DETROIT – The American Le Mans Series, in conjunction with two government agencies and the Society of Automotive Engineers, will launch a Green Racing Challenge in 2008 to recognize environmentally friendly efforts in North American sports-car racing.

Announced this week at the North American International Auto show here, the program will incorporate soon-to-be-established protocols from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy and SAE.

The goal of the ALMS effort, which will culminate with an awards ceremony during the 1,000-mile (1,609-km) Petit Le Mans race on Oct. 4 at Road Atlanta, is to encourage auto makers to refine “green” technologies on the racetrack for later use on street vehicles, says ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton.

“The auto manufacturers competing in the ALMS have made it very clear that this is a direction and an overall initiative that is important to them,” he says.

“At a time when nearly all of motorsports has lost its relevance regarding progressive technology or any connection from the racetrack to the showroom floor, the ALMS stands alone in providing a platform of solutions for our nation’s automotive, transportation and energy needs.”

Although victory in the Green Racing Challenge won’t necessarily be awarded to the fastest car on the track, it is designed to reward those that show leadership in innovation, efficiency and environmental responsibility.

“There is no reason why motorsports can’t be involved in the dialogue of climate change, economics and energy (dependence),” says Margo T. Oge, director-EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

The SAE’s Motorsports Council Initiative currently is in the development stage and will work with the EPA and DOE to set the criteria for the Green Racing Challenge, says David L. Amati, director-SAE global automotive business.

The program’s requirements will focus on measuring performance, fuel efficiency and ecological impact, Atherton adds, with specifics including the use of renewable biofuels, multiple engines and powertrains (including hybrids), regenerative-energy devices, well-to-wheel energy measurements and emissions-control systems.

The current ALMS grid features a wide mix of vehicles and powertrains, with the field broken into two classes for open-cockpit prototypes (P1 and P2) and two for more conventional sports cars (GT1 and GT2).

Audi AG and General Motors Corp. have highlighted the ALMS’ efforts to go green thus far, with the clean diesel-powered Audi R10 P1 prototype stealing headlines and winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France the last two years.

GM’s Corvette Racing program, which will contend for its eighth consecutive ALMS GT1 manufacturer’s and driver’s championships in 2008, also has been pivotal in raising environmental awareness within the series.

Corvette Racing recently formed a technical partnership with the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) to spotlight cellulosic E85 ethanol in the 2008 ALMS season. The cleaner-burning 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline mix will be available to all teams in 2008 and is a big improvement from the conventional E10 (10% ethanol) that EPIC helped standardize for the series in 2007.

In addition, E85 offers better performance than gasoline due to its higher octane rating and can be integrated easily into the Corvette C6.R racecar’s fuel system, says Steve Wesoloski, manager-GM Road Racing Group.

Additional promotion of GM’s cellulosic ethanol efforts will come in May from a special E85-capable Corvette Z06 concept that will pace the field at the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Other auto makers competing in the 2008 ALMS season, all of which will run either E10, E85 or clean diesel in their vehicles, include Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd., Chrysler LLC, Ferrari SpA, Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Mazda Motor Corp. and Porsche AG.

The 2008 ALMS season begins March 15 with the 56th Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida.

msutton@wardsauto.com