Friday, July 13, 2007


Friday, July 13, 2007

OSCODA - Think racy sports cars and Earth-friendliness are mutually exclusive?

You haven't met the team that assembled this week at Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport. The group, an Orange County Chopper-style mix of money and mechanical genius, hit the runway Thursday to set a land speed record.

Specifically, their Dodge Viper roared to 220 mph starting from a dead stop, ending at one mile, gulping biofuel, not gasoline.

There's the rub. The car ran on a fuel mix called E85 - 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gas.

That's noteworthy because critics decry ethanol as inefficient - incapable of high performance.

''The whole idea today is to push people's perceptions about what's possible,'' said Karl Jacob, a former racer turned California entrepreneur.

''Everybody thinks environmentally friendly cars have to be slow,'' continued Jacob, 39. ''This proves we can build high performance cars that are Earth-conscious.''

''It's a message Jacob and his team hope isn't lost. Not on the public, not on the auto industry, not on policy-makers.

It wasn't lost Thursday on Michigan Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch. Sheltrown, who attended the test runs, has made alternative fuel use one of his key legislative issues. In particular he has pushed for research incentives encouraging biofuel development.

Resistance, he said, is exasperating.

But watching Thursday's ''E85 Viper'' runs, Sheltrown was plainly eager to return to Lansing to spread ethanol's story.

''The question isn't if, it's when do we make a commitment to pursue alternative fuel use,'' he said. ''For me, this today dispels all he myths that ethanol isn't a viable answer. All the nay-sayers in Lansing ... I can't wait to tell them about this.''

Why shouldn't Michigan lead the way in biofuel research, he suggested. The state is not only the nation's car capital; it boasts a huge agricultural economy. Ethanol is made by distilling grain, in particular corn.

''Sure there are obstacles to making ethanol widely available to the public,'' Sheltrown said. ''But the biggest obstacle now is people who say this fuel won't work.

''Well, these are race car drivers,'' he continued. ''Look how excited they are about ethanol.''

For Viper driver Ron Misjak, a career race car builder from Chicago, ethanol's promise lies partly in that it's relatively easy to convert gas-powered cars to ethanol use, he said.

''The big thing to me is that ethanol is in its infancy,'' said Misjak, 41.

''Heck, we've been running cars on gas for a century. But we're only two years into ethanol. There's still so much to learn, so much to perfect with ethanol.''

Thursday's test runs, indeed, reflect two years work for Misjak and team. Their modifications to the Viper include adding a twin turbocharge package, increasing the car's fuel delivery and upgrading the brakes, designers said.

''Remember, though, this isn't a race car,'' Jacob said. ''It's street legal. It's the car I drive to work. ...

''So, do I think ethanol is a front-runner in the movement away from gas?'' he continued. ''Absolutely. Look at the performance and decide for yourself.''

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