IndyCar may ditch Ethanol
In addition to a new engine formula beginning with the 2012 season, the IndyCar Series may be utilizing a new fuel other than Ethanol if a new engine manufacturer has its way reports National Speed Sport News.
Potential German automotive manufacturers Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi want the series to use a gasoline/ethanol blend because it is closer to what is used in the European passenger- car market. Honda Performance Development, the current IndyCar engine supplier, is open to the switch, but wants the fuel issue to be decided before beginning the architecture process of a new turbo-charged engine.
IndyCar Series officials are considering the fuel switch, but remain hesitant to bring gasoline into the mix because of safety concerns and the signal that it would send to the American market.
“We’re looking at fuels that may be more passenger-car relevant in 2012,” said Les Mactaggart, senior technical director for the IndyCar Series. “Right now we are running 100 percent fuel-grade Ethanol. Will that be a relevant fuel in 2012? We’re trying to sort out which would be the best direction to go, in terms of fuel as well.
“Some are probably too far out there that I’m not at liberty to say.”
Terry Angstadt, president, commercial division of the IndyCar Series, recently orchestrated a switch from corn-based ethanol produced in the United States to sugar-based ethanol made in Brazil during the off-season after the American ethanol industry fell flat from various issues, including the perception of rising food costs. Angstadt is open to considering the switch in fuel, but admits a degree of hesitance.
“That (gasoline/ethanol blend) has been proposed by some and we are struggling with that,” Angstadt said. “It’s easy to be convinced the ignition points are similar, but extinguishing is a big factor, perception is another big factor and safety really is first. We do think at this point that may be a bit of step backwards. A methanol/ethanol blend is OK. We’ve done that. But a gasoline/ethanol blend, we are talking that one through.
“There are a number of interesting options out there. I think our position with a renewable fuel right now has been a huge advantage to us in how we are positioned in terms of other forms of motorsports right now. We think ethanol is fantastic right now and my gut feeling is it will play a pretty good role in the future, but that has yet to be determined.”
Erik Berkman is the president of HPD and believes the type of fuel that will be used in the next IndyCar engine must be decided before the company moves forward to determine the next issues in the engine formula. Volkswagen favors an inline four-cylinder turbocharged package while Honda wants a V-6 turbocharged formula.
“We haven’t bridged that remaining gap on fuel and you guys (the media) haven’t talked about fuel at all — you’ve missed the point there,” Berkman said. “Our position on fuel is it’s not an issue for us. Whatever is decided will be acceptable to us. We’ve made that clear to the other manufacturers. The Germans believe 100 percent ethanol or E-85 is not sustainable on a world stage. This may be bringing their global routes as opposed to an American-centric point of view. They see it as a political dalliance or something foolish, but there is 100 percent ethanol in Brazil. They don’t see it on a grand scale and can’t see endorsing it.
“The League has a little bit of hesitation to endorse a low ethanol/high gasoline percentage. I think they (the IndyCar Series) are more open to a methanol/ethanol blend and we would be OK with that, too. But the idea of pump available, market-relevant fuel is where the Germans are and they want to promote that in a responsible way because ethanol isn’t relevant in Europe. But Honda will not get involved in that.”
“I’ve asked the League to solve that issue first before we move forward with the design of the engine and whether we go four-cylinder or six-cylinder. They need to work it out first. I want to have the fuel issue behind us before we go behind closed doors with the League and the other manufacturer, before we have a discussion about the cylinders or an equivalency formula.” NSSN