For the past five years, one of motor sport’s most legendary events has gotten a green makeover, and this year the competition will be more intense than ever. The Alternative Energy Monte Carlo Rally, which starts tomorrow, is a race for electric and alternative-fuel vehicles. This year, it’s attracted the attention of General Motors and Volkswagen, whose company-sponsored teams should make the sixth edition of the Alternative Energy Monte Carlo Rally very interesting.
GM will field six Opel Amperas, European versions of the Chevy Volt. The cars will be almost completely stock, except for new tires, GPS units, and safety equipment. That means the Ampera will rely on an electric motor and a 1.4-liter, four cylinder gas engine, giving it a maximum 149 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Rallies are held on public roads, so the cars tend to be closer to showroom models than most race cars.
While GM showcases its technological achievements, Volkswagen is going for efficiency. The German company is entering two Up!s, powered by bioethanol. The Up! is Volkswagen’s new city car, designed for the European market. In stock form, the Up! gets 74 hp and 65.7 mpg from a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine.
Unlike the regular Monte Carlo Rally, the goal is not to set the fastest time. Instead, drivers will try to use the least amount of energy over the course of the race. The rally lasts four days and takes competitors across the French Alps to Monaco.
The Alternative Energy Rally will take place on the same course as the conventional race, with narrow mountain roads and plenty of hairpin turns to challenge drivers. To qualify, cars have to emit less than 115 grams of CO2 per kilometer. Competitors are divided into four classes: mass-produced electric vehicles, mass-produced electric vehicles that can be driven daily, hybrid-electric vehicles, and vehicles powered by other alternative fuels such as ethanol, hydrogen, and biodiesel.
Opel and Volkswagen will be 146 teams competing in this year’s rally, including cars from Fiat, Mitsubishi, and Tesla, which won last year’s race. When car companies bring their technical knowledge and cash to the table, they usually produce competitive teams. With GM, Volkswagen, and others looking to de-throne Tesla, this could be a quiet a slugfest.
Of course, manufacturers aren’t just doing this for fun. Racing is a great form of advertisement, hence the adage “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” That is especially true of Monte Carlo and rallying in general. The Mini Cooper became an automotive star after it won Monte Carlo three times, and cars like the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution are based on successful rally racers.
The Ampera and Up! are all saving the planet, but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring. They could be just as economical on a legendary rally course in southern France as they are on the morning commute.