Natural gas-powered Grand-Am race car on the horizon
A new sponsor may see this alt-fuel racer on the field 'some time in the future.'
Legendary race team owner Pat Patrick is still on the gas -- literally. The 83-year-old Michigan wildcatter is on the verge of bringing another dimension to racing a Chevrolet LS3 engine fueled by liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the PC class in American Le Mans Series/Grand-Am racing.
Autoweek has learned that a Fortune 500 company will announce some form of sponsorship in the next few weeks for a Patrick Racing effort to field an ORECA FLM09 chassis at some time in the future.
The Chevy LS3 is a V8 6.2-liter engine, when using LNG, providing in the range of 450 hp on the dyno at the Katech's development facility in Michigan.
“Spreading the word and the message is perhaps our biggest challenge,” said U.E. “Pat” Patrick in a release. “Getting a car rolling at speed on track powered by natural gas will draw major attention, and we will be one important step closer to that very soon.
“It's been a long time since I've been this excited about a program. After all, this is more than just a racing story. This story is about American energy, about jobs, about the environment, about our national economy and much more. The reaction we've had from government and from the energy industry is remarkable. Everyone sees our program as a means of finally showing America and the world that while natural gas isn't the sole answer, it will clearly be a huge factor to bringing us into energy independence.”
Patrick, whose Indy car teams won three Indy 500s, numerous races and championships, has a history of experimenting with new programs. Although his short relationship with Alfa Romeo in the defunct CART series wasn't a rousing success, his developmental team helped bring back the Firestone brand of tires to the open wheel series in a big way.
Jim McGee, one of the winningest crew chief/general managers in open-wheel history and who has a long history with Patrick, is handling the technical side. Ralph Hansen, president of Pegasus Marketing, is in charge of the marketing side of the racing effort.
The project started out as an alternative in IndyCar but changed into a sports-car deal.
“Mr. Patrick and I have stayed in touch ever since I did my last deal with KV Racing [in 2005 and 2006],” McGee told Autoweek in a telephone interview. “He called me three or four years ago, and when he first mentioned it, I thought, 'That's kind of way out.'”
The first prototype was a four-cylinder GM Ecotec engine tuned by Roush Engineering. But when the Indy project changed that's when the idea to work on the LS3 came about.
One of the advantages of racing with LNG, according to McGee, is that it weighs about half as much as much as alcohol or gasoline, meaning that the weight transfer as the car's tank empties will be much less, making setups easier.
The team is hoping that the upcoming announcement will be the catalyst to bigger things.
“I've been involved in motorsports sponsorship for nearly 30 years, mostly representing the Paul Newman/Carl Haas IndyCar team,” said Hansen in a statement. “But, I've never seen a group of potential sponsors blossom as fast as the use of natural gas as a race fuel has initiated. Businesses that span a broad spectrum -- from the wellhead, to the delivery, to the automobile and trucking manufacturers -- are eager to get involved.”
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