Some of the initiatives the sanction has taken has garnered it a lot of publicity in the recent weeks. Their Green Challenge Award will be presented in both the Prototype and Grand Touring classes for the first time at the Petit Le Mans on October 4, 2008. This Le Mans-qualifying race was selected for the debut of this major new award as a way to announce and promote a season-long Green Challenge Championship during the 2009 ALMS season. Presented by senior officials from the DOE, EPA, and SAE International, the Award will go to the manufacturer that demonstrates technology that enables their racing vehicle to go the furthest, the fastest, with the smallest environmental footprint for the energy used.

"More than anything else we've done, that announcement has captured the general media's interest like nothing else," says Atherton. And that's really good for motorsports in general.

The Green Racing Protocols are much more than just putting unrestricted road racing cars that run on renewable energy on a track. Sure promoting these renewable fuels as a cornerstone of motorsports has many good implications for our country and the world, but the Protocols look at these technologies from a wells to wheels life cycle. That concept is foreign to people who haven't been around energy policy, but simply put it addresses all aspects of the energy and emissions embodied in the fuel such as discovery of the fuel resource, its extraction, processing, emissions from processed fuel, and more.

For example, methanol is certainly a better fuel option than gas, but much of the methanol produced today comes from natural gas, which is a fossil fuel, so how environmentally friendly is that?

The Green Racing Protocols factor in that upstream impact and even looks at the facilities and event management of the process. So it is a complete picture philosophy of marrying future technology with motorsports.

That is a pretty tall order and will certainly take time and a lot of hard work among a lot of people from different walks of life. But it has to happen.

"If any form of motorsports chooses to ignore the realities of the environment that is surrounding us now, it'll only be a matter of time before they are held accountable," says Atherton.

How you factor hybrids, alternative fuels, and new powertrain technologies into a racing series without upsetting the balance is the real trick. But short-track racers have a very real, very easy option to join this movement. E85, the ethanol product ALMS uses, is derived 100 percent from wood waste (think sawdust on the floor of a lumber mill). It's a relatively straightforward technical switch from methanol and even gas to E85. If a major sanction, or even a regional one, pushed for and then publicized a change to E85 the benefits could be huge.

The bottom line is that we need to think about replacing our dependence on fossil fuels both in passenger cars and at the racetrack. The question is which short-track sanction is going to follow ALMS' lead?

American Le Mans Series
Argonne National Laboratory