May the Best Alternative Fuel Win -- on the Track
The new Grand-Am GX class is pitting diesels, hybrids and other alt-fuel cars against each other. Why should you care? You'll be driving them.
Just last week, I found yet another reason to bury NASCAR in its own Busch-soaked dirt: the Grand-Am GX series.
As I recently confessed, I’m not a NASCAR fan because the “stock cars” aren’t stock, no matter what cosmetic tweaks Ford and Toyota have brought to their new race models. The Grand-Am organization -- owned, oddly enough, by NASCAR -- already races real stock cars in its GS, GT and ST classes. The GX class, which will debut at the Rolex 24 At Daytona next January, is something altogether better. It’s restricted to cars with alternative powertrains such as diesels, hybrids and (possibly) other fuels. NASCAR, on the other hand, is just starting to figure out fuel injection.
What we have here is a series with serious real-world implications for both motorsports fans and the average person who just wants to get to work. Even government bureaucrats should set their DVRs for the first race. If it catches on, Grand-Am could help to advance and promote the next generation of moderately priced, highly fuel-efficient cars that you and I will actually buy -- and enjoy.
Grand-Am GX hasn’t turned a practice lap, yet it already has some track-to-showroom credibility. Mazda said it would run cars with modified versions of its new Skyactiv-D engine, a 2.2-liter turbodiesel with a stock block and hefty turbocharging that should see it run north of 300 horsepower. The company plans to sell the engine in the U.S., likely on the next-generation Mazda 6. Toyota, after several seasons in NASCAR, obviously hasn’t made plans to sell a V8-powered Camry coupe. Instead, it has Kyle Busch lighting up the front tires of a Camry XLE, pretending it’s somehow related to the tube-framed template of a racer every NASCAR team uses.
“There’s certainly the real technical benefits of running a system in anger, in racing,” says David Spitzer, Grand-Am’s managing director of manufacturer and series development. “We want there to be more connection to the street product and the racing product.”
Four other automakers, aside from Mazda and which Spitzer would not name, are interested in competing in the GX class. The key part of GX, as evidenced by Mazda’s small 2.2-liter engine displacement, is that it’s going to look pretty normal. Grand-Am is considering displacement limits for both naturally aspirated and turbocharged engines, with a likely base of about 400 horsepower, a “slight step slower” than the GT class, Spitzer said.
That means no supercars like Porsche’s 911 GT3R Hybrid, which competed in an experimental class last year during the American Le Mans Series (Porsche confirmed it isn’t building a car for the GX class). No prototypes, either, like Audi’s podium-finishing diesel hybrid racers in Le Mans. Perhaps, though, a winged and decaled turbocharged Prius could storm the field without anyone laughing. Wouldn’t you watch just for that?
“We’re very mindful to have production cars that can perform on the racetrack and make a good show,” Spitzer said. “They can get to that level of performance using street technology.”
Come January, you’ll have to look hard to spot the GX cars -- probably numbering between four and six, Spitzer said -- as they race between the faster GT and prototype cars. The “24” in Rolex 24 is exactly that: an entire day and night of grueling, straining competition, without rest. So electric racers like the Nissan Leaf Nismo RC, which are zapped dry after 20 minutes, won't be considered in the GX class.
Who are the mystery four with cars to race? Maybe Honda is prepping a turbocharged Civic Natural Gas (hey, it used to be called the GX). Or Chevrolet, which already races the Cruze in the World Touring Car Championship in Europe, could run a diesel version (coming to dealers next year). Ford could race the upcoming Focus ST -- yet another model with the automaker’s EcoBoost turbo engines -- and market the hell out of it in Grand-Am. BMW might make a mean 3 Series hybrid.
Somebody, just somebody, throw gummy slicks on a Prius. I promise I'll tune in.
"Ford Focus has been available with several versions of the Ford dCi diesel engine for over a decade now, just not in North America."
True but the ST Focus is a Petrol only model, even in Europe. It is a bit odd that the author made it a point to state the ST model and not simply the Focus. I think that is what Real Rider is pointing out.
Except, I won't and not anytime soon. I made my selection, I bought a very nice gasoline powered car. It's not terribly efficient but it's not inefficient either, and it's a blast to drive. The general plan from here on out is to take very good care of it so I don't have to bother with buying another car until AFTER my daughter is in school and out of the house. Then maybe I will get an alternative powered, but the general plan I have in mind is when my daughter is on her own, I buy a used Porsche 911. Probably a 993 if I can find one in 20 years, but a then-20 year old 991 would also do of course.
Could be interesting.
I wonder if the FWD cars will still be FWD....
Not sure why the Focus ST with ecobust would be legal in GX. Or are they making a hybrid/diesel/CNG version in some other market?
Ford Focus has been available with several versions of the Ford dCi diesel engine for over a decade now, just not in North America.
You see, Ford executives do not believe there is a market for Ford diesel vehicles in the United States. They would much rather have you buy their gasoline vehicles which they cannot sell anywhere else in the world. In other words, they are trying to offload old technology which nobody else wants here in the United States. Americans will buy it! Pretty neat, is it not?
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