This Thursday, May 11, will be called “Ethanol Day" at the famed Brickyard with a variety of activities surrounding the day’s practice sessions. The pole position for this year’s Indy 500 will be determined on Saturday, May 13.
Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman is scheduled to attend “Ethanol Day" at the Speedway to gain a “close-up" view of the racing machines running on an ethanol-blended fuel. Secretary Bodman will be a special guest of the Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol operation, the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 11.
Among the activities involving Secretary Bodman on May 11 include his serving as an honorary pit crew member on the Team Ethanol car driven by Jeff Simmons, receiving a two-seater IndyCar ride from the Indy Racing Experience, holding a press conference at the trackside media room to discuss ethanol in racing and the future of renewable fuels in this country, participating in a tour of the Team Ethanol garage area (led by team owner Bobby Rahal) as well as the Speedway Museum and a meeting with the EPIC (Ethanol Promotion and Information Council) executives.
In addition, other ethanol-blended racing cars (drag racing, sprint cars, etc.) will be on display in the Speedway Plaza Pavilion area for spectators to get an up-close view of the machines.
This year marks the first time since 1965 (when methanol was introduced to Indy car-style racing), a new fuel grade will be incorporated into the high-tech world at Indy.
The Indy 500 has embraced alternative fuel sources with the introduction of ethanol into its fuel blend in 2006. A blend of ten percent ethanol fuel and ninety percent methanol will power the Honda engines in the 2006 Indy 500. And, in 2007, all of the machines in the 91st Indy 500 will run 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol.
Ethanol, made from a variety of plants including corn, milo/sorghum, sugar cane and cellulosic material, is produced in the United States and has proven to burn cleaner than methanol and gasoline, the majority of current racing fuels.
The transition to ethanol-blended fuel transition has shown no significant technical stumbling blocks. At the first two races in 2006, Sam Hornish Jr. broke the Homestead-Miami Speedway qualifying track record and Dario Franchitti set a new one-lap record at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with the new fuel blend.
The IRL technical directors have already determined that the new ethanol fuel has no change in horsepower and speed. Yet fuel mileage has improved.
“We have noticed no changes so far in the Honda engine’s performance with the new ethanol blend," said Jeff Horton, director of engineering for the IndyCar Series.
“The transition between methanol and ethanol in our cars has been very smooth," said Phil Casey, IRL senior technical director. “Our cars don’t sound differently, smell differently or run differently than they have in the past."
The 2006 Indy 500 will not be the first time ethanol has powered a car in the world’s biggest race, the Indianapolis 500, on May 28 this year. In the 1927 “Brickyard" classic, a car driven by Leon Duray was operated with ethyl (grain) alcohols.
The Ethanol relationship with the Indy 500, IndyCar Series and its sanctioning body, the Indy Racing League, was assisted through the cooperation of a group of companies within the fast-growing ethanol industry, led by the major ethanol design-build firms Fagen Inc., ICM Inc. and Broin Companies. To gain awareness, the ethanol industry has sponsored a car in the IndyCar Series since 2005.