Indy 500 Goes From Gas to Green

Marco Andretti leads teammate Dario Franchitti, of Scotland, during the final day of practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Friday, May 25, 2007. The 91st running of the Indy 500 is Sunday, May 27.
AP Photo
The Indianapolis 500 is hardly the place you'd expect to find anything "green," outside of the starting flag. The cars in the annual race average 220 mph and get 2 to 3 miles per gallon. But this year, they'll be burning rubber on ethanol, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

The Indy Racing League's Terry Angstadt calls the fuel switch a "huge commitment." He explains, "Not only is it a commitment to put it into the cars, but it's to carry the marketing message."

This is a big change for the Indy 500 — the last time the race switched fuels was back in 1965. Paul Dana, an Indy driver who died in a crash last April, championed the change to ethanol.

Tonya Bergeron-Dana says her husband got the idea after September 11. "He had this idea that we should reduce our dependence on foreign oil and that ethanol would be a really great way to do that. He went out there and got the sponsors together."

Indy driver Jeff Simmons says the fuel switch is anything but a gimmick, citing the environmental and economic benefits of ethanol. "If our engineers had said, 'hey, this isn't a high performance fuel,' we wouldn't be running it."

But the ethanol industry is looking at another kind of "green." It's sinking big money into trying to convince race fans to buy into ethanol just like the racers did. At a time when NASCAR, the most popular form of racing, just recently switched to unleaded gas, racing team owner Bobby Rahal says going green first makes Indy racing more relevant.

"We are creating some value other than purely entertainment," says Rahal.

The high-performance race cars will not be running on 100 percent pure ethanol. The reason? Two percent gas had to be added to the mix, otherwise it would have been considered pure grain alcohol and subject to liquor tax.