By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 saw Josef Newgarden drive the Shell Team Penske Honda to Victory Lane. And though it was the driver’s first Indy victory, for Shell fuel and lubricants, it was only the latest in a long line of success on and off the track.
Two years ago, Penske Entertainment were on the lookout for a partner who could bring the necessary teamwork and innovation to bring a renewable race fuel to the NTT IndyCar Series. And when Shell worked closely with both manufacturers of Honda and Chevrolet to test the fuel component’s durability and sustainability, Penske Entertainment had their partner.
Selda Gunsel, Vice President of Shell Lubricants and Fuels Technology, spoke with Kickin’ The Tires hours before the Shell Honda took home the Borg Warner Trophy Sunday from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Following a month of high speeds, the victory put the cherry on the cake in Shell’s efforts to balance performance with sustainability.
“We were asked, ‘Is it possible to develop a 100-percent renewable fuel?’ We knew we could develop it, the challenge was balancing high performance with sustainability,” said Gunsel.
“We worked really close the engineers at Honda and Chevrolet, as well as IndyCar, to understand the fuel specifications of the engine. Based on the performance criteria, we were able to leverage our long history in fuel innovation and identify the number of renewable components we could use to formulate the fuel.”
“The final candidate was tested both by Honda and Chevy, their performance and durability test. And it passed all the tests and IndyCar signed our fuel as the official fuel for the series. But of course, performance on the track is what matters. It’s under real-world conditions.”
“I believe in the power of science and technology to change the world and make positive impact on the quality of human life.”
Indeed, the test was passed in Sunday’s race, which offered one of the most competitive events in history from speeds to lead changes. However, the success has been measured from preseason testing all the way through the season’s opening six rounds.
“The IndyCar teams have been testing our fuel from the beginning of the season,” she said. “It’s been used at St. Pete, Long Beach, Texas, Barber. We are delighted that it’s performing well. Last week in qualifying, we saw some records speeds that we were very excited about. Every digit matters!”
The subject of 100% renewable race fuel has been an important one, as concerns of emissions and greenhouse gasses continue to be a thorn in motor racing’s back. But, with close-knit partnerships with Team Penske and manufacturers, Shell is eliminating that footprint.
It all starts with collaboration, believes Gunsel.
“Whether it’s fuels or lubricants, we always try to understand the needs of our customers and partners to develop technology solutions,” she said. “Our initial focus was on lubricant products like engine oils, gear oils, coolants, all designed for efficiency during the race. We have a very long history and very close technical intimacy with Team Penske. Our engineers really work hand-in-hand as one team because I think collaboration in important in developing innovative solutions.
“Our renewable components come from second-generation ethanol, so it’s obtained from products that would normally not be usable — animals fats, food waste. That component is a significant part of our renewable fuel today. That combination gives us at least a 60-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels.
“Overall, if you look at the process from end-to-end, it’s a lot less energy-intensive and a lot better for emissions.”
Among these partnerships is one with Bridgestone/Firestone tires, which are made from sustainable guayule rubber. Sunday’s Indy 500 saw a synthetic rubber compound tire used for the first time. These were produced from recycled plastics with the help of Shell chemicals.
“We really believe in collaboration and partnerships to develop sustainable solutions,” she said. “We also have that close relationship with Bridgestone and I’m happy to see their sustainable rubber compounds with the tires. There is not one company, one sector, one country that can come up with a solution. We need collaboration across the industry.”
Shell recently took home the Louis Schwitzer Award for innovation and engineering excellence in racing technology at the Indianapolis 500. Gunsel sees this as a huge honor for Shell’s team of engineers.
“It’s very meaningful for us,” she said. “The Louis Schwitzer Award recognizes innovation and engineering excellence in racing technology. For us, the engineering team at Shell, it’s extremely meaningful to get an engineering award from the society of engineers. It’s an award given to engineers by engineers.”
With 21 years of experience with Shell, Gunsel is thrilled, but not content, with the improvements made in race fuel sustainability.
“I believe in the power of science and technology to change the world and make positive impact on the quality of human life,” she concluded.