Auto racing is in a tough spot, with many races still using internal-combustion engines for high-powered cars. However, racing venues and governing bodies like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Team Penske and IndyCar Racing have committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.
It seems like a stretch for auto racing to have a goal of hosting carbon-neutral races, but IndyCar and Team Penske are incredibly serious about achieving that goal. For starters, the 2022 running of the Indianapolis 500 in May removed the balloon launch that has been a tradition for decades — reasons cited include environmental damage and threats to wildlife.
Efforts like these are part of a widespread plan known as the Penske Initiative. The organization will implement green policies incrementally with each race.
The first few steps have yielded some nifty results for the speedway and IndyCar. Doug Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president, commented, “It’s like hundredths of a second for the cars. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you add up four or five changes, then all of a sudden, you’ve got a tenth of a second. That’s where we are. It’s lots of little things that at the end of the day hopefully make a big impact.” He could not have picked a more perfect analogy.
In terms of changes to components of the race and cars, Penske Racing has plans to introduce more sustainable measures for fuel sources, transportation of gear and tires, and fan experience. Starting with fuel, the raceway and its gas partner Shell will switch to low-carbon fuel sources beginning in 2023. It will be extracted from ethanols like sugarcane and other biofuels, in turn cutting greenhouse gas emissions up to 60% at the race. This switch will make the Indy 500 the first North American racing event to use 100% renewable energy.
IndyCar tires are also getting a sustainable facelift. Firestone, the longtime tire provider for IndyCar, has been working on renewable materials for tires since 2012, only recently cracking the code. Rather than importing rubber from southeast Asia, Firestone used the guayule shrub, which produces natural rubber. The shrubs are much more sustainable, as they can grow in abundance in just three years and are cheaper than using an imported kind. They also need about 50% less water than other crops. These tires, marked with green lines, were tested at the Nashville and Detroit Grand Prix before the Indy 500 and hey will likely be used for future races.
Sustainable changes are happening off the racetrack, too. For transportation of cars, tires, and other racing gear, Penske is rolling out a fleet of electric vehicles (EVs).
It used two electric Freightliner cabs to bring a dozen trailers of Firestone tires to the Indianapolis Speedway. A 150-kilowatt charging station was placed there to ensure the trucks could be operational at all times. With IndyCar races happening nationwide, the EVs will significantly reduce transportation emissions.
Penske also wants to get fans involved with the sustainability measures. The methods they have enacted have been quite effective. Penske Entertainment, the Speedway, and Shell teamed up with CHOOOSE, a climate technology company that offers fans a way to offset their travel footprint by making a small donation toward a reforestation effort. In other gestures, fans could buy merchandise like t-shirts made from recycled plastic bottles at the raceway. The event used electric golf carts to transport merchandise and waste, meaning a much smaller footprint for concessions. These efforts are the perfect way to connect with fans — not overly grand, affordable tokens of sustainability commitment.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Penske Entertainment have made a bold decree to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Still, if these efforts continue and expand each year, the Indy 500 might just get there.