Editor's Note: "Promoter's Corner," which appeared here last month will be returning next month in this spot, alternating every other month with "Takin' the Green."
We had the opportunity recently to sit down with Lee Slezak of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). His official title is Manager-Advanced Vehicle Systems Simulation & Evaluation Office of Freedom Car and Vehicle Technologies. While that's a mouthful, Slezak is one of the key figures in and driving forces behind the government's Green Racing Initiatives and a guy who shed a lot of light on why going green is so important for the racing industry. The first of a two-part interview, this month we discuss how Green Racing got its start.
CT: What inspired the concept of green racing?
LS: The concept of green racing really started with some of us at DOE and EPA talking about how to properly advance technology in the transportation sector so that we would be less reliant on foreign petroleum. We would produce fewer emissions, and improve energy security by eliminating foreign oil imports. While we were talking about it, it became clear that racing wasn't really as relevant as it once was.
Racing used to be an arena where manufacturers would push the envelope of technology, they'd bring new systems and new ideas to the track and they'd show that those systems and technologies could work and could be reliable. And it had positive benefits. It was a much faster way to develop technologies than just doing research and development in a laboratory.
It also was a great way to develop a market understanding of the technologies while creating a demand for it, because people saw these technologies on the track. They had to have them because that's what made those drivers go fast.
We (the DOE/EPA team) decided that auto racing offered a prime opportunity to try to bring some of these newer technologies that really are efficient and really are green to a wider audience of racers and fans.
Auto racing's a great place to develop technologies that don't produce the pollution that so many other technologies produce. At the same time you can show that you can be as fast, if not faster, with the green racing technologies, than you can be with conventional technologies. So it's a great way to help racing get back to some of its roots and make even better competition and show that racing can be a leader again, this time in a green movement.
CT: Talk a little bit about and the development of the Green Racing Challenge.
LS: When we first started working on the concept of green racing at DOE and EPA, we partnered with the Society of Automotive Engineers as well as with auto manufacturers. Then, we brought in different racing sanctioning bodies to help develop a set of protocols. In the process of doing that, the ALMS (American Le Mans Series) came back to us on several occasions and said, "What you are trying to do is really something that we believe in, it's a direction we want to carry our series. We think it can help boost the competition," referring to both its prototype as well as its GT categories.
CT: So, you actually built a competition within their race events?
LS: Yes, we developed a scoring system based on the protocols that came out of our Green Racing Working Group and applied it to the 2008 Petite LeMans at Road Atlanta. Through the scoring system we were able to come up with a winner for what we began calling the Green Racing Challenge Award. After the race was over, we gave out the first two awards (one for the Prototype division, one for the GT division) for green racing ever given out in this country.
CT: How do you determine the winner of the Green Racing Challenge Award?
LS: It's really a mathematical calculation that is designed to reward the team that goes the farthest, the fastest with the smallest environmental footprint, all while using the least amount of fuel. The formula for each team is weighted based on its fuel, powerplant, and other factors so that everyone is competing on a level platform. We have a trailer that contains the computers and electronics that track the performance of each team in real time during the race, so we can watch the progress of the teams throughout the race.