Energy Independence message delivered Energy Independence was the message at Tavern on the Green Thursday as the American Le Mans Series showcased its relevancy with automotive technology and consumers - one of the Series' cornerstones since its inception.
More than 100 VIPs and media attended the luncheon program at the New York City Central Park landmark, highlighted by remarks from legendary driver/team owner Bobby Rahal, EPIC Executive Director Tom Slunecka and American Le Mans Series President and CEO Scott Atherton. Atherton was introduced by Tom Harrison, CEO of Omnicom Group Diversified Services, the world's largest advertising agency conglomerate.
Atherton led off emphasizing that the reason the American Le Mans Series has become the fastest growing racing series in the world is because of its relevance - the ability of the auto manufacturers participating in the series to transfer technologies from their racing programs directly to the production cars in their showrooms.
"We have been fortunate to have risen so quickly within the ranks of motorsports," said Atherton. "When one considers that 10 years ago, sports car racing in North America was truly in the doldrums, it is a real testament to Dr. Don Panoz and his vision that today we stand here as one of the fastest growing series in the world."
The primary message focused on "energy independence." The American Le Mans Series became the first major racing series in the world this year to adopt multiple alternative "street legal" fuels for all its race cars. While Audi continues to showcase the performance and reliability of cars powered by clean diesel, the remainder of the American Le Mans Series field is running on an E10 ethanol blend - 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline.
"It is essentially the same fuel that you and I put in our cars every day," said Atherton, who also indicated that major manufacturers have already approached the Series about racing hybrid and hydrogen powered cars in the future.
Atherton cited the American Le Mans Series recent success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans where Audi Sport North America won for the second consecutive year with its diesel-powered R10 TDI, Audi's seventh overall win in the last eight years. Marco Werner, who drove the victorious Audi over the finish line, was in attendance. All four class winners at Le Mans had drivers who have achieved notoriety in the American Le Mans Series, he noted.
"Suffice it to say," continued Atherton, "that when American Le Mans Series teams compete on the world's biggest stage - Le Mans - they continue to be the teams to beat."
Rahal, a former Indy 500 and Twelve Hours of Sebring winner, who now operates an American Le Mans Series team with partner David Letterman, re-emphasized the energy independence theme and its partnership with the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC).
"I applaud the American Le Mans Series for its partnership with EPIC and its commitment to alternative fuels," said Rahal. "For the first time in decades, our sport has relevancy to our everyday life. It is simply not entertainment any more. And as a multi-brand car dealer myself, I can tell you it's working. Alternative fuels are key components of our nation's long-term energy solution, and now motor racing has its rightful place to build awareness and momentum behind this critically important initiative."
EPIC's Slunecka added, "The American Le Mans Series has successfully provided a direct link for the manufacturers - a link from the racetrack to the showroom. And now with ethanol-enriched fuel, there is a link from the racetrack to the filling station."
Earlier in the day, Porsche announced that its complete line of 2008 production cars would all be equipped to handle the E10 ethanol blend. Porsche North America President, Peter Schwarzenbauer, applauded the American Le Mans Series for its pioneering efforts to highlight ecological awareness and the need for energy independence among automotive enthusiasts and manufactures.
Teams and drivers in attendance other than the Le Mans-winning Werner for Audi were Ryan Briscoe of Penske Racing, Tom Milner Jr. of Rahal Letterman, Butch Leitzinger of Dyson Racing, Duncan Dayton of Highcroft Racing and Joey Hand of Panoz Team PTG.
The American Le Mans Series next round is July 7 at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, CT. CBS Sports will telecast the race Sunday, July 8 from 1-3 p.m. EDT. In addition, international distribution of the Northeast Grand Prix will reach more than 600 million homes.