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The First Racing Car Powered By Biofuel


One of the most fast-moving developments in the world of motorsport is the increasing reliance on biofuels and more sustainable sources of energy as part of increasingly sophisticated racing leagues.

Several sports car leagues use biofuel blends and electrofuels that are more sustainable than pure fossil fuels but can largely be dropped into existing fuel tanks without interfering with the relief valves and other safety systems.

Whilst it is typically seen as a relatively modern development that has evolved gradually throughout the 21st century, biofuels are not a new invention, even in motorsport.

In fact, one of the first-ever major biofuel racing cars was racing in the biggest motorsport event in the world almost a century ago.

Born George Stewart in 1894, Leon Duray had a reputation for being a rather enigmatic and highly innovative racing driver, mixing his prodigious racing ability with innovative car designs, engines and a degree of showmanship not expected in the racing paddocks of the 1920s.

Nicknamed the “Flying Frenchman” despite being a taxi driver from Detroit, Michigan, he would often pretend to be a French veteran of the First World War, even going so far as to not answer questions in English.

At the 1927 Indianapolis 500 race, the third race of what was at the time the best five-start streak in the history of The Brickyard, Mr Duray came to race in a Miller Front Drive-engined car typical for the era. However, his car had a difference.

Instead of using petrol, Mr Duray had powered his car with ethanol, becoming the first racing driver to do so at such a featured event.

Initially seen as yet another piece of showmanship or offbeat shenanigans from the Flying Frenchman, it turned out to be an astonishingly shrewd choice, as he qualified his number 12 car in third position, with a qualifying speed of 118.788 miles per hour.

Sadly, he would only last 26 laps of the 500-mile race, succumbing to a fuel tank leak. But he proved to be decades ahead of his time, as nearly a century later IndyCar finally began to use a 100 per cent renewable fuel as of the 2023 season.