A while back, we weighed the possibilities of LPG and CNG making its way into our lives as an automotive fuel on a more regular basis. We determined that there is a niche market for it, but its chances of widespread U.S. use are highly unlikely. We did, however, mention that it does have a use in high-performance vehicles, like the Maxximus LNG 2000.

It looks like the American Le Mans Series is starting to consider this a possibility, as it attempts to dig itself a niche in racing as a “green” automotive racing series. According to reports, Patrick Racing Team and Indy 500 legend, Jim McGee, are working hard toward retrofitting the 430-horsepower ORECA FLM09 American Le Mans racer with a natural gas injection system.

It is uncertain exactly what type of natural gas, CNG or LPG, the Patrick Racing Team is targeting right now, but we would anticipate it being LPG, due to its more widespread availability. Given the fact that natural gas has an average octane rating of 130, it makes a perfect racing fuel. The biggest issue is getting it connected to the existing Chevy engine without losing too much horsepower or fuel economy.

Also according to reports, the plans are to have this system in place and homologated in time for the 2013 ALMS racing season, which will kick off in March next year. That gives Patrick Racing just under a year to get this system in place, tested, and certified for racing. If this takes off, it could ultimately alter the path that automotive propulsion is taking now – a lean more toward the electric side – and skew it back toward the natural gas/hydrogen direction.

Granted, CNG, LPG, and hydrogen will not overtake electricity in hybrids on the grand stage, but it could bring about a slight shift toward these alternative fuels. We’ll keep a close eye on this project and let you know how it’s going.

Click past the jump to read to full press release.

Patrick Racing and the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron to develop Natural Gas Power for 2013 Season

Natural Gas-Powered Cars Coming to 2013 American Le Mans Exterior
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Natural gas will power the American Le Mans Series Prototype Challenge cars in the 2013 season under development from Patrick Racing, two-time Indy 500 champs. The program utilizing the abundant, domestic, affordable and clean fuel will feature its practicality for the future of personal passenger cars and trucks.

JACKSON, Mich. and BRASELTON, Ga., June 19, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Embracing natural gas as a safe and abundant transportation fuel, the legendary Patrick Racing Team has entered into an agreement with the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), sanctioning body for the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron (ALMS), to identify development and testing opportunities for the fuel system to power the Series’ Prototype Challenge class beginning in the 2013 season.

"We are excited to become a part of the world’s premier sports car racing series and eager to help spread this technology to a vibrant, visible and growing element of the racing world," said U.E. "Pat" Patrick, whose teams have three times visited the winner’s circle of the Indianapolis 500 and have claimed multiple IndyCar series championships.

Natural Gas-Powered Cars Coming to 2013 American Le Mans Exterior
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"Natural gas is destined to become a major player in the transportation industry for everyday passenger vehicles, and not just fleet operations. It is abundant, domestic, affordable and ecologically responsible. For more than a century, racing has been at the tip of the spear in developing new technology for the transportation industry. This is in line with and in the spirit of that history."

Scot Elkins, COO of IMSA and the ALMS said the use of natural gas is a significant next step in the series’ positioning as the Global Leader in Green Racing.

"We are the only racing series recognized to comply with the Green Racing protocols developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and SAE International," Elkins said. "These organizations see Green Racing as a way to foster technology developments for tomorrow’s consumer production vehicles, enhance national energy security and reduce carbon emissions. We view the addition of natural gas to the Series as a means of continuing our mission to be on the front line of automotive technology advancement while providing unequalled entertainment for our fans."

Patrick Racing has joined the IMSA and the ALMS to demonstrate that advanced automotive technologies and renewable fuels can meet the performance requirements of even the most demanding endurance racing conditions and can be readily transferred from raceway to driveway. The world-class competition in the ALMS shows that Green Racing is real, ultra-competitive and makes for great racing.

Heading the Natural Gas technical development for the Prototype Challenge cars will be Indianapolis 500 Hall of Fame and Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee Jim McGee. With more than 90 victories in his portfolio, McGee is universally respected as one of the most successful team manager/chief mechanic in the history of IndyCar racing. His expertise and leadership will quickly transfer to the ALMS’ teams and sleek, Prototype Challenge race cars.

"This alliance will offer natural gas its most exciting platform ever to show the public how safely and reliably it can adopt the fuel as a daily transportation option," said McGee. "Natural gas comes out of the ground at 130 octane and is a great choice for a racing fuel or a consumer fuel. As consumer demand for the option to burn this fuel expands, automotive manufacturers globally will respond with more models equipped to use it, and delivery infrastructure will also increase dramatically. We’re anxious to begin this exciting program."

The Prototype Challenge class features the ORECA FLM09, a race car with a minimum weight of 1,985 pounds, without driver, and powered by a 430-horsepower LS3 engine. The FLM09 features a full carbon fiber chassis, carbon brakes, and an Xtrac sequential gearbox with paddle shifting.

Not only will natural gas provide an exciting new technical aspect to the Prototype Challenge class of racing, but it will open a broad, new range of marketing and sponsorship opportunities.

Ralph Hansen, president of Pegasus Marketing Group (www.PegasusMarketing.com), which represents Patrick Racing exclusively, said that sponsor interest in the series and new technology has been extremely active.

"I’ve been involved in motorsports sponsorship for nearly 30 years, mostly representing the Paul Newman/Carl Haas IndyCar team," said Hansen. "But, I’ve never seen a group of potential sponsors blossom as fast as the use of natural gas as a race fuel has initiated. Businesses that span a broad spectrum—from the wellhead, to the delivery, to the automobile and trucking manufacturers—are eager to get involved.

"Natural gas-powered cars will provide a new and broad spectrum of sponsors who have never been involved in racing before," Hansen added. "And, why not? They all have a compelling story to tell, and we have the ability to tell that story at 200 mph."

Justin Cupler
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