The Greener Future of Motorsports | Column

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
Aug 13, 2022 | IMSA, Green Racing, Forumla E, FIA | Posted in Columns | From the Dec. 2019 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy Nissan

Sooner or later, we’re all going to have to face the reality that the motorsports we love are heavily resource-intensive undertakings. Sorry, that’s just how it is. I’m not here to preach, bum you out, or drive mad clicks with my scorching hot takes, but this is a discussion we need to have seriously and often, before it’s had for us.

In some ways, the wheels of a greener future for motorsports are already in motion at a professional level. The FIA and IMSA are heavily invested in more environmentally responsible technologies, not only in their premier competition products, but in ancillary technologies as well. The FIA’s Formula E series doesn’t just showcase alternative propulsion for its competition vehicles, but the entire series–from freight, infrastructure, travel of staff and spectators, and even the food being served at the events–is monitored for environmental impact, and structures evolve based on those findings.

Likewise, the IMSA Green Racing program leverages its affiliation with the EPA to monitor impact and develop new technologies in the fields of fuels, tires, transportation, and even paddock energy sources, like exploring alternatives to the traditional gas-powered generators found at race tracks.

But these are large, public-facing companies. And while I’d never call these gestures empty, no large public-facing company can really survive today without a coherent and visible environmental policy. The question is, “How do these policies help us?”

By “us,” of course, I mean amateur motorsports enthusiasts who may end up bearing the brunt of environmental crackdowns on motorsports. A healthy revenue stream and widespread TV coverage will excuse a lot of sins–just ask any pro athlete who’s ever had their gun accidentally fall out of their sweatpants in a strip club–but your local autocross club has no such luxuries.

Amateur motorsports are already feeling some of the punch. How many autocross clubs can’t get sites like they used to? Sure, part of that is simply sites aging out, or military bases no longer being accessible or whatever. But another big part of it is that not as many big parking lots are being built anymore. Ripping up greenspace and covering it with asphalt or concrete may be great for cone dodging, but there’s also a valid argument for it not being the most responsible stewardship of the planet. New parking lot construction tends to be more vertical than horizontal, and while the idea of autocrossing in a multi-story parking garage sounds intriguing, I’m not sure the longterm health of the sport would benefit from the thousands of concrete post slammings that would ensue.

Still, green technologies are finding their way into the most accessible levels of motorsports. David Marcus just won the first SCCA Solo Championship in an electric car when he defeated all comers in B Street in his Tesla Model 3. In the long run, I’m not sure what that “means,” but I know it’s kind of a big deal somehow.

Of course, no alternative propulsion technology is without its faults, although maybe that’s a discussion for a different column. While electric vehicles benefit from the economies of scale of large-quantity electric production, much of that electricity is still produced using fossil fuels. And, like it or not, the lithium that is so prevalent in electric car batteries–including my own daily-driver Nissan Leaf–is a conflict metal. It’s not exactly produced under the most ethical of conditions in many circumstances. So that’s another adjunct discussion we need to have at some point, too.

So, action items. What can we as amateur motorsports enthusiasts do to help ensure the future of the sports we love in the face of a world that’s become more environmentally conscious, and what can we do to try and be responsible stewards of that environment, knowing that we participate in a resource-intensive hobby? Here are a few thoughts.

  1. Embrace the future or it will crush you. Don’t like electric cars? Sorry. Tough. Accept the reality that they’re a growing part of transportation for the foreseeable future and enjoy the instant and boundless torque and the ability to refuel at your home.
  2. Be responsible where you can, and by doing so show that motorsports is about more than turning dinosaurs into noise (awesome noise, admittedly). In addition to my aforementioned Leaf, I also run our Z06 Corvette project on grain-based E85. A plug-and-play kit from Advanced Fuel Systems lets us use a fuel which is not only a bio-based, domestically produced renewable energy source, but makes more power as well, with less coolant and oil temp. It’s kind of win-win.
  3. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I swear to God, if I hear one more person say some stupid crap about how some volcano erupted somewhere so why should they not constantly do burnouts in their Chevelle SS, I’m going to flip over a table. Volcanos, China, farting cows, or your neighbor down the street who pours his used oil down his shower drain do not give you permission to be a dirtbag. Make a difference where you can, and maybe by your tiny example you’ll inspire others. Heck, David Marcus won a Solo Championship in a Tesla that he says he really doesn’t enjoy driving all that much. Way to take one for the team, I guess?

Look, we’re not going to “solve” this issue with one column, or one Tesla, or one solar generator. That’s not even the idea. The idea is to show that we’re trying to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Pro motorsports will do just fine. They have enough money in the bank and enough eyeballs on TV to survive. But us folks without the big revenue machines stand to lose the most unless we can show we’re making an effort.

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Comments
Error404
Error404 Reader
6/18/20 11:10 a.m.

I'm too stubborn at my young age, and too much of a car luddite too boot, to agree with your 1st point. Electric cars will be a good thing for urban commuting (for other people), once the industrial problems are addressed, but if my motorcycle lost its ICE I might as well strap pedals on it. Griping aside....

I do generally agree with your 2nd and 3rd points as being pretty common sense and I agree that we, as a community of enthusiasts, will likely feel more pressure sooner rather than later. Is being greener off-track going to satisfy the inevitable demands of the eco crowd? I can't imagine this is a new question so, if I were motivated, I would look at the last 30-50yrs of motorsports to extrapolate some guesses. Heck, is it greener that we keep these older cars going rather than rushing out to be good consumers and replace whole cars rather than components? 

In short, this is an important subject and I look forward to reading your column. 

 

jharry3
jharry3 GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
6/18/20 11:58 a.m.

I think people like the noise and vibration of a revving engine, both while driving and while watching the race.

It will take a generational paradigm shift to go to electric racing.

TurnerX19
TurnerX19 Dork
6/18/20 12:08 p.m.

Electric race cars for the amateur are here now. The EVSR has been competing in SCCA regional races in the north east for 5 years, and also in NASA. It runs at Spec Racer speeds and can be turned up much faster for hill climbs. It has run Pikes Peak and Mt Washington. Now available with a new much more attractive body. OK, I have skin in the game, I designed the body, but have yet to drive the car. Photos are the first new body from the mold, with me making "whirrr, whirrr" noises. It has real sound above 40 MPH.

MrFancypants
MrFancypants Reader
6/18/20 12:09 p.m.

I enjoy the sound of my car's engine, which I cannot hear through a helmet with the windows down at 100+ MPH on the back straight of my local track, so my car may as well already be electric.  My current issue with electric powered cars at the track is that they're unaffordable, and the ones I can almost afford can't do more than two or three hot laps without overheating the batteries and pulling power.  It sounds like Porsche has figured that out, but I don't have Taycan money.

Personally, I don't really care about going hypercar fast.  Just build me an electric Miata that weighs the same as the piston powered version and maybe goes a smidge faster, I'd be happy.

TurnerX19
TurnerX19 Dork
6/18/20 12:11 p.m.

In reply to MrFancypants :

See EVSR above. 45 minutes of race time at Spec racer Ford speeds.

MrFancypants
MrFancypants Reader
6/18/20 12:16 p.m.
TurnerX19 said:

In reply to MrFancypants :

See EVSR above. 45 minutes of race time at Spec racer Ford speeds.

Sure, "affordability" is a somewhat pliable idea....  but the value of the car I have is less than $10k and I can legally drive it to the track.  Obviously at some point if I go to electric I'm going to have to lay out more cash, but a toy that isn't street legal requires a tow vehicle and a trailer, in addition to the purchase price of the toy isn't something I can swing right now.

I don't meant to diminish the value and significance of what you're doing here though, I think it's pretty amazing and I hope to see more like it come along in the near future.  It's just not within my reach at the moment.

ProDarwin
ProDarwin UltimaDork
6/18/20 12:22 p.m.

Well said JG.  #3 is exactly what I think of when I see stuff like this:  https://grassrootsmotorsports.com/forum/grm/gender-reveal-burnout-pics-vids-lots-of-smoke-lots-of-turbos/165657/page1/

Apexcarver
Apexcarver UltimaDork
6/18/20 12:43 p.m.

Motorsports will endure as long as we have user controlled vehicles, regardless of the manner of propulsion. 

 

The thing that strikes me is that, disregarding autocross, racecars and streetcars are becoming more separated as time goes by. More airbags, things integrated into seats, radars, ultrasonic sensors, cameras, land departure warning, lanekeep assist, etc etc etc...  Now, what will this lead to? Well, we are already somewhat seeing an increase in vintage racing, especially from the more grassroots side. Its just proving that the older, more simple cars are cheaper to buy/build/maintain.  I am not really seeing what I eventually expect yet, or I dont have the insight into the market to observe it, but I am expecting a rise in built for purpose cars in the budget segment. 

 

With usual street platforms needing more work to be a racing platform, its going to make more sense to start from scratch. I guess that will happen at some point. That point will probably approach as the simpler machines from the 90's start drying up a bit in availability. 

 

Electric racing?  Yup, gonna be a thing. If it motivates a vehicle, its going to be adapted into a racing chassis at some point. The lack of noise might make it less fun to watch, but it wont really make it that much less fun to drive.  I would LOVE a crack at driving the VW IDR.

 

 

 

Now, autocross, well electric can ROCK in sprint formats like that, but yeah, sites might dry up a bit.  It might be that we find out if theres a market to support sites like Kart tracks for lower speed car events, something where you average autocross and hillclimb. Purpose venue, lower the risk, possibly increased price to support infrastructure, but imagine being able to go do runs at a purpose venue on a weekday. Thats a possible future. 

 

If theres a will, theres a way. I think there will always be a will to pilot a vehicle at the edge of a performance envelope. It will adapt. 

Snowdoggie
Snowdoggie Reader
6/18/20 12:56 p.m.

A lot of drag strips have shut down in my area in the last few years in the name of "property development", but street racing arrests and deaths are up. If there is no place to race the kids will still find a place to race. It may not be safe or legal but it is happening. No entry fees for street racing and you don't have to pay an inflated fee plus insurance to secure a venue. Throw in the fact that many cities will be putting fewer police on the streets for financial and political reasons and an increasing general disregard for authority,  and you have your future of motorsports right there. It isn't pretty. 

TurnerX19
TurnerX19 Dork
6/18/20 1:09 p.m.

In reply to MrFancypants :

Rent your track car. EVSR rentals are affordable if you are here in the north east USA. Arrive and drive is cheaper until you get to more than 5 races per year.

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