Spec Fuel Or A Fuel Spec?

Sunoco produces the 94-octane pump gas for all five MotoAmerica classes.

A spec fuel is attractive to a race-sanctioning body because it sidesteps all the problems of regulating fuels: taking samples, storing and shipping them, dealing with labs, and maybe disqualifying a winning rider two weeks later when it turns out his or her manganese analysis was 0.001 over. Pretty silly. On the negative side, a spec fuel makes it impossible for race teams to have fuel sponsors.

A fuel spec is quite different. It specifies certain basic characteristics that the fuel must have in order to be used in the race series and leaves the details to the fuel blender. The sanctioning body doesn’t have to be “the fuel police,” and race teams are free to seek fuel sponsors.

For 2015, MotoAmerica has opted for a spec fuel. Sunoco is supplying all five classes—Superbike, Superstock 1000, Supersport, Superstock 600, and KTM RC 390 Cup—with an “upgraded” version of the 94-octane, unleaded pump gas it produced last year for AMA Pro Racing, with intent to align next year with current FIM specification.

Why worry about what’s in race fuel? For many years, nobody did. AMA racers were free to use pump gas, aviation gas, or race gas. There were no worries because, although those fuels varied in volatility and knock resistance, their energy content was quite uniform. The phrase “high octane” has nothing to do with energy content; it is only a measure of the fuel’s resistance to knock, an abnormal and destructive form of combustion.

The 1990s brought the declassification of certain range-extending high-energy military turbine fuels. Formula 1 began to use such dienes, which could boost engine power by several percent but at some sacrifice of octane number. Were such fuels a health risk? No one was willing to give a clear answer. Diene use spread to motorcycle racing, and the price of some racing “gasolines” shot up as high as $120 a gallon.

Then came a reaction. The sight of F1 fueling crews in protective suits bothered people. At the same time, racing organizations decided to “go green” by giving up the use of lead-bearing, anti-knock additives in race gas. Complex fuel rules were written, not only banning power-boosting dienes and lead but also specifying maximum content of oxygen, nitrogen, benzene, and manganese.

Soon added to this came “similarity” rules, requiring racing fuel to more closely resemble the complexity of “natural gasoline,” which contains many hundreds of different compounds and molecular structures. Now the high cost of fuel lies not in exotic compounds, such as tetrahydromethylcyclopentadiene, but in the large number of lab tests necessary to prove its compliance with the new rules. From one craziness to another!

Let us hope that a degree of sanity has returned to racing fuels regulation.

Sunoco produces the 94-octane pump gas for all five MotoAmerica classes.

A spec fuel is attractive to a race-sanctioning body because it sidesteps all the problems of regulating fuels: taking samples, storing and shipping them, dealing with labs, and maybe disqualifying a winning rider two weeks later when it turns out his or her manganese analysis was 0.001 over. Pretty silly. On the negative side, a spec fuel makes it impossible for race teams to have fuel sponsors.

A fuel spec is quite different. It specifies certain basic characteristics that the fuel must have in order to be used in the race series and leaves the details to the fuel blender. The sanctioning body doesn’t have to be “the fuel police,” and race teams are free to seek fuel sponsors.

For 2015, MotoAmerica has opted for a spec fuel. Sunoco is supplying all five classes—Superbike, Superstock 1000, Supersport, Superstock 600, and KTM RC 390 Cup—with an “upgraded” version of the 94-octane, unleaded pump gas it produced last year for AMA Pro Racing, with intent to align next year with current FIM specification.

Why worry about what’s in race fuel? For many years, nobody did. AMA racers were free to use pump gas, aviation gas, or race gas. There were no worries because, although those fuels varied in volatility and knock resistance, their energy content was quite uniform. The phrase “high octane” has nothing to do with energy content; it is only a measure of the fuel’s resistance to knock, an abnormal and destructive form of combustion.

The 1990s brought the declassification of certain range-extending high-energy military turbine fuels. Formula 1 began to use such dienes, which could boost engine power by several percent but at some sacrifice of octane number. Were such fuels a health risk? No one was willing to give a clear answer. Diene use spread to motorcycle racing, and the price of some racing “gasolines” shot up as high as $120 a gallon.

Then came a reaction. The sight of F1 fueling crews in protective suits bothered people. At the same time, racing organizations decided to “go green” by giving up the use of lead-bearing, anti-knock additives in race gas. Complex fuel rules were written, not only banning power-boosting dienes and lead but also specifying maximum content of oxygen, nitrogen, benzene, and manganese.

Soon added to this came “similarity” rules, requiring racing fuel to more closely resemble the complexity of “natural gasoline,” which contains many hundreds of different compounds and molecular structures. Now the high cost of fuel lies not in exotic compounds, such as tetrahydromethylcyclopentadiene, but in the large number of lab tests necessary to prove its compliance with the new rules. From one craziness to another!

Let us hope that a degree of sanity has returned to racing fuels regulation.

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