Fehan, O'Connell- GM Racing teleconference, part 2

Q: Is the message of green racing getting through to Corvette owners and are they making connection between the Corvette they drive and the environmentally friendly version on the track?

Fehan: That's a very good point. We're not limiting this to just Corvette. Myself and the corporation view Corvette as the technological spear of the entire GM lineup. We look at Corvette as the quintessential performance vehicle. So consequently Corvette was the very logical choice with which to demonstrate for an unknowing public, for the most part, what E85 is all about. Any sort of lack of knowledge breeds fear and apprehension, and quite frankly we want to use this program to blaze a trail and let all people know, not just GM customers and Corvette customers, but a wide range of people who follow the series that there is no stigma attached to E85. There are no performance issues; you can put it in your car and it will run just as well as what you are currently using. That is the message we're taking forward. Do we hope it resonates with the Corvette customer? Yes, and we know it will because they follow this more closely than most. But we also hope it resonates not only to GM customers but also to all people. If we can send this message to everyone in North America, that's a great step forward. Obviously it looks good for GM that we're doing this sort of thing.

Q: Is there a significant increase in heat with E85?

Fehan: No, there's not. At the end of the day, most energy converts itself to heat. Horsepower is essentially another measurement of heat. For anyone who's spent time in a physics class, there is thermal aspect to horsepower. So to answer your question, no there is not, because a horsepower is the same amount of heat no matter how it's produced. Secondarily, I can tell you that the ethanol does burn a little cooler than gasoline, there are some cooling properties to it, but overall it's pretty much a seamless transition.

Q: Is there any difference in ethanol versus racing fuel in the event of a fire?

Fehan: Another good question because this involves not only ourselves as car owners but also the American Le Mans Series and its safety crews. Unlike the methanol that was used in Indy cars, you couldn't see that burn, all you could see was the thermal convection waves. This (ethanol) actually has some color to it when it burns, so there is a visual aspect to it that helps the safety crews. However, the formulation of the safety fire equipment and extinguishing material is different. I'm tuned into the fact that ALMS has added that to their fire arsenal and we have changed the composition of our onboard fire suppression as well. So it is a little different than gasoline but was easily comprehended and handled.

Q: Why did you choose not to run E85 at Sebring, and have there been any technical challenges that have slowed down the program for you?

Fehan: The reason we did not is that we tested for three days at Sebring about three weeks before the event. >From a performance standpoint, it's beautiful stuff and worked extremely well. When we got home, we tore down the cars and noticed there was a degradation in the adhesive that's used inside the fuel cell. For those who may not know, a fuel cell is, for lack of a better term, a fabric and rubber-impregnated bladder that has some degree of flexibility and some degree of impenetrability for safety. Inside the cell itself there are small structures that hold things like submersible pumps, fuel pickups, internal auxiliary reserve tanks, and that's all glued together. It's done with flanges and flaps and adhesives. The formulation we were running had some ill effects on that adhesive and the inside of those structures started to become disconnected from the fuel bladder itself. Obviously that is unacceptable, so to err on the side of caution, we opted not to run it and to continue our research along with the fuel cell manufacturer and the series to put together a package that we knew would be safe. Just like a production car, you wouldn't expect to buy a car from General Motors that didn't have a fuel tank that was fully tested. That's the way we proceed. Was it possible we could have raced? I'm sure we could have. But it wasn't 100 percent, and until it's 100 percent we weren't going to debut it. We're at a point now where we have a high degree of reliability and that's what's caused to go ahead and debut it.

Q: Do you see your program moving to GT2 in the future?

Fehan: You guys have great questions today. The landscape of road racing on a global basis is going to be making a fairly dynamic change in 2010. There are new rules underway now in the FIA and ACO that will change the landscape of GT racing, and I believe it will come down to a single class. I don't know what the nomenclature will be, but let's call it GT racing. I think it will more closely resemble GT2 cars than they do GT1 cars. So at the beginning of the next decade we're going to need a new car GT if in fact we continue on in GT racing. The landscape for the LMP cars is going to have some changes as well. When we looked at GT2, we knew that this change was underway, so to spend a couple of years and the economic and technical resources to develop a GT2 car that was only going to be around for a year or two didn't make much sense. We opted to continue on in GT1. We'll wait for those final rules to come out, we'll evaluate them, and then we'll make a determination as to where we are going to go ahead for 2010 and beyond.

Q: Did you learn anything from the two cars that ran E85 in Sebring?

Fehan: We had learned all we needed to learn. I did get a report from one of the teams that they noticed after the Sebring event that they had experienced what we experienced, so they are making the same changes we're making. I'm fairly certain that by the time we get to St. Pete, everybody will be on line and we'll be moving forward without any issues.

Q: There is a belief that it takes more energy to make a gallon of ethanol than it takes to make a gallon of gasoline. Can you address that?

Fehan: I'm not a scientist, but I did major in science. I can tell you that on any side of an argument, scientists can put together whatever data they want to come up with whatever they want to say. Is there global warning, or is there no global warning? You read something different every day. It all gets back to my original statement: Nobody thinks ethanol is the answer; we think right now it is part of the solution. It is certainly worthy of exploration. It's not my position to support science one way or the other depending on which side of the argument they come up with. I will tell you that ethanol is a renewable resource, and that is unquestioned.

Q: Will the change to E85 have any impact on your pit strategy?

Fehan: No, quite frankly, it won't. The way we have the fuel balanced between the cars, the cars should be within a lap or two of what they've always been. There is some balancing the sanctioning body has gone to, which is basically some math-based changes. Johnny talked about it briefly when he talked about the weight of the car. Because we'll be carrying more fuel, our car will weigh more, so the cars that are carrying less fuel will be ballasted to the same weight. What some people may not think about is the ability to fuel and how quickly you can do that in a pit stop. We'd be taking on theoretically 105 liters and they'd be taking on 90, so the orifice size has been mathematically changed so that the fueling times are the same. All in all, strategy -- no change; pit stops -- no change. To the spectators, there should be no discernible difference whether we're running ethanol-based fuel or gasoline.

Q: What kinds of things did you have to do get the durability of the E85 engine where you wanted it?

Fehan: I can tell you this, and this is no BS, absolutely nothing. It was as seamless a transition as you can possibly imagine. I'll tell you the two areas we looked at. One, it takes a laptop computer to recalibrate the fuel delivery to deal with the volumetric issues I mentioned. And the other thing is you have to pay particular attention to some piping and fittings because the ethanol is a very drying material, it doesn't have the same lubricating qualities as gasoline. The years in the Indy 500 and the IRL and all of the things we did the Oldsmobile IRL engine all came into play, so the book was written on that. I wish I could tell you we spent hours burning the candle at both ends and what an amazing achievement it is, but it was pretty seamless.

Q: Beside the cellulosic aspect, are there any major differences between the E85 that consumers buy and the racing E85?

Fehan: Not really. Understand that E85 is a classification of fuel, not necessarily indicating that every time you go to a pump and buy E85 you're getting 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. In northern climates, ethanol does not have a good cold-start quality, so there is additional gasoline added in what they call a winter blend that allows your car to start. In broad terms, it ranges from 70 percent to about 85 percent ethanol. In Michigan right now, E85 is different from E85 you would buy in Florida, but it falls into that narrow range.

Q: Would the problems you had with the fuel cell give a consumer cause for concern about their own vehicles?

Fehan: No, it wouldn't. In fuel systems and fuel tanks in today's world, there is nothing that is glued together. They are blow molded or vacuum formed materials that are impervious. They don't have to be assembled the way these fuel cells have to be assembled. >From a passenger car standpoint, that simply wouldn't exist.

Q: Is the formulation you will be using in St. Pete the same formulation that was used by the independent teams in Sebring?

Fehan: I'm going to go out on a limb here. There were two different formulations used in Sebring. We actually tested with a third formulation in trying to find the proper balance. There is some underlying information here that everyone should understand. The fuel cell manufacturers do a wonderful job of building super-safe cells. To date, though, the cells have been built for either the exclusive use of ethanol/methanol, or the exclusive use of gasoline. This is the first time that in these concentrations the two materials have been mixed together, and that is the challenge that we anticipated. We wanted to be perfectly sure as we moved forward that we would come up with a proper formulation for the fuel and a cell that could handle it. We're there.

The goal of the ALMS is to have a single formulation, used by everyone. The formulation we have just finished testing is that formulation and that will be the fuel that everyone will be using as we go forward.

-credit: gm racing