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The Garage: Focus on Autos

Ethanol-fueled Viper is put to the test on raceway

April 14, 2007|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to show that even mean can be green, entrepreneur and speed enthusiast Karl Jacob brought his ethanol-fueled Dodge Viper to Southern California this week to try to set a few speed records.

The special V-10 engine in the street-legal convertible pumps out almost 1,100 horsepower.

Jacob, 39, a San Franciscan who runs Wallop, an online social networking service, actually drives the car around his hilly hometown occasionally.

On its first run Wednesday down the runway at the Mojave Air & Space Port, the Viper hit 189 mph. Jacob, who had a professional race driver behind the wheel, said he chose E85, a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, as his fuel to show that the stuff -- heavily promoted by carmakers, politicians, corn growers and some environmentalists -- packs a powerful punch.

Ethanol, distilled from corn, sugar cane and other plant material, is an alcohol with a higher octane rating than gasoline. Jacob's E85 blend is the same fuel dispensed for conventional flex-fuel vehicles throughout the Midwest. (There's only one public ethanol station in California.)

Although there is debate about its efficiency and the effect of diverting corn from foodstuff to fuel stock, "ethanol has cleaner emissions than gas and using it can help reduce our dependence on oil," Jacob said. "I want to show that it isn't just for little economy cars. Setting a speed record with ethanol might give it a little more credibility."

After the initial run, a mechanical problem sent the Viper to the pit for the rest of the day.

Jacob claimed a world record. The 189 mph speed on that one run was the first -- thus the best -- speed recorded for the standing mile in an ethanol-powered, street-legal car. Jacob said he wanted to best the 217.85 mph record for street-legal, gasoline-powered cars.

john.odell@latimes.com

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