Can You Compete on E85?

I’m intrigued about the possibility of competing in an E85 fueled car.  This is fuel that is the combination of 85% ethanol & 15% gasoline.  It is similar (or can be lower) in price to regular unleaded gas.  Unfortunately, the manufacturers are pushing this fuel strategy into larger vehicles, not those that would be conducive to motosports competition.  But, hear me out!

E85 Logo

An E85 fueled vehicle gets lower fuel mileage than the same vehicle powered by gasoline, because ethanol has 70% less energy content.  It does burn cleaner, with almost a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  But the kicker is that ethanol is rated at 105 octane, as compared to 87 for regular gas!  So during the week you’d drive it to empty on gasoline, then on the weekends you’d fill up with E85 for more power at your racing/autocross event.  I have not checked the SCCA rules to see if they classify E85 fueled vehicles differently.  This would be a good question to post on a forum.

Rahal-Letterman Ethanol IndyCar #17

Another thing to think about ethanol is, what are Indy Cars fueled with?  Well, gee – 100% fuel grade ethanol, of course (about 113 octance rating).  At this year’s Indianapolis 500, the theme was “Fuel the Dream”.  The Indianapolis 500 pace car, a customized 2008 Chevrolet Corvette, driven by Emerson Fittipaldi, was fueled by E85.  But can you go down to your Chevy dealer & buy one…?  NO!

Flex Fuel Corvette Pace Car

Here’s another racing series, the America LeMans Series, competing in both modified Corvettes and Aston Martins running on E85.

e85 ALMS Corvettes

e85 ALMS Aston Martin Vantage

So if the two premier racing series in the USA are fueled by a high octane, ethanol-based fuel, why aren’t we seeing some high perfomance, E85-fueled sports cars coming from the automobile manufacturers?  I’ve no clue.  I would think it would be an awesome cross promotional motivation to sell E85-fueled rolling stock out of the showroom.  That would be this century’s version of “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday!”

Well, regardless of the fuel offered or available, I’m driven to be Racing Ready!


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3 thoughts on “Can You Compete on E85?”

  1. Hey Dan,

    Interesting possibilities here. Keep in mind that E85 alone is not going to make more power in a motor that hasn’t been tuned for it (i.e. more compression to exploit the octane figure). BMEP won’t be any higher unless you raise the engine’s compression, and then you have a E85-only motor. This could be done in SCCA Prepared or Modified autocrossing, provided you can argue the legality of the fuel.

    Now, one way you _can_ do this in a E85/gasoline “flex fuel” motor is to have a turbocharger with variable boost based on detection of the E85 fuel. GM has done exactly this with some of the Ecotec turbo Solstice specials seen at SEMA shows and got very high specific output (I recall 500 HP?) The idea is going into production on some Ecotec-powered Saabs for the Europe market and is claimed to provide 15% more power than with gasoline. If this shows up in production Cobalt SS or Solstice GXP cars I may have to put down a deposit…

    BTW I recommend “High-Performance Automotive Fuels & Fluids” by Jeff Hartman for a primer on automotive fuels. Plenty of tech without all the eco-weenie garbage on the web.

  2. Dan: Glad you made it out to the track. Nice write up, glad I was able to give ya a ‘ride’. You never mentioned about the last three laps, we could have come in early….naaah it was too fun.


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