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Newgarden: Indianapolis 500 accelerates drive toward sustainability

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis 500 is the biggest race in the world. Every driver in the IndyCar Series wakes up each day focused on drinking the winner’s milk and kissing the iconic Yard of Bricks.

There’s so much that makes the Indy 500 unique and unmatched. From the iconic traditions and the unbridled pageantry to the massive crowd that roars with approval as 33 drivers jockey for pole position at mind-bending speeds of 230-plus mph.

As a competitor, I feel privileged to race in the Indy 500 and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And while world-class racing in front of the planet’s largest crowd might be the hallmark of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” there’s another calling card that has typified this spectacular event over time: a fierce commitment to innovation.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 have always been hubs for progress. Take the story of Ray Harroun, who won the first Indy 500 in 1911 by attaching a mirror to the front of his car, eliminating his need for a riding mechanic and inventing the rear-view mirror at the same time.

This year, that tradition of discovery continues with the most sustainable Indy 500 in the race’s 100-plus-year history. As 33 drivers attempt to win the world’s greatest race, they’ll take the most important laps of their lives in cars powered by 100% renewable race fuel. In fact, across the entire month of May, starting with this weekend’s competition on the Indy road course, Shell’s second-generation ethanol made from sugarcane waste will fuel every car on the grid.

We’ll also turn laps with tires featuring a new synthetic rubber partially composed of recycled plastic materials. Firestone, IndyCar's official tire manufacturer since 2000, continues to set the bar high in terms of product quality and commitment to a renewable future. All of IndyCar's street-course races this year have utilized a recently introduced tire partially infused with rubber made from guayule, a shrub-like plant harvested in the Southwest that is helping to lower IndyCar's carbon footprint.

The “Racing Capital of the World” is doing its part, too, showing venues across the globe what’s possible with a commitment to ingenuity and partnerships that give back. A key focus at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is reducing waste through both facility-wide recycling and targeted food recovery. This year, a local nonprofit that helps homeless and justice-involved citizens transition into the workforce is sorting and prepping our waste materials. In addition, unused food from suites and concessions is being collected and donated to local food banks.

All the examples listed above are some of our most visible steps toward a more renewable and eco-friendly sport. But they are far from our only efforts in this vital space. IndyCar and IMS recently released a joint sustainability report, providing a comprehensive and detailed look at what is the most environmentally friendly and ambitious platform in motorsports.

As a driver, I think about the role my competitors and I play in setting an example for our fans and leaving a positive impact in the communities in which we race. Starting with the venue and race that serves as home base for our sport, I’m glad IndyCar is leading the charge across the motorsports landscape when it comes to sustainability. And as a father, I’m glad my sport feels a sense of commitment and responsibility to the next generation.

IndyCar is racing toward a more renewable future and fueling change across an entire sport. And this year’s Indy 500 will shift this vital effort into an even higher and more impactful gear. I’m excited to see the green flag wave on these initiatives and many more to come.

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Josef Newgarden is a two-time IndyCar Series champion who drives for Team Penske.

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