Sustainability in racing – how does that work?

Reading time: approx. 4 minutes
Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: T Sport Bernau

The FIA and ETRA, the organisers of the European Truck Racing Championship (ETRC), have set themselves an ambitious goal: by 2038, the championship should be net emission-free. The team T Spot Bernau has now been awarded for its commitment to climate protection. In an interview with Motionist, Team and Marketing Manager Melanie Derflinger explains which measures T Sport Bernau is already implementing and what is still planned.

The truck racing team T Sport Bernau, which is supported and equipped by BPW and PE Automotive, has become the first Goodyear-FIA-ETRC team to be awarded a star by the “FIA Environmental Accreditation Programme” . The vehicles with which you compete in European Truck Racing weigh 5,300 tonnes, have 1,200 hp, bring 5,400 torque to the wheel and consume a correspondingly large amount of fuel. How does that fit in with climate protection and sustainability?

Sustainability is a very big issue in our society today. And I think that regardless of the industry, it is very important that everyone tries to do something for the environment. Especially in the automotive industry, there are enormous developments in this regard. Racing is often the pioneer for this. At T Sport Bernau, we want to try to use environmentally friendly technologies and set a good example. In contrast to the passenger car sector, the commercial vehicle industry will not be able to commit to one sustainable technology: in city traffic, electric drive dominates, while gas, hydrogen or synthetic fuel are more likely to be used for long distances. In truck racing, we are open to any sustainable technology and will give it the opportunity to prove itself under competitive conditions. This is how we create emotional experiences for new sustainable technologies and create acceptance for change.
What have you already implemented?
The biggest change in our championship was the consistent and mandatory conversion of race trucks to synthetic bio-diesel: 100% HVO. This has reduced CO2 emissions by at least 62 to 92 percent over the entire life cycle. The competition aims to be net emission-free by 2038. The FIA as organiser and ETRA as promoter have set up a sustainability working group, of which I am also a member. Among other things, an amendment to the regulations was drafted and submitted so that we can soon welcome electrically driven trucks in the same starting field, taking into account the necessary safety. In addition, we at T Sport Bernau have optimised our logistics approach: when we travel to races all over Europe, we can now stow and transport all our equipment in just one race trailer. In this way, we reduce our CO2 emissions quite considerably. Most of the teams that drive with us in the series travel to each event with two or three, sometimes even four trucks. Of course, a lot more pollutants are produced here.
And costs – so it’s another good example of how greater sustainability can also mean greater efficiency.
Exactly, so we cover both. Another measure we have already implemented is that we use 100 percent green electricity for our garage. We also collect rainwater for washing the vehicles. And we attach very great importance to waste separation. This has been the norm in Germany for a long time, but in England they haven’t got that far yet. We take great care to ensure that waste is separated in the garage and recycled accordingly.
What steps do you intend to take in the future?

We are in constant contact with the FIA and our promoters, keep an eye on new developments and look for opportunities that we can still implement well in our team. I myself am currently paying more attention to our hospitality area. In the past two years, we were not able to offer catering at the race track due to the pandemic, but this is now possible again and is also well received. That’s why we’re concentrating on that right now, for example by separating waste there and reducing the amount of waste. Our promoter will soon record the championship’s CO2 emissions and offset them. This is a first important step on the way to completely reducing all avoidable emissions. The FIA is preparing to test electrically driven trucks. In addition, a concept for hydrogen trucks is also in the works. The challenges are similar to those on the road: the availability of models and the corresponding energy source must be guaranteed, as well as the necessary safety. We have a decisive advantage here: racing can take on the pioneering role earlier, so to speak, under laboratory conditions. I think our European racetracks will be equipped with it long before we experience a nationwide charging network on Europe’s roads.

»Many people think that the heavy racing trucks are more harmful to the environment than, for example, the vehicles in a car racing series, simply because of their size. But that’s deceptive, especially since we’ve been operating on 100 percent HVO bio-diesel.«

Melanie Derflinger, Team and Marketing Manager T Sport Bernau

What about the vehicles, how can they become more environmentally friendly?
We often hear this question, and many think that the heavy racing trucks are more harmful to the environment than, for example, the vehicles in a car racing series, simply because of their size. But this is deceptive, especially since we’ve been operating on 100 per cent HVO bio-diesel, which can save up to 92 per cent CO2 emissions. It has to be said that the FIA has been monitoring emissions very strictly for a number of years. If a race truck has emitted too much soot, the strictest form of punishment in racing has always been anchored in regulation: exclusion from the race. That’s why, starting this year, for example, we’ve installed a new sensor in the exhaust so that the FIA can measure what we’re emitting. And there are further considerations to optimise the race trucks even more. That is why the FIA is in very close contact with the technicians and manufacturers of our racing series. There are various considerations, for example in the direction of hybrid systems or electric axles. We are happy to make ourselves available as a test platform in racing because, given our pioneering role, it makes little sense for us to focus on a technology that has no relevance on the road.
What prospects do you see overall for racing becoming as sustainable as possible?

We simply want to be a role model for others with our team. Before you act, the first step is always to rethink. I realise that many colleagues are at this point right now. The star we were awarded definitely helps to make them more aware of the issue. The day after the award, other teams called me directly and asked how we did it and what we implemented. So I think a lot will happen in this respect for everyone in the near future.

Does the topic still have limits? Will racing always have to put sustainability on the back burner to a degree, because it’s also about having fun – about the appeal of the sport, which just works the way it works now?
As in any sport, we’re all about emotions. Every year, we inspire more than 400,000 spectators on site at the race tracks and millions in front of the screens. There are also many professional drivers in the audience who keep our supply chains running on weekdays. If, as a role model, we can show that change is feasible, bring positive emotions to it in an otherwise rather rational industry and inspire new young drivers to take up this profession, then we will have made our contribution. You ask if there are limits to the subject: I would say there are no limits. Motorsport in particular has always been innovative. And we will continue to develop. The only limits are of a budgetary nature and the question is whether we want to tackle this change and emotional persuasion towards more acceptance of sustainability in the commercial vehicle sector as a team or racing series alone or together with strong partners and manufacturers. The latter opens up more possibilities and is quicker.

»Every year we inspire over 400,000 spectators on site at the race tracks and millions in front of the screens. There are also many professional drivers in the audience who keep our supply chains running on weekdays.«

Melanie Derflinger, Team and Marketing-Managerin T Sport Bernau

There are also critical voices about the FIA’s sustainability award. How do you deal with this as a team?
We have not received any negative feedback so far, the feedback has all been very positive. What I perhaps still need to explain: this award is really very strictly judged. We didn’t get the star just because, but prepared for it for months; among other things, contracts and documents were carefully checked. I am aware that we can still do more, but it is also a development. We are now at the beginning, and for that we have also received one star, in total there are up to three stars. The first one stands for showing a clear commitment and having implemented initial measures. We are already doing a great job of living up to that. Sustainability is personally important to all of us in the team, which is why we are continuing to work on it. And we would of course be delighted if we could also qualify for the second star in the next year or two.
A wonderful goal. The new season started in Italy in May, with a total of eight races on the schedule until September. What are your sporting goals for this season?

We have very high standards, but we are also realistic. There are some drivers active in this race series who are really good. If we finish in the top five, we will be very happy. But anything is possible: we could become European champions, we could finish in third place – or in fifth place with a difference of two or three points, which is what happened to us in 2021. The first race in Misano in May went very well, we were always in the top five in the various races. So that’s realistic, we’re now looking forward to the following months and to see what the season brings. It depends on good cooperation between the driver and the mechanics at the race track. And of course, a bit of luck is always part of it.

BPW regularly reports on the races in which T Sport Bernau participates on its social media channels, including Facebook and Instagram.

PERSON DETAILS

Melanie Derflinger has been active in truck racing for almost 15 years. After working for various teams throughout Europe, she founded her own racing team with her partner Timothy Frost, technical manager and chief race mechanic. They have been in the European Championship with T Sport Bernau since 2017. Derflinger is primarily responsible for organising events, marketing and looking after partners and guests at the racecourse.

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