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Ethanol at Indy

IndyCars Moving Away From Methanol Fuel

indy race car, indy ethanolBeginning in 2006, all vehicles in the IndyCar Series moved away from methanol, and towards an ethanol-enriched fuel. The Honda Indy V-8 engines competed in the 90th Indianapolis 500 and throughout the 2006 IndyCar Series season on a 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent methanol fuel blend. The high performance engines have demonstrated excellent performance while running on ethanol due to the fuel's high octane content. The 2006 season will not be the first time ethanol fuel has powered a car in the famed Indianapolis 500 series race. The 11th Indianapolis 500, held in 1927, featured a car driven by Leon Duray which was fueled by ethyl (grain) alcohol. The race grade fuel will be produced by Renova Energy in Wyoming.

Ethanol Day

"Ethanol Day" May 11,2006 was commemorated by U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman when he extended congratulations to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series for "spreading the word" of ethanol's potential as an alternative to imported oil. 2006 marks a turning not reached since 1965. Methanol was introduced at Indy that year because it was likely to ignite, resulting in a lower fire hazard. The Indy cars ran on methanol fuel for forty years ending at the culmination of the 2005 season. The race car engines demonstrated excellent performance due to the fuel's high octane content and internal dynamometer testing results indicate that there are no technical barriers to replacing methanol with ethanol.
Ethanol is produced from agricultural feedstocks such as corn, grain sorghum, wheat, sugar and be delivered either as a fuel or even distilled for human consumption. Ethanol is a renewable fuel that is clean-burning, non-toxic and 100 percent biodegradable. The alternative fuel reduces harmful environmental pollutants, and also improves racing's environmental footprint. Its high octane rating delivers strong engine performance by helping engines resist detonation, allowing them to perform well at higher compression ratios. Starting with the 2007 Indy race season, the race vehicles will run on E100, 100 percent ethanol. Pure Ethanol (E100) has an octane rating of 113, as compared to straight gasoline which has an octane rating of 87 to 92.

Indy Race Car Engines on Ethanol

indy speed racer, indy race magazineThe transition between methanol and ethanol in our cars is expected to be seamless according to an IRL (Indy Racing League) spokesman. The cars reportedly won't smell, or run differently than they have in the past. The noise level has been slightly reduced (about 4 decibels) thanks to baffles which have been installed in the exhaust manifolds. Ethanol is the only proven commercial-scale renewable transportation fuel available in the marketplace and the 10 percent ethanol race fuel corresponds with the ethanol blend commonly available to consumers at E85 gas stations (E10 / E15). The race fuel blend will have a 2 percent denaturant which allows for (any) ethanol flames to be visible should a fire occur.

Honda is the IRL's sole engine provider in the 2007 season and is providing a different engine providing more than 630 horsepower but the switch was due to needing a more adaptable engine rather than fuel requirements. Some modifications such as additional heat removal characteristics were required due to the 30% higher running temperature resulting from burning ethanol. Ethanol gets slightly better fuel mileage than methanol which, interestingly enough, could have resulted in a different pit stop schedule. In order to prevent any changes to race schedule, the fuel tanks have been resized to a smaller capacity but, this will likely affect pit times as the tanks can be filled to capacity much faster. Less fuel also means less gross weight which means more consistent handling factors. Honda has also introduced a flex fuel vehicle in Brazil.

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