Drayson Racing Talks Green Speed
What can the world's fastest cars teach the mainstream auto industry about going green?
And they're not just blowing exhaust smoke: Paul Drayson is also known as Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation in the United Kingdom. The man has environmentally friendly bona fides in circles far larger than the racing world. We spoke to Drayson on Friday, the day before a disappointing bump-and-crash on lap nine knocked his team out of the race (Drayson, who was driving, was unharmed), when he said that the Lola-Judd prototype race car was running fast on the test laps and that Monterey was "absolutely beautiful, as always."
Exhaust Notes: To get right to the point: Why green racing?
Paul Drayson: Well, I should say that, as a Brit racing in the U.S., the choice to compete in the American Le Mans Series was a very deliberate one, because the ALMS has always had a clear vision of how to promote racing so that the sport stays relevant, which is to say they understand that working to reduce emissions, for example, keeps the sport on the right side of things.
EN: For some people, it's hard seeing these absolute monster machines and making any connection to what they have in their driveway; how can racing inform more mainstream motoring?
PD: The history of racing is the history of extreme endurance -- endurance required of both the cars themselves and the drivers. The fact that we push these machines so hard means that the sport naturally becomes a test bed for manufacturers. Lots of innovations were developed first for racing, such as disc brakes. Those were used first by Jaguar, in the '50s, on their race cars. And you spoke of the massive speed of these cars -- that's a plus because it makes these innovations exciting, rather than boring and limiting. So, really, the association with racing is twofold: One, it creates an innovative test bed for new technologies, the use of new biofuels, new hybrid systems and the like; two, it makes these issues, environmental issues, aspirational. Isn't it better to see these new innovations -- many of which are really incredible -- on cars that look great and perform absolutely incredibly, rather than on some regular passenger car on the street?
EN: Does your pursuit of environmentally friendly solutions -- notably in the realm of biofuels -- hinder your performance?
PD: No, no -- I've always said that going green can never be an excuse for going slow. At first I did hear the jokes about my environmental focus: that I'd be racing in Birkenstocks, eating granola on the turns. But then we took second in the British GT Championship, and look at just the other day: The fastest car in section during the test runs was a hybrid drivetrain. These technologies can help push boundaries, not set them, if we change the way we look at them.
EN: People have been slow getting behind some of the new technologies like all-electric vehicles. Is there a risk pushing these new ideas so far, so fast?
PD: Look to the history of the car for that one. Henry Ford launched the Model T before there was anything resembling a nationwide network of fuel stations.
EN: So he pushed the envelope and figured that the idea was so good that people -- and related industries -- would have to follow suit?
PD: Yes, exactly. The CO2 concentration in the environment is rising faster than expected, and we need to aim for complete zero emissions in forty years time in order to avoid the climate-change tipping point, so absolutely we need to take bold steps. But we need to do so without telling people that they can't do things. Our need is to figure out what people like to do -- what they're going to do -- and use science and technology to figure out better, cleaner ways to let people do exactly those things.
(Images: Regis Lefebure/Drayson Racing)
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