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Financial Times: Motor sport: Race industry takes the lead

By John Griffiths
Published: September 11 2007 08:13 | Last updated: September 11 2007 08:13

The motor sport industry can point out, with justification, that the 4m angling population in the UK alone uses vastly more fuel – and hence generates much more globe-warming carbon dioxide – getting to lakes and riverbanks each weekend than is consumed by all forms of motor sport in the same period.

But the problem for an industry that generates billions of dollars in earnings (£5bn in the UK alone) and employs well over 100,000 directly worldwide is that it is a direct user of CO2-generating fuels. Unfairly or not, that places it in the line of fire more than almost all other sports.

The potential for the mounting clamour over global warning to result in demands for restrictions on motor sport has not been lost on its participants with a big financial stake in it. These include the sport’s world governing body, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA); the companies that earn their living from designing, developing and making its cars and other hardware; the racing teams; and the multitudes of other companies – including multinational corporations using motor sport as a global marketing platform.

The industry, says FIA president Max Mosley, appears not to be under imminent threat – “not yet. But I have no doubt that it will materialise in the next five to 10 years if we don’t do anything positive. Although motor sport in reality uses negligible fuel, it is symbolic – remember that in the 1970s fuel crisis there were moves to stop motor sport. We need to avoid that.”

With relatively little fanfare, except for some high-profile initiatives in motor sport’s top echelon, Formula One, the industry is already demonstrating the fast responses for which it has become famed. From Indy single-seater car racing in the US to even minor national championships in Europe, it is racing into the use of bio- and other cleaner fuels, and it is gearing engineering programmes to make motor sport much more environmentally efficient. It is not so much jumping before it is pushed as leading the way and challenging others to follow.

For example, the FIA is requiring manufacturers taking part in the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) to engineer their cars to use only biofuel from the 2009 season onwards. “With the close relationship between WTCC cars and their roadgoing equivalents we believe that the WTCC is the logical platform to raise public awareness of biofuels,” says Jacques Behar, chief executive of KSO, the championship’s promoter.

The Indy Racing League, similar in status in North America to F1, this year mandated ethanol, made from renewable resources, as the sole fuel to be used. Its introduction has been in partnership with the US-based Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC), which is taking interactive display centres to the races designed to educate consumers on the environmental and other implications of using such fuels. NASCAR stock car racing, the biggest crowd puller in the US, has begun a research programme for its own switch to cleaner, alternative fuels. Ford has unveiled a biofuel version of its new Fiesta rally car to run next year in a series forming part of the world rally championship, with some national championships for the cars – notably Sweden’s – having already ruled that only biofuel may be used.

Meanwhile an adapted Aston Martin DBSR9 co-driven by Lord Drayson, the UK’s defence procurement minister, has become the first bio-fuelled racing car to win a prestigious GT race. “It goes to prove that running a car on bio-fuel doesn’t mean any compromise in performance. I hope that we can get that message across to motorists everywhere,” says Lord Drayson.

More radically, a Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation has been launched in North America following a meeting of senior figures including Tony George, chief executive of Indianapolis motor speedway. Devised to promote radical thinking within the motor sport industry, the federation is drawing up a programme to stage races specifically for cars powered by hydrogen electric fuel cells, with the first scheduled before the end of the decade.

“We are at the dawn of a new age of propulsion for the car. From this day forward we will see internal combustion engines in cars inevitably give way to electric power sources,” says Peter DeLorenzo, the federation’s chief executive. “The concept of racing hydrogen fuel cell–powered machines is unprecedented and historic, because for the first time in many, many years racing will undertake a key role in the development of radical new technologies for production vehicles that are still on the horizon.”

Such challenges are also being taken up with enthusiasm by motor sport’s designers and engineers of the future. In the US, “Formula Hybrid” has been launched as an inter-collegiate competition under which college and university teams are designing and building race cars with with petrol-electric “hybrid” power trains.

Increasingly, such initiatives are becoming co-ordinated on an industry, rather than individual company or race promotion basis. A few weeks ago well over 100 delegates from around the world attended the most recent conference of the UK’s Energy Efficient Motor Sports body, set up by the Motorsport Industry Association with government backing about six years ago to investigate a wide approach to improving the environmental credentials of motor sport. The EEMS has been tackling everything from alternative fuels to radical powertrain technologies.

In the battle for the wider public’s hearts and minds, however, it is the progress made in improving its environmental credentials by motor sport’s flagship Formula One, watched by hundreds of millions around the world, that will most influence motor sport’s future in relation to the environment.

Mr Mosley is putting energy efficiency at the top of F1’s research and development agenda and is deeply critical of the past thrust of research and development by competing teams. He describes as “an inexcusable waste of sponsors’ money” the willingness of teams to spend millions of dollars to shave a few tenths of a second or so off lap times through powertrain or aerodynamic tweaks offering no wider benefits to car makers.

“We calculated that each four milliseconds saved through engine tweaking was costing $1m and 20 milliseconds for the same sum through improving aerodynamics. If the wind tunnels were taken off working for F1 and applied extensively to road cars, and if it led to a 1 per cent saving of drag across General Motors’ entire range, that’s a very significant amount of fuel and it is worth working to that depth of detail – but for F1 cars it’s crazy.”

From 2011 F1’s rules will change in a fundamental fashion. Teams will be restricted to a pre-set maximum of fuel or energy. That, he insists, will result in energy-saving hybrid or other novel powertrain technology to maximise power while minimising emissions. “It will move the whole research and development effort forward, squarely and fairly into the core research areas of all car makers in dealing with their costliest problem – reducing CO2.”

“There is now a very active discussion going on, with some manufacturers asking us to just give them a calorific value and make the technology completely free and others saying that would open the field too wide and become too expensive. I think it will end up with a lot of simulations being done so we’ll be able to narrow the field down and say the post-2011 technology can be of a certain kind.”

It is unlikely, however, to be as radical as that being pursued by students at the UK’s Warwick University. They have developed “Eco One”, a largely biodegradable racing car, with a bodyshell made of hemp, tyres from potatoes, brake pads from cashew nut shells and running entirely on biofuel and bio-lubricants.

“Almost everything on the car can be made out of biodegradable or recyclable materials,” says project manager Ben Wood. “All the plastic components can be made from plants, and although the chassis has to be from steel for strength, steel is a very recyclable material.

“If we can build a high-performance car that can virtually be grown from seed, imagine what’s possible for the average family car!”
Formula One is ‘the ultimate mobile laboratory’

Even before the radical changes to the fuel rules for Formula One race series from 2011, the rival teams in the closely-watched series have been pouring effort and cash, along with the gasoline, into their finely-tuned race cars in an attempt to improve fuel efficiency, writes Rohit Jaggi.

That means tightly controlling the quality of the fuel, to rigorous standards that the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) sets.

The proportion of ethanol in pump gasoline varies from country to country, with 20-25 per cent the norm in Brazil and 5 per cent in France. The FIA has set standards that are aimed at upping the ratio of biofuel in the gasoline that Formula One teams can use ahead of the road-car standards.

The fuel rules for next year require at least 5.75 per cent of oxygenates derived from biological sources. This is in line with a European Union directive on biofuels that requires the same content of biofuel in pump gas by 2010.

Shell in 1996 rekindled a partnership with the highly successful Ferrari Formula One team that has given the Italians eight constructors’ crowns and 11 driver’s titles.

It provides fuel and oil, and with them the specialists at the trackside and in Shell’s plants and laboratories to keep refining the mixes of components.

Lisa Lilley, Shell’s technical manager for Ferrari, heads the team that provides and monitors the fuel and oil – the Ferrari F1 race and test teams use about 250,000 litres of Shell V-Power race fuel a year.

“This is a high-tech partnership where we are learning all the time,” she says, “the ultimate mobile laboratory with extreme but controlled conditions.”

As the V-Power gasoline available at the pumps uses 99 per cent of the same types of components that the Ferrari F1 team uses, this means that experience derived from the track can be fed back into the road fuel. Other partnerships in F1, such as Elf’s with Renault, stand to derive similar benefits.

Further rule changes in F1 are aimed at exploring other technology.

From 2009, the rules will allow cars to recover part of the energy lost in braking and turn it into propulsive power. This is likely to mean regenerative braking, as already seen in petrol/electric hybrids, but in all likelihood using lighter and more efficient batteries than the heavy ones currently used by hybrids.

Lithium-ion and lithium-polymer technology shows great promise. A drag-racing electric motorcycle, the US-based KillaCycle, uses 990 lithium-ion batteries, of the sort found in mobile phones, to produce more than 350 horsepower from cells weighing in total just 181 lbs. The resulting 0 to 60 mph time of about 1.04 seconds has given a big boost to the image of electric-powered vehicles.

Diesel has also been given a big public-relations victory with a win for the second year running by a diesel-powered Audi at the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, which took place in June. The Audi R10’s first place, which pushed a Peugeot 908 diesel rival into second, burnished the credentials of oil-burning engines at a time when the carmakers are set to make a big push to sell diesels into the notoriously resistant US market.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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