As the mainstream automotive world debates the use of gasoline versus electric-powered vehicles, a battle rages in the enthusiast world with comparing gasoline and E85. Many years ago, as the price of oil skyrocketed, there was a domestic-based solution of using ethanol as the primary ingredient for fuel. It wasn’t a new concept with its roots going back to the late 1800s. In 2005, however, the focus on E85 (85-percent ethanol, 15-percent gasoline) was brought center stage and the United States became the largest producer of ethanol fuels.
At the time, ethanol had already been in use through different parts of the country in the form of a five-to-ten percent cut of gasoline and limited availability of the E85 version. It all change quickly as E85 quickly gained traction thanks to government subsidies that helped drive the market. OEMs began offering flex-fuel options on many of its vehicles in the fight against foreign oil. Automotive enthusiasts quickly realized that E85 wasn’t just a cheap gasoline alternative, but also a great performance enhancer. The effective higher octane allowed more timing, more compression, and even more boost to be crammed into engines. It was quickly catching on as what many described as cheap racing fuel.
The corn-craze isn’t destined to be a footnote in automotive history. Thirteen years later and the E85 conversion continues to be popular, despite the ethanol subsidies expiring several years ago and the dramatic price drop of gasoline. Stemming from the E85 movement came the introduction of several ethanol-based racing fuels. Both NASCAR and Indy Car have ethanol-based fuels, NASCAR relies on a 15-percent blend while Indy Car runs on E85.
Drag racing doesn’t have a formal professional category that requires ethanol-based fuels, but they are legal in several Sportsman categories and throughout the outlaw and street-legal drag racing world. In NMRA competition, many racers use E85 in QA1 True Street and several of the specialty shootouts that are hosted at select events throughout the year. In a first move for the sanctioning body, a heads-up category—Steeda Limited Street—includes E85 as an accepted fuel with it being legalized in 2019 for Street Outlaw, Renegade, and the new Modified Street category.
We decided to put Project #PureEvil on the rollers at JPC Racing to get do our own evaluation on the benefits of ethanol racing fuels. It was too much to resist as the continued push of E85 in the Mustang market, particularly in the Coyote 5.0 segment, and with it being a legal fuel in Limited Street so we had to breakdown and give it a try. The results were surprising and we doubt we will be going back to gasoline anytime soon.
“Eric Holliday of JPC has been hounding me to put #PureEvil on E85,” said Mike Washington, the curator and driver of #PureEvil. I have run some special blends of it in my Coyote Stock/Factory Stock car for World Cup race at the end of each season. It always picks up on track, but I’ve never run it on the dyno to compare the gains.”
For this test, we picked up two five-gallon pales of VP Racing Fuels C85, which is one of the legally accepted blends for Limited Street racing. It replaced the C16 gasoline that Washington ran in 2017 and during the Spring Break Shootout back in March.
Ethanol requires more fuel volume, roughly 30 to 40-percent more than gasoline, so you have to do some calculating to figure out if your fuel pump and fuel injectors are sized properly. We ran Ford Performance 47 lb/hr injectors for gasoline, which would be borderline at best with the E85 conversion, so we called our friends at DeatschWerks to see what options were available. According to DeatschWerks’ Mark Hutchison, if we were just converting to E85, then he would suggest the 95 lb/hr fuel injectors that they supply to Ford for the supercharged Cobra Jet program.
However, we’ve dabbled with the idea of running methanol at World Cup Finals since it has looser rules than NMRA events. Given that option, Hutchison recommended the 1500cc (150 lb/hr) injectors. It is one of the company’s best selling fuel injectors thanks to its great tunability and idle characteristics. Since #PureEvil uses an AEM Infinity, injector sizing is flexible as Eric Holliday of JPC Racing has absolute control over it, keeping the car running smoothly without surging idles or other stumbling and annoying issues.
We only had to make one other change to the fuel system for our ethanol conversion and that was swap in new fuel filters. We run a Weldon High Performance 2035-A fuel pump, which is perfect for use with gasoline, ethanol, or methanol fuels. It is capable of supplying enough fuel volume for up to 1,600 hp (50 psi) in naturally aspirated trim or 2,000 hp (80 psi) in boosted applications. It is far more pump than we would ever need, but Weldon pays contingency in NMRA competition, an added bonus on top of the high-level of performance it offers. Jim Craig from Weldon told us that we needed to swap the paper fuel filters for a set of stainless steel ones. We run a 100-micron stainless steel fuel filter before the pump and a 10-micron filter after it.
We could’ve gone with E85 fuel, but since Washington and your author live in New York, finding E85 at the pump can be complicated. Add in the inconsistencies with pump gas E85 and we looked to VP Racing Fuels for its C85 blend. We order it before every NMRA race and VP Racing Fuels delivers it to the event, along with all other pre-orders and spec fuels. The advantages to C85 include its cooling effect, resistance to detonation, and C85 even includes corrosion inhibitors to fight against the various issues associated with ethanol.
The baseline pulls at JPC Racing showed #PureEvil was making 592 rwhp while gulping VP Racing Fuels C16 gasoline. We swapped to C85, the DeatschWerks fuel injectors, new Weldon stainless steel fuel pump filters, and Holliday added more fuel volume through the AEM Infinity. Back on the dyno, #PureEvil unleashed 631 rwhp as it sang all the way up to 9,500 rpm!
On track, the 39 rwhp gain in power was one of the reasons the car slipped into the 8-second zone during testing with a best run of 8.95 at 150 mph. The government might not be giving kick backs for ethanol production anymore, but we don’t care because the gains we experienced are worth it.