GREENVILLE - Manufacturers such as BMW and Michelin say they often use races to test their new technologies to the limit, eventually using what they learn to make better consumer products.
Scott Atherton, president and chief executive officer of the American Le Mans Series, toured the labs and met faculty and business people at Clemson University's Carroll Campbell Graduate School for Auto Research at the International Center for Auto Research on Wednesday.
Following the tour, Atherton said ALMS is "taking a close look" at partnering with Clemson and ICAR, but he doesn't know how that could work out.
"I'm knocked out by the quality, the diversity and the synergy that is represented here," he said. "This has been a truly eye-opening day for me."
Never miss a local story.
He said ALMS is one of the few race series that allows carmakers and other manufacturers to test their new technology on the race track.
"It's always been an incubator of innovation," he said.
The Series' interest in green racing first began when Audi asked if it could race with clean diesel fuel. Later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency talked with the Series and said it thought racing could play a role in testing alternative fuels and other green technology, Atherton said.
The Green X Challenge - a race within a race based on fuel efficiency, the least pollution and performance - followed.
Michelin became involved with the Challenge because of its interest in fuel efficiency and the reduction of pollutants, said Silvia Mammone, Michelin motorsports and sponsorship manager. The Challenge is named for Michelin's Green X fuel efficient passenger and truck tires.
"Michelin is in motorsports first to learn and then to win," she said.
The company provides tires for more than 20 teams. Knowledge gained for racing and the Challenge will "come back to the everyday consumer" because it feeds into the next generation of tires.
Bobby Hitt, BMW Manufacturing spokesman, agreed on the value of racing.
"We always learn from racing. It gives us a chance to push the limits," he said, and what the company learns makes it into BMW's vehicles. The company has two of its M3 cars on the AMLS circuit.
American Le Mans Series' interest in green technology has not changed the races, said Atherton.
"It has always been a platform for manufacturers and suppliers to bring their technology and display and develop it," he said.
After the success of the first Michelin Green X Challenge, the Series "could see this is only becoming more valuable to us. It is a point of differentiation and sets us apart from other racing series."