Race Car Fuels

Hello Topspeed,
What kind of fuel do race cars use?

Bill T. from Sonoma, California

Hello Bill,

The most common fuels used in race cars these days (2007) are:

1. Leaded and unleaded gasoline

This fuel is used by many types of race cars and octane levels are usually high, meaning 94 and above. Gasoline is used in drag cars, rally cars, stock cars, and even Formula One cars. Gasoline is derived from the distillation of crude oil.

2. Methanol

This fuel is used by Champ Cars and was formerly used by Indy Cars. Methanol is also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, and wood spirits. Methanol is mostly derived from the steam reforming of natural gas.

3. Ethanol

This fuel is used by Indy Cars. Ethanol is also known as ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol, and EtOH. Ethanol is mostly derived from the fermentation and distillation of starch crops such as corn and wheat.

4. Nitromethane

This fuel is used in the fastest classes of NHRA drag racing which include Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock. Nitromethane is a simple organic compound with highly explosive properties. It is used as a fuel for race cars because it provides 2.3 times the power of similarly oxygenated gasoline.

5. Diesel

This fuel is used by many types of race cars. Diesel is often found in race cars that compete in endurance racing, and it also powers many of the vehicles that have set world land-speed records. Diesel is derived from the distillation of crude oil.

Technically speaking, anything that powers a race car can be considered a racing fuel. Other kinds of racing fuels that exist are:

1. Biodiesel
2. Bioethanol
3. Hydrogen
4. Natural Gas
5. Propane

There are also many manufacturers of racing fuels and some of the largest are:

1. Sunoco
2. Shell
3. Torco
4. Elf
5. VP

Racing fuels are always changing. New ones are constantly invented, existing ones are improved, and some simply disappear due to obsolescence or environmental concerns. It will be interesting though to watch the evolution of racing fuels over the next 50 years.

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