Brant James
Tuesday April 27th, 2010

There was a time when "green" referred only to a flag color and "relevance" could only be traced by marketers to the "win on Sunday, buy on Monday" mantra.

Now a new definition of "green" has crept into the lexicon of virtually every racing series. The IZOD IndyCar Series races on ethanol -- though not yet the most-green cellulosic kind, while the American Le Mans Series utilizes cars with new age technologies. Even gas-guzzling NASCAR has switched to unleaded fuel and will in the next few years likely join the 21st century by allowing fuel injection.

"Relevance" has also become a buzzword in a faltering world economy that has been especially cruel to automakers. Relevance, as in "why are we pouring millions into this series when it doesn't appear to be helping sales?'' It's a question racing executives find increasingly hard to deflect.

Volkswagen Motorsport Manager Clark Campbell doesn't see any such problems for the Jetta TDI Cup, which began its third season this weekend at Virginia International Raceway in Alton.

"Number one, we're using an actual product people can relate to," he said. "The car we race is the same version customers can pick up at a dealer. And it's selling extremely strong. The product is relevant with the push for green. In most racing formats they talk about green in terms of fuel. We talk about it in terms of everything we do: the cars, generators, the tractor trailers, the hospitality, the furniture, the cutlery, all of it is either 100 percent biodegradable or recycled."

Volkswagen, like all manufacturers involved in racing, is using the series as a marketing tool to sell cars. Unlike the others, they sell virtually the exact racing model, meaning the TDI Cup is vastly more 'stock' than the NASCAR series or the ALMS, which races modified versions of high-end vehicles. The push, Campbell said, is to show the American market the efficiency and sportiness of diesel. Campbell said European sales accounted for half of the company's sale of diesels annually, while the United States accounted for only about 13 percent.

"There's a perception here that diesel means slow and smelly," Campbell said. "We want to show consumers that diesel can be fast and efficient. Diesels can be race cars."

Efficient ones. According to the series, each car will consume approximately two tanks of B5 biodiesel, a mix of five percent biodiesel and 95 percent petro diesel, during the 10-race season. That pollution, plus the emissions of 80,387 street vehicles, will be offset by the Volkswagen "community" with the planting of 280,395 trees. Other manufacturers have similar programs.

Carbonfund.org estimated that the Jetta TDI Cup would produce 263.25 metric tons of carbon during its first season in 2008. A typical NFL game, according to the organization, produces about 561.4 metric tons.

Driver development is also a crucial aspect of the series, Campbell said. Drivers aged 16-25 are culled through several stages of tryouts to reach the final series field, where they compete in identically prepared 2.0-liter, 170 hp, four-cylinder TDI cars with a six-speed, double-clutch, automatic DSG transmission. The car is only "slightly modified from stock with Pirelli racing tires, race suspension and brake components, drivers racing safety seat, FIA roll cage and an on-board fire extinguisher system," according to a series release .

The series champion receives Volkswagen factory advancement support worth about $150,000 and $50,000 in prize money is available. Drivers pay the series a $45,000 "enrollment charge." The TDI Cup is sanctioned by SCCA Pro Racing.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.