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Ethanol makes Indy 500 debut with stirring finish
Farm World Editor

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Ethanol’s first Indianapolis 500 showcased high speed and high drama all the way to the finish as Sam Hornish Jr. darted past rookie Marco Andretti in the final 100 yards of the last lap to win the race.

Hornish’s winning margin of .0635 of a second was the second closest finish in the 90-race history of the event. Andretti is the grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti, and he is the son of driver Michael Andretti - who he passed for the lead with four laps remaining.

Ethanol, a grain-based alcohol fuel that is mostly made of corn, was used in this year’s race in a blend with methanol, which has been the race’s fuel for many years. Methanol is a non-renewable resource made from natural gas. All of the cars in this year’s race were powered by 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent methanol. Next year’s race, though, all of the cars will drive on 100 percent ethanol. Many of the race’s drivers and team owners have offered mixed results on ethanol’s use in racing.

Chip Ganassi, owner of last year’s 500 winner Dan Wheldan, said there hasn’t been a significant change in performance with the new fuel. He believes that may change, though, when the cars go to the 100 percent ethanol fuel next year.

“I can’t really say that (ethanol) has added much this year,” he said. “But I can’t say anything bad about it, either.”

Mario Andretti, who is tied to the Andretti Green Racing Team that fielded five cars in this year’s 500, said his team has suffered a loss in horsepower this year. “I think our horsepower is down a little bit this year, but the fuel is the same for everyone, so that evens it out a little,” Andretti said.

Many drivers claimed to get better gas mileage with the ethanol instead of 100 percent methanol.

The Indy Racing League (IRL), which is the sanctioning body of the Indianapolis 500, claims that ethanol’s performance in testing has been positive. The IRL reports that several track records have been set since the fuel switch took place.

The IRL and the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) reported that internal testing using dynamometers - an instrument used to measure mechanical power - has shown that there are no technical barriers to replacing methanol with ethanol in 2007.

EPIC was the primary sponsor for a car owned by former Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal and late-night talk-show host David Letterman. Jeff Simmons, 29, of Hartford, Conn., drove the car and finished 23rd following a late-race accident.

Simmons replaced Paul Dana, who died in a pre-race accident on the racetrack in Homestead, Fla. earlier this year. Dana worked to pull together to ethanol sponsorship package for the race car.

Another car, driven by Roger Yasukawa, had a renewable fuel sponsor - Ethos Environmental. Ethos Environ-mental is a manufacturer of a line of fuel reformulating products under the name Ethos Fuel Reformulators. “Ethos Environmental is very happy to join with one of the (IRL’s) teams, Playa Del Racing, in participating in the development of the renewable energy fuels markets, like ethanol,” said Ethos CEO Enrique Vilmorin.

This farm news was published in the May 31, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.