Sustainability and motorsport used to be two polar opposites, but in the past few years the sport has been forced to reassess the way it behaves. This includes anything and everything from flying fewer team personnel around the world to using different bodywork composites.
One of the series driving this change is Extreme E, founded by Alejando Agag, who also established Formula E. The championship has been working hard over the past 18 months to establish methods to make it as environmentally friendly as possible for a new motorsport venture that will go racing in 2021.
The radical new racing series will see electric SUVs - sport utility vehicles - competing in extreme environments around the world, such as the Greenland ice cap, which have already been damaged or impacted by climate and environmental issues.
"Extreme E speaks more to the consumer because you cannot go and buy a single-seater Formula E car as much as everyone would love to,” says their Head of Communications Julia Fry. "We decided to use a different type of vehicle because SUVs are the fastest growing consumer segment for automotive purchases and also the worst for the environment.”
Science and research is a clear focal point for Extreme E. Instead of by aeroplane, they will travel to each race location via a cargo passenger ship called the St Helena.
"We have spent 18 months trying to make her as new as possible and as high efficiency and as low emissions as possible by giving her a complete overhaul,” Fry says. "She can take all of the freight and cars - that is a massive operational task but avoids us having to fly everything which a lot of series do.”
Also onboard the ship, they will be running a research laboratory which will enable scientists from around the world to conduct ocean studies whilst it travels between different remote and fascinating locations. They have just launched an open call for this, encouraging people to apply.
"Behind the scenes, the biggest thing we are trying to do is reduce our impact,” Fry says.
We have got a mission to be carbon net zero by the end of our first season.
With all eyes of the technology and motorsport communities on them, it will be interesting to see how Extreme E changes the face of sport and beyond.
UK TEAMS DRIVE TO BECOME MORE SUSTAINABLE
On an equally important mission is the Ford sponsored M-Sport team, who is based in the UK. They are showing that any team from around the world can try and make a difference.
"Motorsport is not necessarily seen as the greenest sport there is,” says Team Principal Richard Millener. "We are a private company which is employed by Ford to run the team. This means for logistics and transportation and the running of the team, that is down to us.”
One of the areas they are focussing is streamlining their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, running costs and the number of team personnel they have moving around the globe to rallies and events.
A step they have taken is to change their service structures - which would serve as the pits in a normal motorsport event - from permanent to temporary.
"We have moved away from solid structures to inflatable,” Millener says. "You might wonder why that is sustainable but effectively you can get the same amount of set up into a quarter of a truck as opposed to two trucks, so we have actually cut down on two trucks travelling around Europe which, over the course of the season, is a big improvement.”
Photo credit: Rich Millener
Millener believes that whilst the significant gains such as changing infrastructure is important, smaller gains down to the use of reusable materials are just as vital.
“We used to take a chef with us to every single rally but now we take a kitchen and we employ a local chef at each event - they are not travelling, they are not moving around,” he says. “We have just bought enamel mugs for all the team so they can have their cups of coffee - which they need apparently - in a reusable mug as opposed to paper.”
Despite the unprecedented challenges the team has faced in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, they are still constantly striving to become better at being greener.
“It is not just the rally car but the whole environment we are in.
There are so many elements and businesses that we use as a motorsport team and we look at each individual one and think about how we can be more sustainable.
Now, it is clear that the team is showing how more motorsport teams can take steps to become greener.
FOUR MOTORS RACES ON WITH BIOFUEL TECHNOLOGY
In Germany, one motorsport team has been working hard to reinvent the races they compete in. Four Motors, which now has a trio of Bioconcept-Cars, uses biofuels instead of petroleum when racing on the famous Nürburgring. In the tank, the fuel by CropEnergies with its 20% ethanol admixture delivers sustainable racing power of 20% less CO2 and 80% less particulate matter.
Although, this is not the only instrumental change Four Motors has made. At the recent Nürburgring 24h race, the team presented the first body kit made from natural fibres on their Porsche Cayman 718 GT4 CS MR.
The team has Thomas von Löwis at the helm and, as a former racing driver who competed in DTM, he knows what makes a good car.
“We began the company in 2003 and right from the start, Smudo has been racing for us,” he tells Eurosport. Smudo is a rapper of the incredibly successful German band Die Fantastischen Vier who have sold multiple platinum records. “He is a very good racing driver and I have worked with him since 2000 when he started his own racing career.”
Their first step in using more sustainable technology came when they began racing at the Nürburgring, the so-called Green Hell, in 2003 in a VW Beetle. They had a four-cylinder engine in the front but ran it with biodiesel as opposed to traditional fossil fuels.
In an effort to become even more sustainable, in 2005 they set out to create the first Bioconcept Car which was in fact a mighty Ford Mustang, using components made of natural fibres like flax.
Photo credit: Four Motors
“We purchased the body shell in Detroit and then shipped it over to Germany,” von Löwis says.
Luckily, their partners continued to back this exciting but challenging new adventure. The team received support from the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture in further developing the materials for the race cars. Four Motors has been improving the biofibres components over the years to achieve almost the same weight and stiffness as carbon fibre while reducing the CO2 footprint by 75%.
Another crucial pillar of sustainability that Four Motors stands on lies in the engines of its Bioconcept-Cars. The team uses a re-refined high-performance motor oil from Wolf Oil Corporation, which is formulated on the grounds of a recycled base oil from the Finish refinery Tecoil.
Tom von Löwis is convinced of the advantages of the special lubricants: “The re-refined engine oil does not only withstand the endurance test of the Nürburgring races, but it also significantly improves the environmental balance. By using it, two thirds of crude oil and 80% CO2 are saved compared to newly produced oils”.
These innovations have allowed Four Motors to reach new heights in the quest to become more sustainable and now they are recognised as one of the most daring teams for their brave but commendable steps they have taken to reduce their carbon footprint.
Along with Extreme E and UK-based teams like the Ford-powered M-Sport, manufacturers like Ford are working hard to ensure they are improving their environmental footprint over the coming seasons of competition. In all, motorsport looks set to edge towards a much more sustainable - and subsequently viable – future, which everyone can enjoy.
By Helena Hicks