Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
June 1, 2009
Photos By: Paul Rosner

Horse Sense: We really have to thank the Illinois Corn Growers Association (www.ilcorn.org) and Center Ethanol (www.centerethanol.com) for providing us with enough E85 to run our cars down the track, especially since during our mid-October event window, refineries usually blend up an mixture with more gasoline and less E85 to help with cold starts. Likewise, we couldn't have run the event without Gateway International Raceway (www.gatewayraceway.com) offering us the hospitality of its racing surface for the day. Thanks to all involved for helping us pull off a great event.

During the height of $4-a-gallon gas, the idea of being green gained a lot of traction. For us, it meant taking a harder look at the benefits of ethanol-infused gasoline, known popularly as E85 since it's 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Some countries, such as Brazil, run the stuff as mainstream fuel, but for performance enthusiasts, the real benefit is this fuel's lower price, higher octane, and alcohol-like charge-cooling benefits. In short, it's race gas available at the pump, and because it burns cleaner than pure gas, it carries the connotation of environmental friendliness.

Because the ethanol in E85 is created from crops grown in the U.S., it also means that using E85 helps lessen our dependence on foreign fuel, and keeping our farmers growing it seems like a sound idea rather than shipping our U.S. dollars to countries that don't really care for us. E85 carries less stored energy than pure gasoline, so you have to burn a bit more of it to cover the same distance as gas. This means your mileage won't be as good with E85, but for speed freaks like us, mileage isn't the primary concern.

The kicker for E85 is that it packs 105 octane, and with its inherent cooling benefits, it allows you to crank up the boost or compression while dialing in more timing. Any performance nut will tell you this adds up to more power. We've covered a few stories showing just that on these pages, but more and more we've seen Mustangs making big power on corn. As such, we hatched the crazy scheme to bring a variety of Mustang combinations to the same track to see how they perform on E85. The combinations were left wide open. The only rule was that the 'Stangs had to run E85.

Knowing that E85 was big news in corn country, we contacted Chuck Spencer of the Illinois Farm Bureau and Dave Loos of the Illinois Corn Growers. They enthusiastically agreed to help us out by providing a fresh batch of enough E85 from Center Ethanol to fuel 13 Mustangs for a day of quarter-mile antics. Chuck and Dave also put us in touch with Lenny Batycki, vice president and general manager of Gateway International Raceway, as he was hip to the idea of an E85 event. After a few phone calls, our first E85 Challenge was underway and scheduled for mid-October 2008 at Gateway in Madsion, Illinois, which is just outside St. Louis.

With the party planned, would anyone attend? As it turned out, we had an amazing response to our announcement, and more impressive was the wide variety of combinations that our readers had put together to make the most of E85. Moreover, unlike our longstanding King of the Street competition, the E85 contestants were skewed toward the Fox-body era. That shouldn't really be a huge surprise given the open-ended rules, but it did provide a welcome change.

How did the cars perform? In short, quite well, and there were some pretty big surprises, so let's dig into the competitors and see if this corn-fed power is all it's cracked up to be.

Bill Olander: '95 Mustang Cobra 8.98/158
No stranger to laying down big numbers on corn, Bill Olander is a veteran of DynoMax's Power to the Wheels dyno competition, which used E85 as its spec fuel last year, and where he placed Fourth. Bill's 'Stang isn't only a bad boy, it's also one of 499 '95 Cobras built with the elusive removable hardtop option, so we aren't the only ones who like to modify rare cars. Over the years, Bill stepped up his combination to its current twin-turbo boosted 427 Windsor, which has put down as much as 1,382 rwhp on a Dynojet.

At the E85 Challenge, Bill became the top dog. After sneaking up with a few 9-second runs, he finally laid down the big number, an eye-watering 8.98 at 158 mph. Sure we've see 8-second race cars before, but Bill says he puts 5,000 miles a year on this car and drives it to the track once a month to get his launch on. If this car's performance doesn't get you thinking about the potential of E85, we don't know what will.