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From The Racetrack to Our Driveways

Shell and automakers leverage learnings from track to develop products for the road.

Consumer spending on new vehicles is at an all-time-high since 2007[a], according to U.S. auto industry reports[b] this month showing a rebound to pre-recession levels. For motorists taking the leap to replace aging vehicles (averaging a record 11.4 years[c]), they may find that vehicle options are vastly different. Yet one trend that consistently influences what consumers may see on the showroom floor is decades of race-inspired technology that has migrated from the track to road cars today.

Grand Prix in the pit

The auto industry has always relied upon motorsports-borne technology as an innovation test-bed for road cars. Close collaboration between industry players helps develop parallel or complementary technologies and innovate with suppliers like Shell, a fuels and lubricants leader with a long motorsports history of applying lessons from the track to the road, to develop products that power and protect motorists globally. 

“Our technologists create innovative lubricants that look to unlock greater fuel efficiency in a vehicle,” said Istvan Kapitany, President Shell Commercial Fuels and Lubricants Americas. “For engine oils, the lower the viscosity of the oil, the less fuel you need to power your engine. The challenge is to determine the lowest viscosity that still provides the right level of engine protection, durability and performance.”

Based on changing consumer demand and fuel economy standards, this synergy is more relevant as American road cars continue to implement innovations from the race track - with smaller, more powerful engines that deliver increased performance, fuel efficiency and lower emissions. With fewer regulations and cost considerations than the real world, motorsports is an open test ground for pushing industry boundaries and generating ideas or solutions that could have far-reaching impact on the future of mobility.

Today’s racetrack as a laboratory for tomorrow’s mobility

In its infancy, racing pioneered ways for cars to move faster, longer and safer, which new automakers inexpensively adapted for street vehicles.

Today, motorists use decades of race-inspired technology ranging from full rear-view mirrors to performance tires to engine-cleaning fuel additives and advanced lubricants. Shell bridges both worlds with a diverse portfolio of race teams, drivers and series like IndyCar, NASCAR, MotoGP and Formula One, working in close technical alliances across an array of automotive and engine manufacturers. 

To help drivers succeed at track and on the street, Shell and its technical alliances focus on three common priority areas (with safety underscoring everything):

  • Performance
  • Efficiency
  • Innovation 

Efficiency

In racing, fuel efficiency can mean the difference between winning and not finishing the race. The auto industry now uses track-tested hardware in many new road cars and trucks today to improve engine efficiency and fuel economy including:

  • Smaller and turbo-charged engines, 
  • Lighter-weight plastics, composites and other materials to replace heavy steel components used in exteriors and interior applications like dashboards, 
  • Start-stop ignitions to conserve fuel, and 
  • Clutchless transmissions with computerized gear shifting to minimize inefficient errors.

Many drivers are unaware that a dirty engine can negatively impact their fuel economy. In fact, if enough oil deposits form in the engine, there could be a loss of 3-6% of their fuel economy.[e]  Motor oils with special formulations can keep engines clean throughout their lifespan. For example, Pennzoil Platinum® Full Synthetic Motor Oil is formulated with Superior[f] Active Cleansing Agents that allow motorists to drive an extra 550 miles per year on average compared to a dirty engine. The quality of fuel and fuel additives also play a role in optimizing engine economy. 

Performance

Despite the drive for efficiency and lower emissions, many U.S. consumers want performance from their vehicles and use their purchasing power to influence automakers on vehicle production. Some technology, like turbochargers, helps boost engine performance and fuel efficiency. New hardware can also have an unintended impact on other parts of a vehicle. That why Shell tests and evaluates the fuel, engine oils, gear oils, coolants, transmission fluids and greases it supplies the market.

For example, 

  • Turbos run hotter which can affect lighter weight components, so Shell engineers adjust Pennzoil formulations to better adapt to temperature variations,
  • Alternative fuels may cause contaminants in engine oils, so Shell scientists design oils with better seal compatibility; and
  • Start-stop motors can allow oil to ‘bake’ in hot spots, so Shell provides superior oxidation protection in some oils.   

For those looking for more performance on the track or road, Shell V-Power® Premium Gasoline actively cleans for better performance by removing an average of 60% of performance-robbing gunk on intake valves left behind by low quality premium gasoline.

Innovation

Almost every day, a new mobility invention surfaces in the market: self-driving vehicles, vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity and personal transport concept vehicles are just a few in various development stages. Shell innovates with others to keep the world moving.

For example, when the IZOD IndyCar Series changed its chassis and moved to a twin-turbocharged V6 engine for its ethanol-burning race car last year, it drew Chevrolet back to the series. The automaker wanted to test smaller, turbo-powered engines for fuel economy in road cars. Shell engineers worked closely with IndyCar and Chevy’s engine builders to test motor oils in the new engines and meet all the requirements.

“To optimize our IndyCar engine performance, we desired an oil comparable with those we used for racing in the past, but they were specialty oils custom blended for racing that used only some components of oils off the shelf,” said Chris Berube, Chevrolet Program Manager, IZOD IndyCar Series.

“Shell Lubricants understood the IndyCar ‘off the shelf’ requirement and their scientists produced an innovative formulation that we tested which could be a 100% off-the-shelf, store-bought oil.  Shell provided us with Pennzoil Ultra, the brand’s most technically advanced synthetic motor oil, based on the criteria for the loads, temperatures, pressures and other areas of concern. We’ve used it ever since.”

Today, all Chevrolet twin-turbocharged V6 engines competing in the IZOD IndyCar Series use Pennzoil Ultra Full Synthetic motor oil.

“It’s a testament to the quality of Pennzoil Ultra,” added Berube, “that motorists can use the exact same oil in their personal cars to run errands that was in Tony Kanaan’s car to win the Indianapolis 500 this year.”

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