A FLEET of hybrid-engined cars that will contest the celebrity race at this year's Australian Grand Prix could use more fuel and emit more greenhouse gases than some high performance regular cars.
The hybrid-only race is believed to be a world first and will feature a fleet of Lexus's new CT200h hatchbacks lapping the Albert Park racing circuit during the March race meeting in the hands of 24 celebrities and three contest winners.
But it may not be the best way to highlight the fuel saving technology that combines an electric motor with a petrol engine.
A test performed in 2008 by television show Top Gear UK concluded a hybrid car driven at race pace can actually gulp fuel at a greater rate than a high-performance V8 coupe travelling at the same speed.
It found in a race simulation that a Toyota Prius — powered by a similar 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor to the one used in Lexus's CT200h — actually used more fuel than a V8-engined BMW M3. In the test, the Prius was driven around a race track at top speed and the BMW followed at the same pace.
"It isn't what you drive that matters, it's how you drive it," Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson concluded after the Prius burned 13.7 litres per 100km compared to the BMW's return of 12.1 litres.
According to official figures, the Prius uses just 3.9 litres per 100km when driven in a mix of conditions that allow its electric motor to contribute to its propulsion, saving fuel. The Lexus CT200h comes in at 3.8L/100km using the same government test.
However, Lexus said the fuel consumption of its cars was an incidental concern.
"Our hybrid drivetrain has never been about fuel savings," said corporate manager of marketing and aftersales, Peter Evans.
"We've never been about pure economy, that's Toyota's area, you've got us confused with the other brand. We do performance hybrids. We don't see a juxtaposition between racing and hybrid at all."
He denied the car's electric motor would be wasted in a racing situation when its petrol engine was likely to contribute most of the car's power.
"On the contrary, our testing shows that the electric motor will be working almost all of the time during a lap," he said.
In a nod to the race's hybrid theme two winners will be crowned - the first to greet the chequered flag, and another calculated on time and fuel consumption.
"So if you can go around in almost the winners' time but with significantly better fuel consumption by carrying corner speed and recovering as much energy as possible during braking, then you win the index of efficiency prize," Mr Evans said.
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