When Green Means More Than Go

CorvetteAs a Corvette owner, you know your car is built for high speeds and precision performance. If you haven’t ever raced your own vehicle, taking those corners at break-neck speeds, you probably dream of doing so. Did you know that racing your Corvette can also be environmentally friendly, though?

Proof of this comes from Corvette itself: On October 4th  during the American Le Mans Series races, at Braselton, GA’s Road Atlanta, Chevrolet’s factory team, Corvette Racing, won the inaugural Green Challenge.

Really a “race within a race,” the Challenge was just one facet of a 1,000-mile endurance event, in which all four ALMS classes – a total of 37 high-tech race cars – all took part, and while the main point was, of course, to be the first to cross the finish line, this race was also about environmental impact, fuel efficiency, and performance.

Series organizers and the Argonne National Laboratory worked with the EPA, DOT and SAE to create a formula that could be used to determine the winners in the Prototype and GT classes based on the amount of greenhouse gases that were emitted, petroleum fuels that were displaced, and energy that was used. The winner would be the fastest car with the smallest environmental footprint. The race itself was the culmination of a plan that began last January at the North American International Auto Show with the announcement by Chevrolet’s North American  Vice President, Ed Peper, that Corvette Racing would be using cellulosic E85 ethanol racing fuel during the 2008 season.

CorvetteIf you aren’t already familiar with E85R (the ‘R’ stands for ‘Racing’), or the word “cellulosic,” it is fuel made from wood waste collected from the Black Hills National Forest as part of a wildfire prevention program. The wood waste comes from broken branches, dead trees, and undergrowth that would otherwise be burned, and it’s converted into ethanol at the KL Energy plant in Wyoming. The plant itself is energy self-sufficient, and supplies surplus electricity to the local power grid.

The formula for determining the Green Challenge winner considers, in part, the overall environmental of the fuel used from “well to wheel,” so Corvette Racing’s decision to use second-generation cellulosic ethanol in their cars’ 7-liter small-blog V-8 engines was a crucial one, giving Corvette an edge that translated into greenhouse gas emissions that were 170% better than the first non-E85 finisher in the same class.

Emissions weren’t the only aspect of the Green Challenge that GM’s engineers analyzed, however. The race team looked at everything from aerodynamic drag to rolling resistance and worked with technical partners to give the Corvette Racing cars the best lubricants to reduce power losses in the drive-train and engine, as well as to refine the body shape and maximize tire performance.

Corvette’s success in the Green Challenge didn’t just prove that E85 fuel could be used in racing, it also proved that racing teams can be environmentally conscious, and that race events could limit emissions without limiting the speed of the cars or the enjoyment of the spectators. E85 works in the real world, too – netting you lower gas prices in much of the country, and, in some cases, even a break on budget car insurance coverage.

The next time you’re stopped at a traffic light, in your own Corvette, think about a world in which “green” means more than just “go.”

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