NASCAR

NASCAR to shift to E15 fuel in 2011

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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CONCORD, N.C.

NASCAR has told Sprint Cup teams to prepare for E15 fuel blend for the 2011 season.

NASCAR's Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series will use E15 fuel at Daytona Speedweeks in February. Sources say the blend will be ready for testing in January.

An announcement of the change, which was first reported by FOXSports.com, was made Saturday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway by NASCAR Chairman Brian France.

FOXSports.com first reported teams were testing the E15 blend -- a mixture of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline -- in May.

The sport shifted to unleaded fuel in 2007. NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said that the change would not have a significant impact on horsepower in the cars, though it has seemed to enhance it.

"The testing has been going on at the track at test facilities," Pemberton said. "Teams have been able to run it at a few tire tests so far this year with great results. All drivers like more power, so they have smiles on their faces for that. We're pleased with everything. The work will continue."

Sunoco, the exclusive fuel provider for NASCAR, will store the fuel above ground at the tracks.

"As far as the at-track, the facilities themselves will be better suited to keep these small batches of fuel," Pemberton said. "We'll bring them in in tankers ... we'll pump them out of tankers. They'll be above ground.

"As you know, many of the tanks at the facilities are used quite a bit for track vehicles and things like that. So this being our purpose-built fuel for our race cars, it's better off kept in small quantities and tankers on property."

France deemed the shift to a fuel blend as the centerpiece of the acceleration of NASCAR's green efforts. He said that the sanctioning body balanced the need for the change with the desire to have it quickly.

"I certainly have put us on a fast, but hopefully prudent track, too," he said. "We're talking about a lot of things that we do, everything that we do. It isn't just about a green building that we're going to open a new office tower or something to that effect, you expect us to do our part in that area.

"Things that touch the rest of the industry, this being a primary example of team owners, and engine owners, and everybody that is affected, certainly our fuel supplier. We're taking all of that into consideration. We can't make mistakes in this area. This has to be a smooth transition. We're pretty confident that it will be just that."

Both Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing have tested the fuel on the track. RCR’s Jeff Burton tested a Sunoco ethanol blend this week during a tire test at Richmond.

“It was good,” Burton said. “If someone hadn’t told me I wouldn’t have known the difference. It almost seemed like there might have been a little more horsepower, but it could have been the way the jets (in the carburetor) were set.

“The only negative I can see is it might be difficult keeping water out of the fuel because it will have to be stored above ground. But it’s not like they’re going to keep the fuel around for long periods of time.”

Danny Lawrence, Earnhardt Childress Racing’s assistant chief engine builder/trackside engine development manager, expects “the transition to be pretty easy” compared to NASCAR’s switch from leaded fuel to unleaded in the top three series in 2007.

“It won’t be as big of a deal as it was when we changed from leaded to unleaded gasoline,” Lawrence said. “E15 uses a little more fuel than regular racing fuel but that’s because it’s oxygenated. Burton thought it accelerated a bit better.

“We’ve made a lot of changes that are environmentally friendly at Richard Childress Racing. We’re definitely on board with this.”

Roush Fenway Racing has tested the mixture in engines on the dynamometer.

“Even though we haven’t been to the track with it, we feel like we’re pretty ready to go,” said Mike Messick, trackside services manager for Roush Yates engines.

Lee White, president and general manager Toyota Racing Development, says that to his knowledge, TRD has not track tested the E15 fuel. However, White believes the move to an ethanol blend “is the right thing to do.”

“We need to head down this path and put a little green in our program,” White said. “We certainly support this move. It’s a positive step.”

White points out that the fuel change could affect certain engine parts -- gaskets, o-rings, fuel cells, fuel lines and seals -- but sees no reason for concern.

According to the ethanol.org website, ethanol is a clean-burning, high-octane motor fuel that is produced from renewable sources. At its most basic, ethanol is grain alcohol, produced from crops such as corn.

The IndyCar Series used methanol from 1965 to 2006 when it introduced an ethanol blend on the tour. The following season, IndyCar moved to 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol that is sugar cane based.

 

In 2003, NASCAR inked a 10-year deal with Sunoco to be the official fuel supplier for the sport. Sources say Sunoco, which produces ethanol blends, will continue to provide teams with fuel. Growth Energy, a pro-ethanol coalition backed by POET, an ethanol producer, will be NASCAR marketing partner.

Burton isn’t worried that E15 will debut at the 2011 Daytona 500. He’s confident both NASCAR and the teams have performed the necessary due diligence with the project.

“We’re all pretty smart,” Burton said. “They didn’t just pop this on us. We’ll have a good eight months to make this work.”

As to the actual impact the change will have, France said that it is difficult to quantify because different groups measure the carbon footprint in different ways.

"We're not exactly certain of the carbon emission benefit, but there is a benefit," he said. "The reason we're not perfectly certain is they score that, depending on who you talk to, scores that differently, so we're not going to put a number out. But, clearly, it is going in the right direction.
It is my hope over time that we will be a more attractive place for the green economy as it unfolds down the road.

"I can tell you, it's terribly important to the car manufacturers, each and every one of them, that we're in step with some of the strategic thinking that they're doing right now. And it's also important to our many, or almost all of our current sponsorship base."

In fact, France pointed out that by enacting green initiatives, NASCAR becomes ""more relevant to technology companies or to the green economy or both," which could aid in sponsorship searches as well. 

On a related note, NASCAR expects fuel injection to be introduced next summer. The target date appears to be July 9th -- the Cup weekend at Kentucky Motor Speedway.

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