on par with current ALMS prototypes, but at a significant fuel savings.