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Racing green

By Phil Egginton [email protected]

Phil Egginton is Managing Director of Peninsula Motorsport, a specialist motorsport services company based at the race track, allowing him to experience, first-hand, all the action at the circuit.

You may be forgiven for thinking that the Editor has got a bit confused. Why are we talking about motorsport on a page that is supposed to be about green and environmental issues? Well there is a phrase in motorsport that ‘racing improves the breed’ and that just as much applies to the environment as it does performance.

The subject has indeed become so important to motorsport that a whole day’s conference was dedicated to the subject of “clean racing” at last month’s Autosport International Show in the UK.

Those who believe that motorsport people are a collection of irresponsible petrol heads and environmental destroyers should have been at the conference.

Conference contributors included senior managers from Aston Martin, Porsche, Jaguar, Audi as well as from McLaren, Mercedes and Renault F1 teams.

For many years, motorsport has led the way in automotive development. Indeed, many of the things driving performance are the very same things driving economy and emissions. The basic aim is to convert fuel to energy that can be used to propel the vehicle in the most efficient way.

To a race car that means more power per gallon consumed, the side effect of which can also be not wasting the fuel by turning it into polluting gases.

Weight is also important as a few kilograms can add race losing seconds to a lap. So fuel efficiency is also important – the car that uses less fuel weighs less and goes faster.

Some years ago, at the height of the 1970s fuel crisis, one of the environment campaigners decided that the Indy 500 race was surely very harmful to the atmosphere.

They had all the cars measured to show how high the emissions were but, to their surprise, they were all less than that demanded by the harshest standards set by the state of California.

Modern car engines are almost universally based around twin overhead camshafts with four valves (two inlet and two exhaust) per cylinder.

This configuration was first made popular in racing, particularly by Cosworth in the 1960s. The Cosworth DFV was THE engine in F1 from 1967 through to 1985. It is very efficient, which not only means more power but lower emissions and better fuel economy.

It is not only in the area of engine design that motorsport is leading the way but in lots of other areas. Friction in gearbox and axles can absorb power and much has been done to produce energy efficient transmission systems.

From this year, Formula 1 is re-introducing Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) which take the energy used from braking the car, store it and reuse it for a short power boost to overtake.

Porsche has also released details of a GT3 race car which makes much use of such ‘hybrid’ power. The rear wheels are driven by a conventional engine but the front wheels are driven by powerful electric motors.

The motors are driven from batteries which use an energy recovery system from the brakes to recharge them. Similar technology applied to road cars would once again save fuel and consequent emissions.

As we said above, weight is an issue for performance. The lighter the car then the faster; in road use the lighter the less energy to get to a given speed and so less fuel etc.

Motorsport pioneered the car use of very lightweight composite materials such as carbon fibre. These offer very low weight combined with immense strength and are now frequently found in road cars.

Fuel itself is another area. Much use is now being made of so called ‘Bio Fuels’ made not from fossil fuels but instead manufactured from sustainable sources such as plants.

Often these bio fuels offer cleaner burning and higher octane ratings than conventional fuels which again means less fuel used.

Finally, the ultimate area of development is for pure electrical driven race and sports cars. Three years ago, Morgan unveiled its Lifecar concept sports car powered by hydrogen fuel cells (like those used to provide electricity for the Apollo moon missions).

More recently, Westfield, Lotus and Tesla have revealed electric sports and race cars. Radical Sportscars, renowned for producing some of the quickest race and track cars, has been working closely with Imperial College London to produce the SRZero electric sportscar. One car has successfully travelled down the Pan-American highway, a 26,000km journey from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city.

The project proved that long-range electric vehicles can be exciting.

So racing really does improve the breed and indeed helps to save the planet.

Phil Egginton can be contacted on tel (+351) 913 321 242 or email [email protected]. For more information about Peninsula Motorsport, please visit