Indy 500 waves green flag on sustainability with ambitious goals

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Parked just yards from the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pagoda sits a reimagined EZ-Go golf cart that’s basically filled with trash. Plastic bottles thrown into recycling bins months ago are now neatly stacked in rows – and they’re up for sale.

It goes fast too.

The electric cart houses hundreds of Indy 500 t-shirts made from trash. The clothes are as soft as anything on the shelves of regular merchandise stores and cost about the same. And it’s no coincidence that they get a top-notch retail space, basically located at the front door of the famous racetrack.


They are the centerpiece of IndyCar’s latest push to go green, dubbed “The Penske Initiative.” The series is taking more and more steps – some bigger than others – towards having carbon-neutral races by 2050. No, really.

What might have been considered a laughable undertaking just a few years ago now seems like a reasonable goal despite IndyCar’s truckloads of fuel and tires, as well as countless pollutants like emissions, chemicals and oil products. And that’s not including the waste that will come with hosting nearly 300,000 fans for the 106th running of the Indy 500 on Sunday.

“These are baby steps,” said longtime IMS president Doug Boles. “It’s like hundredths of a second for cars. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you add up four or five changes, all of a sudden you have a tenth of a second. This is where we are. It’s a lot of little things that ultimately hopefully have a big impact.

This includes pausing the traditional balloon release due to environmental and wildlife impact concerns.

Here’s a look at some of the most notable businesses Penske Entertainment has undertaken to help fight global warming and do its part to wave the green flag on sustainability:

RENEWABLE FUEL

IndyCar will become the first North American racing series to use 100% renewable fuel in its race cars.

Shell, the long-time fuel sponsor for the open-wheel series, announced plans on Friday to switch to low-carbon fuel from 2023. The new fuel will be a second-generation ethanol blend derived from sugarcane waste and other biofuels, and it will create a fuel made from 100% raw materials classified as renewable under applicable regulatory frameworks. The oil giant says the fuel will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% compared to fossil gasoline.

“You need to be part of the solutions, and that’s because of these really powerful partners bringing the technology,” said Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment. “Carbon reductions come from big tech and innovators. We have both.

RENEWABLE TIRES

Firestone has been working on a renewable tire since 2012 and is nearing the finish line to get it on track.

The tire maker established a research center in Mesa, Arizona a decade ago and hired hundreds of biologists, chemists and botanists to help develop the guayule shrub. Guayule produces natural rubber and appears to be the future of racing tires.

Around 90% of the world’s rubber comes from Hevea brasiliensis in Southeast Asia. Harvesting these trees and bringing the rubber back to North America is expensive and creates a heavy carbon footprint. It is also subject to geopolitical instability.

Guayule is a cheaper, more sustainable alternative that renews itself in about three years and requires about 50% less water than other crops.

Guayule tires, characterized by green-painted sidewalls, made their IndyCar debut at the Pit Stop Challenge on Friday. They’ll get a bigger test at the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee in August, when IndyCar uses part-guayule rubber tires.

“You don’t want to go straight to the Indianapolis 500,” said Cara Krstolic, racing tire engineering manager for Bridgestone Americas Motorsports. “You want to get there in stages. One of the fun things about racing is that once in a while you can show off something that ends up in the car you and I are going to be driving.

ELECTRIC TRUCKS

Penske Truck Leasing used two all-electric tractor-trailers to haul all of the racing tires used in May from the Firestone distribution center. IndyCar installed a high-speed charging station at IMS that can nearly charge a truck in about three hours. The trucks made six trips to move 12 trailers full of tires.

Expanding electric tractor-trailers and installing more charging stations could be the next carbon-saving steps for a series that regularly crosses the country.

COMPOSTING/DONATION

IMS set up a pilot program in May to collect food waste and send it to an offsite composting facility. Prepared and unused food, which in previous years would have gone to waste, is now stored in a refrigerated trailer for daily transport to food banks.

MOVING GOODS

The electric golf cart filled with clothes made from recycling, however, got the most attention at Indy this week. The cart has remained in the same location for the past two weeks, but officials plan to make it a mobile market in the future. It has a range of 50 miles and is equipped with an electric generator that runs LED lights and a point-of-sale device.

Each shirt is made partly from 6½ plastic bottles and uses water-based inks. There are five models that range in price from $32 to $35.

“When people stand up and smell the shirt, they can’t believe it’s made out of plastic bottles,” said Raeann Suggs, senior merchandise buyer for IMS and IndyCar. “I would have said, ‘I’m not buying a shirt made out of plastic bottles. It’s going to be garbage! But it’s literally garbage which is amazing.

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