Car Racing Goes Green, Hopes to Educate Fans

Race Cars
Some racecar drivers and enthusiasts are pushing to make the sport more planet-friendly.
Photo by Bob Townsend

Some racecar drivers and enthusiasts are winning the race to be more environmentally friendly, while others are lagging behind. Cars in the Formula One, Indy Racing League, and other racing series are using new technologies, alternative fuels, and carbon neutrality to make their favorite sport better for the earth, reports The Phoenix, a Boston-based newsweekly. NASCAR, on the other hand, most recently boasts only a switch from leaded to unleaded fuel—which most Americans started phasing out in the 1980s, the paper notes.

Formula One (F1) is introducing new rules in 2009 to reduce the environmental impact of its racing cars, according to Reuters. The changes will include use of kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) that recycle the energy used during braking to boost acceleration later. And under proposals recently sent to all car manufacturers involved in the sport, new F1 engine regulations would require eco-friendly 2.2-liter V6s running on biofuel and utilizing a far lower horsepower than present, according to The Guardian UK.

Indy Racing League cars, after years of running on alternative fuel blends, have switched to 100-percent ethanol this season, highlighting the fuel at the popular Indy 500 race last month. And Tim Pappas’s Team TransSport Racing team competing on the American Le Mans tracks this year will be 100-percent carbon neutral, offsetting both the racing fuel and team members’ transportation with renewable energy credits, The Phoenix reports.

It’s not just the drivers and team members who are pushing the environmental message. Dale Jensen, co-promoter of the Champ Car series in the U.S. Southwest, which is reviving the classic Formula One street race in Phoenix this year, is building 21 square blocks of buildings that aim to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Jensen plans to promote his “Emerald Village” at this year’s Grand Prix, hoping to reach some 150,000 racing fans with the environmental message. This won’t be for typical eco-types who are “wearing Birkenstocks and have drank the Kool-Aid,” he told The Phoenix. Drink vendors at the event will use biodegradable cups, and the whole affair will be carbon neutral, according to Jensen.

Some say car racing contributes only negligibly to the 6 billion tons of carbon emitted globally each year—generating less than 2 million tons annually—but the influence on spectators may be large, according to The Phoenix. NASCAR is the second most-watched sport in the United States, claiming 75 million fans, and 8.5 million people watch the annual American LeMans Series. Fans, according to The Phoenix, may not be willing to switch to hybrid-car races, but seem open to initial changes, such as planting trees around the tracks and offsetting carbon emissions from the events.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.