WASHINGTON—One of NASCAR's top sponsors plans to file a formal petition asking that it join other racing leagues and start using ethanol to power its racecars.
The recommendation by General Motors Corp., planned for later this year, comes as NASCAR adjusts to using unleaded gasoline, decades behind the commercial marketplace.
GM sponsors 22 NASCAR vehicles under its Chevrolet nameplate, about half the vehicles that start any given race. It's been promoting more environmentally friendly fuel for months, and now it plans to proceed with an official presentation to NASCAR ownership.
"We do have the technical know-how," said Brent Dewar, the vice president of GM North America sales, service and marketing. "It's something we would have to work in conjunction with NASCAR on. NASCAR would have to encourage other manufacturers to do it as well."
Spokesman Andrew Giangola said NASCAR is always open to new ideas, but he withheld judgment on GM's plan.
"Until they come to us with a proposal and some ideas, it would be premature to comment," he said.
The issue is emerging for NASCAR as others in the racing industry embrace the emissions benefits of alternative fuels without sacrificing performance.
Onetime Indianapolis 500 winner and team owner Bobby Rahal was at the National Press Club on Friday to tout the "greening of racing," in particular the Indy Racing League's conversion to ethanol this year. Indy cars long have used methanol as fuel.
He noted that the American Le Mans Series was running on E10, a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, with a cleaner blend slated for next year. Formula One has promised a change in the next couple of years.
Giangola said NASCAR didn't want larger fuel tanks in its vehicles. Ethanol, which is usually made from corn, provides less power per gallon than gasoline.
"NASCAR's current position is to have a smaller fuel cell in the car for safety reasons," he said. "Ethanol would require cars to carry much larger fuel cells or pit three times as often. There's a competition and safety element to the decision."
Indy moved to smaller gas tanks when it finished its two-year transition to ethanol this year, because methanol had been less fuel-efficient.
"They adjusted the size of the fuel cell so they could maintain the pit-stop frequency they had with methanol," said Reece Nanfito, the senior director of marketing for the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council.
Indy made its engines bigger, moving to 3.5 liters from 3.0 liters.
Other changes that would have to be made with NASCAR vehicles include swapping out some parts that have stainless steel components, because ethanol is organic and therefore more corrosive, Dewar said.
Another hurdle might be that one of NASCAR's four vehicle manufacturers, Toyota, isn't in the marketplace yet with an ethanol vehicle, Dewar said. Toyota's alternative-fuel success has come largely in electric hybrids.
NASCAR's other manufacturers are Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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