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The Porsche 911 GT3R will make its North American debut at the Petit Le Mans in Georgia next Saturday. | Photo by Erin Pierce, U.S. Department of Energy
On October 2, the green flag marking the beginning of the Petit Le Mans race in Braselton, Ga., will take on a different meaning.
The 1,000-mile, 10-hour American Le Mans Series endurance contest will feature five alternative fueled vehicles. Among them: the hybrid-electric Porsche 911 GT3R, which is making its North American racing debut.
The GT3R was displayed at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) headquarters in Washington this week to promote the Green Racing Initiative, a joint venture between the Argonne National Laboratories, DOE, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
Green Racing's goal is to encourage development of cleaner, more fuel-efficient consumer vehicles through motor sports.
The GT3R is a prime example of "technology that today is truly bleeding edge and hopefully in the not-so-distant future will be available in road car form," said Scott Atherton, president and CEO of ALMS at the DOE event.
The car's propulsion system consists of two, 60 kW electric motors that drive the front wheels and a 480 horsepower flat engine with six cylinders to power the rear.
During braking, the electric motors capture kinetic energy, storing it in an electromechanical flywheel. The flywheel can route the energy back to the motors during cruise mode. The energy can also be used to provide a boost when the driver wants to pass other cars.
Porsche factory driver Patrick Long said the system delivers an astonishing kick. "When you pull the paddle [gear lever] and you get the charge, it launches you back into the seat and you better be ready"
The flywheel system enables the GT3R to run efficiently and reduces wear-and-tear on parts. "Not only can we can brake later and harder, but we save on consumables like brake pads somewhere in the range of 70 to 80 percent," Long said.
This could prove to be the deciding factor in grueling Le Mans races, Long explained. "No matter how fast your lap times are, if you spend time in the pits you are going to lose the race."
Competing for a bigger prize
In addition to the Petit Le Mans on October 2, Porsche and other manufacturers are competing for a bigger prize. ALMS, EPA, DOE and SAE have teamed up for the season-long Green Challenge Award given to the fastest and most energy-efficient cars in ALMS racing.
"This is a competition within all of our races that measures fuel efficiency, performance and environmental impact," said Atherton.
Atherton notes the award provides an "incentive for manufacturers to bring new, relevant, innovative technologies into racing" that can ultimately be passed down to consumers.
As auto manufactures continue to develop high-performance cars, Atherton said, "it's critical they do so in a way that's "more efficient, much more sustainable and friendly to our environment."