After 15 years, Green Grand Prix still thriving at The Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — It’s a cold day in early April, rain and sleet are pelting the garages at Watkins Glen International and snow is on the way. Bob Gillespie is undeterred as he puts the finishing touches on the Green Grand Prix.

Rain or shine, the rally will go on for the 15th straight year, which astounds Gillespie, its creator.

“This event was way ahead of its time when it began. Now, it has finally come of age,” said the 69-year-old retired teacher and motorsports artist. “I’m feeling a sense of pride and appreciation for all the volunteers involved and all their hard work. It’s an absolutely unique event, and the beauty of it is so many of these volunteers and participants are students.”

Essentially a fuel mileage rally for alternate-fuel vehicles and hybrids conducted at the storied track in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region, the Green Grand Prix is the only event of its kind in the United States sanctioned and insured by the Sports Car Club of America. The goal is to promote environmentally friendly transportation, educate the public about alternative fuels as the automobile market worldwide shifts toward electric models, and help make the Northeast a center for emerging clean vehicle technologies.

That it’s staged at the place road racing came of age in America in the late 1940s – with the blessing of WGI president Michael Printup – makes it even more special. Nobody seems to care that the goal is to average 45 miles per hour.

“I love it,” said Bruce Pick, who drove to The Glen from Connecticut and competed with brother Steve in a 2000 Honda Insight, the company’s first hybrid. “Oh, really, I can drive on the Watkins Glen track and shoot for fuel economy? I mean, why would I not go?”

In its early years, when the price of gasoline was hovering at around $4 a gallon – it’s above that today in California – the Green Grand Prix attracted drivers with all sorts of out-of-the-ordinary vehicles. There was Robert “Chip” Beam and his wood-chip-powered 1988 Isuzu Trooper, Jory Squibb’s Moonbeam Microcar , a biodiesel-powered Harley-Davidson motorcycle, even a diesel-powered three-wheeler dubbed the Dirigo .

Bill Buchholz, a boat builder from Maine, helped design and construct the unique Dirigo, which has a metal roll cage encased in quarter-inch planks of western red cedar and has achieved nearly 100 miles on a gallon of fuel.

“I had this feeling that with every generation since the 1960s there’s always been some lunatic fringe building interesting cars with progressive ideas,” said Buchholz, who parked the Dirigo last year. “It was just my turn – and the rest of the guys I was doing it with – to bring up that message. I think there’s just a groundswell of progressive thinking.”

The crazy vehicles don’t show up so much anymore, and it’s understandable. Toyota, whose Upstate Toyota Dealers Association is a primary sponsor of the Green Grand Prix, has sold more than 13 million hybrid vehicles since it introduced the Prius in 1997. Two days before the Green Grand Prix, the Japanese automaker announced it was allowing royalty-free access to nearly 24,000 patents for its hybrid vehicles, a move aimed at increasing the size of the worldwide market for gasoline-electric hybrids. Industry experts predict that sales of vehicles with alternative drive systems will top 2 million next year.

All of which makes the Green Grand Prix very relevant, especially since so many students are now involved – more than 1,000 students have participated in the event. Alfred State Motorsports Technology is a regular and this year brought two bright yellow, all-electric, open-cockpit, single-seat race cars, which finished first and tied for third in the autocross competition after the rally. A 2012 Chevy Volt was second, while a Tesla Model 3 was fifth.

“I think it’s a great way to expand the audience and do the education for the public,” Toyota’s Brian Kiser said. “As a company, we love this direction – help support these initiatives but educate the public on environmental issues and alternative fuel.”

Mike DiGiacomo epitomized what Gillespie envisioned when the Green Grand Prix started. DiGiacomo and his team from SUNY Broome Community College used their ingenuity to win the most fuel-efficient vehicle award. They took an abandoned 20-year-old Chevy Metro LSI that had been in a flood and transformed it into a full electric commuter using battery packs from a Nissan Leaf and solar roof panels that still picked up enough of a charge in the awful weather to allow the car to average the equivalent of 179 miles per gallon.

“That was awesome,” DiGiacomo said. “It was the culmination of a semester of everybody working together and hard work paying off. We did a really good job. Our little, bitty eight-man team was more efficient than the guys at Tesla.”

All of that was music to the ears of Alfred State professor Jason Kellogg.

“We’re heading that way (toward electric cars),” he said, “whether you like it or not.”

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

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It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway