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Speedway hosts its first annual Ethanol Summit
Indiana Correspondent

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Before Sam Hornish Jr. rolled into Victory Lane as Sunday’s winner of the Indianapolis 500, ethanol supporters celebrated their own victory at the Indy Racing League’s first Ethanol Summit on Thursday.

Hornish won the race in a car fueled with 10 percent ethanol.

This was the first year that the entire field of 33 cars raced with the 10 percent ethanol blend; next year cars will run on 100 percent ethanol.

Attendees at the Ethanol Summit included industry leaders, promoters and farmers. Tony George, CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speed-way, told the crowd that he is looking forward to next year and setting a pace for ethanol use and performance.

“We’re the first race in the world to run ethanol as our power source,” George said. “We’re all excited about the prospects of ethanol.”

The Ethanol Summit honored the late Paul Dana of Rahal Letterman Racing, who initiated talks on the usage of ethanol in Indy Racing League cars back in 2001.

“Paul recognized earlier than most that an energy policy would be an important issue of our day,” said Greg Dana, Paul’s brother. “He said it’s obvious: Let’s put the whole field on ethanol.”

Though there is controversy over the performance of ethanol, Jeff Horton, director of engineering for the IRL, was involved during testing of the fuel for the IndyCars and stands behind the decision for ethanol.

“It was one of the easiest projects I ever worked on,” Horton said. Greg Dana thanked George for taking the business risk of switching to ethanol. In March 2005, congressmen joined IRL officials in Washington D.C. to announce that Indy Cars would replace its present fuel – methanol based on natural gas – with renewable, plant-based ethanol.

The announcement was made 15 months before President George W. Bush’s push for renewable fuels in his State of the Union address.

Sadly, Paul Dana was killed in a racing accident in March in Florida. Jeff Simmons replaced Dana as the driver for Team Ethanol, and told supporters he believed Sunday’s race would demonstrate the high performance quality of ethanol.

“I know how much it would have meant for Paul to have delivered this message,” Simmons said.

Teammates Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick agreed.

“Paul really had a true passion for ethanol,” Patrick said. “He envisioned your car reducing emissions … I can’t imagine how my car will run next year with 100 percent ethanol.”

Tom Dorr, USDA under secretary, endorsed ethanol use and praised Indiana’s promotion of biofuels.

“It’s good for several reasons: For energy independence, energy security, it’s good for the environment, good for the economy and good for rural America,” Dorr said.

But officials also said there is plenty of work yet to do in the promotion of ethanol.

Flag-waving Americans who believe in energy independence are torn by conflicting media reports on ethanol’s performance. Price gouging by some retailers has E-85 priced along with gasoline products while five miles down the road the retailer adopts a “20-cent cheaper” policy for E-85.

Consumers who remember E-85 debuting below $1.50 per gallon may wonder why the honeymoon is over and respectively blame the farmer for ethanol prices as they do oil companies for gas prices.

But Geoff Cooper of the National Corn Growers Assoc. said the price of E-85 is not based on corn prices but on supply and demand. The current problem, he said, is that MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether) has been outlawed as an oxygenate in gasoline and many oil refiners are adding ethanol to the fuel supply to replace MTBE.

“MTBE was phased out so quickly, refiners are getting every drop of ethanol they can,” Cooper said, thus driving up ethanol prices. “By mid- to late-summer I suspect prices will be back to normal.”

Tom Slunecka of the Ethanol Promotions and Information Council (EPIC) said when an ethanol-powered car crosses the finish at the Speedway the questions on performance should be answered. Making the switch to E-85 all comes back to the consumer.

“Consumers are not sure what ethanol is and why they should want it,” he said. “It’s not a performance issue, and we need to make that clear to neighbors.”

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