Assistant U.S. Secretary of Energy David Garman (left) watches as Argonne's Advanced Power
"Racing had always been a way to push the boundaries of technology and that technology would find a path to trickle down to production cars. That is not happening anymore. Today there is a huge gap between what is being done in the R&D labs of the automakers, and what is being developed for the racetrack and that is a little disturbing to us. If we could find a way to unite these resources that would be a really good thing."
The auto industry is going through a transformation that will be extremely painful and is fraught with serious financial risk for the manufacturers. Larsen, a veteran of the industry, says "I know what is going on around the world in the automakers research labs and even in our own (Argonne National Labs) in the area of advanced powertrain development. The systems being developed are absolutely incredible. Great, great stuff but what we have to do here is figure out how to help these guys (the automakers) pull this technology into the marketplace."
Larsen and his team on the aptly named Green Racing Working Group see motorsports as the perfect avenue to accomplish that technology pull-use the racing series to dovetail the development and validation of these new technologies. That concept would be harkening back to the days of Smokey Yunick and the Win on Sunday-Sell on Monday that pushed stock car racing into the limelight.
Jack Picciolo holds a sample of the Argonne-developed ceramic membrane material for hydrog
So with an established philosophy in hand and the stated goal of reunifying the technical development between OEM and racers, the team got to work. As we went to press, the group had written a technical paper that contains a series of recommendations or protocols covering the general aspects of their green racing initiative. The protocols spell out a series of guidelines as to what green racing is, yet they tend to be somewhat general in nature. Says Larsen, "we realize that there are so many different forms of motorsports that we couldn't possibly come up with a one size fits all solution."
The Protocols are slated for final balloting in August to become an SAE standard, which means that will have already taken place by the time you read this. Larsen says that there is a high probability that the technical paper will pass the balloting and be published as an industry recommended standard.
Other than the obvious validation by the renowned SAE organization, having an SAE standard focused on procedures for measuring the environmental impact of racing is a testimony to the importance of racing and its integration into the foundation of automotive technology.
The most successful team in the history of the American Le Mans Series, Corvette Racing's
Published standards will especially help form the foundation to achieve the second part of the team's plan; pulling new technology into the marketplace. "Racers and race fans are very passionate, involved people and they tend to be people who talk to other people about what's going on with vehicles," admits Larsen. In some cases, they tend to be first adopters of new technology especially if it makes them go faster and spend less money.
That's a key factor in the success of the auto industry of the future. It won't do any good for OEMs to develop fantastic new technologies for street cars and package them in dull econo-box solutions that lack excitement. While most alternative fuel cars currently fit that bill, Larsen is emphatic that won't be the case in the future. "The thing that all of us involved in the technology realize is that this technology will not lead to dull cars." In a way the marriage of the Green Racing Protocols and motorsports will lead to a resurgence of innovation and development of high performance vehicles at the aftermarket level.
So what exactly are the alternatives? The hybrid is the most commonly known environmentally friendly vehicle on the market. But the plug-in hybrid electric car, where you can plug your car into a standard household electrical outlet, is not far behind.