Indy Test Offers Sneak Peek At New Ethanol Fuel, Honda Engine

Monday, October 02, 2006

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Drivers Jeff Simmons of Rahal Letterman Racing and Tony Kanaan of Andretti Green Racing drove Dallara/Honda/Firestone cars powered by ethanol and the 3.5-liter engine, the first time that package was tested at Indy. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske and 2005 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing drove cars outfitted with a 2006-model 3.0-liter engine, using an ethanol-methanol fuel blend.

For 2007, ethanol will power Honda's new 3.5-litre IndyCar Series engine, including the 91st Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 27. This breaks ground as the first use of ethanol, a renewable fuel derived from corn and other agricultural products, as the primary fuel in a major-league motor racing series.

In 2006, the IndyCar Series used a fuel mixture of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent methanol.

Simmons, who drives the No. 17 Ethanol-sponsored car co-owned by 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal and late-night talk show legend Dave Letterman, said changes in the performance of the car, with the new fuel and engine combination, are noticeable.

"There's a difference, and it's all been positive so far," Simmons said. "It's great to be one of the guys to have the chance to run the new motor next year with the 100 percent ethanol.

"It seems to me, so far, we've got a broader power band. We're going through the corners better. It allows us to do some things with gearing whereas you had to be really precise with the gearing last year. We're able (today) to pull some really good speed even if we're a little off on the gearing."

Although his No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car wasn't equipped with the IndyCar Series' future engine and fuel blend, Wheldon was happy to help Firestone test tire compounds.

"It's their way to keep up with safety and the development of the race cars," Wheldon said of Firestone's test. "The engineers and race teams these days are moving things very fast, and it's important because it is such a competitive series. We're just looking at coming out strong next year."

Wheldon hopes to win the "500" after a disappointing finish in 2006. After winning the race with Andretti Green Racing in 2005, he returned in 2006 with the Ganassi team, qualified third, led 148 of 200 laps but finished fourth.

"I've seen this place (the Speedway) be absolutely great to me, and I've seen it wrench my heart from my body," Wheldon said. "Hopefully it won't do that again, and this (test) is a good step for making us competitive for next year."

All four drivers will return for a second day of testing Oct. 3.

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