Chevrolet Racing has become synonymous with the successful Corvette C6.R program, fielding GT1-class cars in the American Le Mans Racing Series (ALMS) as well as in other endurance and road racing Le Mans-type races worldwide. The 2008 Corvette C6.R is in many respects unchanged since the extremely successful 2007 C6.R race car, but for one notable exception.
Chevrolet Racing, and parent company General Motors, have pushed the limits of what can be done with renewable energy fuels, choosing to race GT1-class Corvette C6.R cars running on a special racing blend of E85 ethanol, dubbed E85R.
The ethanol-powered C6R has some advantages and disadvantage over last year's Chevrolet Racing Corvettes running standard racing gasoline. In addition to serving as great PR for GM's much-touted FlexFuel program, where performance cars to trucks can run either off E85 or standard gasoline when the renewable fuel is unavailable, the Corvette C6.R has tangible benefits burning E85R as well.
Writes Todd Kaho for GreenCar.com:
In addition to minor modifications to the fuel system to accommodate the drying properties of ethanol and changes to the adhesives used in the fuel cells, the only major modification is recalibrating the fuel curves with a laptop computer. While a bit more fuel is provided the combustion chambers to achieve the same horsepower as gasoline, the ethanol actually burns slightly cooler so heat is not an issue.
There is one significant downside to fielding E85R-burning Corvette C6.R cars, though. Because E85R ethanol produces slightly less energy, based on volume, than standard racing gasoline, Chevrolet was required to enlarge the fuel cell--the shielded "crash-safe" gas tanks used in modern automobile racing--to accomodate a greater volume of E85R and thus remain competitive based on number of pit stops.
Though a larger fuel cell means greater weight, the Chevrolet Racing Corvette C6R has been able to remain extremely competitive from a performance standpoint, while highlighting new environmentally friendly technology and pushing the razor edge of what can be done with race cars.
Special thanks to Ron Cogan and Todd Kaho of GreenCar.com, an industry leader in reporting advances in the environmentally friendly automobile world, for information used in this article.
Corvette Racing Goes Green with E85 Ethanol Fuel in 2008 American Le Mans Series
Official Chevrolet Racing Press Release
Corvette Racing is powered by E85 ethanol, a high-octane, renewable alternative fuel, in the 2008 American Le Mans Series. As part of the series' "green racing" initiative, the most successful team in ALMS history is using a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline in the demanding arena of endurance road racing.
After winning its seventh consecutive GT1 manufacturers and team championships in 2007 using E10 (10 percent ethanol), Corvette Racing's twin Compuware C6.R race cars made the transition to E85 for the 2008 season.
"Since its inception, Corvette has always been a platform for Chevrolet and GM to introduce and develop new technology," Chevrolet general manager Ed Peper said in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where the announcement was made "The use of E85 ethanol fuel by America's premier production sports car racing team in a high-profile, high-tech racing series like the ALMS shows that Chevy is continuing to lead by example.
"By showcasing the capabilities of E85 ethanol before an audience of knowledgeable and technically astute race fans, we can demonstrate the benefits of a renewable fuel that helps to reduce dependence on petroleum, helps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and helps to create greater diversity in energy supplies," Peper said. "Of course, performance is what counts in racing, so E85 ethanol's higher octane rating than gasoline wasn't overlooked by the Corvette Racing engineers."
Corvette Racing has formed a technical partnership with the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) to spotlight E85 in the ALMS. EPIC worked with ALMS officials to make E85 the fuel of choice for the series. E85 today is primarily made with grain-based ethanol that reduces carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 29 percent compared with pure gasoline.
E85 ethanol already is an option for millions of everyday drivers - and GM leads the automotive industry with more than 2.5 million E85-capable cars, trucks and SUVs on the road in the United States. GM produces about 400,000 E85-capable vehicles a year and will double that to 800,000 a year by 2010. Chevrolet offers seven E85-capable models in 2008.
"This is the first time a racing series has made a commitment to E85, the highest-performing fuel available to consumers with flex-fuel vehicles," said Reece Nanfito, senior director of marketing for EPIC. "Our partnership with GM and Corvette Racing demonstrates ethanol's growing relevance in the consumer market."
Corvette Racing's transition from E10 to E85 ethanol was seamless, according to Steve Wesoloski, GM Road Racing Group manager. "The race cars' fuel systems were already 100-percent compatible with ethanol, so our preparation for the change to E85 in 2008 basically came down to recalibrating the engines.
"GM Racing has had an interest in 'green racing' initiatives worldwide for some time," Wesoloski said. "In 2007, Corvette Racing won the Michelin Energy Endurance Challenge in the GT1 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the most efficient use of fuel during the race. We've participated in discussions with SAE International, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Energy on programs to increase environmental awareness through racing. When it became apparent that the ALMS was going in this direction as well, the decision to use Chevrolet's factory Corvette Racing team to demonstrate both the alternative fuel technology that's available within GM and the capabilities of E85 ethanol was a logical step."