IndyCar aims for sustainable future with new initiatives


Motorsports enthusiasts and environmental advocates don’t typically see eye to eye.

But under new initiatives from IndyCar, long-term sustainability has become a central focus.

The NTT IndyCar Series is the highest level of open-wheel racing in the United States, sometimes referred to as the “American version” of Formula One. The series is best known for its premier event, the Indianapolis 500, which was first held in 1911 and will continue with its 107th running this May.

As IndyCar forges on and hopes to continue thriving, executives and advisors have quickly realized that they must innovate – not only for the series, but for the planet.

Innovation has been at the core of motorsports since cars were first raced. Whether it’s altering a vehicle design, adjusting tires pressures or revamping car setups, all forms of auto racing are built on change.

Now, innovation is coming in different ways as environmental issues take center stage. In 2023, IndyCar has introduced several initiatives in an effort to become more eco-friendly – on and off the track. These include changes for fuel, tires, transportation and more.

Shell, the official fuel, motor oil and lubricant sponsor of IndyCar, has introduced renewable race fuel – which debuted in the 2023 season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 5.

“Shell is very excited to bring this 100% renewable fuel, which consists of a significant mix of second generation ethanol that is derived from sugarcane waste combined with another renewable component that enables 60% in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil based fuels,” said Bassem Kheireddin, Shell Motorsports technology manager.

Another on-track innovation is with the Firestone tires, which all cars use throughout every race weekend.

For races on road courses and street courses, teams will use Firestone guayule tires rather than the traditional Hevea Rubber tree material. The 2023 IndyCar schedule consists of 12 road courses and street course races, compared to just five oval track races.

What difference does a different tire material make, exactly? Cara Krstolic, director of race tire engineering and production for Firestone Racing, explained why the change is so significant.

“They have guayule in the sidewall,” Krstolic said of the guayule tire. “So, guayule is a shrub that is native to the Southwest United States. And it uses a lot less water than some of the other crops that are similarly used… This has a more sustainable sidewall and it's made locally in the US. Now this replaces Hevea Rubber. Hevea rubber trees are grown in Southeast Asia, use a lot of water and it's a plant that has to be shipped in, so it’s a lot more processing time (and waste).”

While the on-track initiatives are helpful, most of the carbon emissions and impact from motorsports comes in transportation, including logistics and business travel.

According to data released by Formula One, over 70% of their carbon emissions come from logistics and business travel. IndyCar only travels across North America, compared to Formula One’s travel across the entire globe, but Greg Dingle, lecturer in sport management at La Trobe University, estimates a similar percentage of waste in the American series.

“If we take Formula One as kind of a proxy, I wouldn't say a precise one, but it gives us some clue,” Dingle said. “…It's also reasonable to say that as a national competition that IndyCar would probably have a substantial amount of the emissions come from logistics and transport.”

IndyCar is attempting to reduce its waste in this area with the eCascadia, a fully electric semi truck that can be used to transport race cars from track to track.

“Last year at the Indy 500, we partnered with Freightliner and had the eCascadia, and that was an electric semi truck,” said Mark Sibla, IndyCar chief of staff. “And so starting to look at new technologies like that that maybe aren't directly on the track, but they're very much an impact to the overall IndyCar property.”

IndyCar and Shell both share long-term goals to become even more eco-friendly while still sustaining the same product on-track.

By 2050, IndyCar has set a goal for a 100% sustainable tire. Shell, meanwhile, hopes to reach a net zero carbon footprint by 2050.

“We’re committed, by 2050, to having a completely sustainable tire,” Krstolic explained. “So, by the end of the decade (2030), we want to be at 40% renewable or circular materials. That's a pretty big goal and lofty goal for us. But we have to start somewhere. And this is what we're doing with our guayule sidewall tires.”

While it’s impossible to fully eliminate environmental waste from motorsports, IndyCar is proving that becoming more conscious of the problem can make a positive difference.

“It's a step by step approach which drives all of us toward a more sustainable future,” said Pierluigi Zacheo, senior sustainability advisor, founder of MyStadium. “And not to forget the megaphone, how relevant, you know, if IndyCar does it, then the others will have to follow, because leadership is essential. It’s the big fishes who have to start this… lead by example.”

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