-- In motor racing, results generally are as black and white as the checkered flag. But the American Le Mans Series is spicing its standards for success with a gray area that's actually green.
Saturday's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta will debut the Green Challenge, which measures performance, fuel economy and environmental impact in a formula using more than 30 categories. Trophies will be awarded to the most efficient teams and manufacturers, though ALMS president Scott Atherton says the focus will remain on the winners of the 10-hour event.
"The race is still first and foremost," Atherton says. "The new technologies of the competition will enhance the race."
Using three alternative fuels (sulfur-free diesel, E10 gasoline and cellulosic ethanol), ALMS is the only series meeting "green racing" criteria set by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.
Several bigwigs from both agencies, which developed the challenge with the Society of Automotive Engineers, will attend Saturday, and several manufacturers, such as General Motors, Audi and Acura, want to capitalize on the attention by showcasing a commitment to environmentally friendly vehicles.
"I don't think people will be suddenly more interested in fuel economy rather than who crosses the finish line first," says Doug Fehan, program manager for Corvette Racing. "But doing this gives (ethanol) a stamp of approval and allays fears consumers might have about putting it in mom's SUV or dad's pickup. We have to change the mindset of people to embrace there's going to be different propulsion methods in cars."
Fehan believes Audi, which uses biodiesel and turbocharged engines, will be a top green contender, along with Porsche and Ferrari. Corvette Racing should be a player, having switched to cellulosic E85. The team also spent a year improving mileage (getting an extra lap per tank at the 24 Hours of Le Mans) but won't sacrifice performance to win the challenge.
Victory, though, is important to GM, which has more than 3 million FlexFuel vehicles that run on gasoline and ethanol.
"We're leaders and want to maintain that role," Fehan says. "It's important to the future of the company and the world."