With the big-dog Le Mans 24 hour race just in the books for 2012, the American Le Mans Series has kicked up its program for the rest of the year, which will climax at the Petit Le Mans this fall. But the series is already looking to next year, too, with an announcement today that natural gas-powered cars will join the fray for 2013, building on its existing green racing efforts.

The Patrick Racing Team is leading the effort to develop and test Le Mans Prototype Challenge (LMPC) cars for natural gas use. Indy 500 Hall of Fame and Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee Jim McGee will be at the head of the natural gas development team, aiming to find a working solution for the LMPC class, based on the 1,985-pound ORECA FLM09 chassis powered by a 430-horsepower Chevrolet LS3 engine.

""Natural gas is destined to become a major player in the transportation industry for everyday passenger vehicles, and not just fleet operations," said U.E. "Pat" Patrick, the principal behind Patrick Racing Team. "It is abundant, domestic, affordable and ecologically responsible.  For more than a century, racing has been at the tip of the spear in developing new technology for the transportation industry. This is in line with and in the spirit of that history."

Natural gas is actually a surprisingly natural choice for racing, as it's rated at 130 octane, widely available, and easily transported. Many cars on public roads all around the world already use natural gas either from the manufacturer or with aftermarket conversion kits, though the fuel has only recently started gaining popularity in the U.S.

The move to natural gas is part of the ALMS' commitment to being one of the most efficient race series on the planet by adhering to the Green Racing protocols established by the EPA, Department of Energy, and SAE International. As early as last year, both natural gas and electric propulsion were being investigated for ALMS use, and the series has also hosted other alternative-fuel or propulsion cars, including the 911 GT3 R Hybrid.

As for support, the move to natural gas for LMPC cars appears to have strong backing. Ralph Hansen, president of the marketing group for Patrick Racing, said, "I've never seen a group of potential sponsors blossom as fast as the use of natural gas as a race fuel has initiated. Businesses that span a broad spectrum—from the wellhead, to the delivery, to the automobile and trucking manufacturers—are eager to get involved."

Specifics on the natural gas-powered solution being developed for ALMS LMPC competition haven't yet surfaced, but the series is targeting launch of the progam for the 2013 season, so more developments should be made public over the coming months.