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Microsoft alum shows his ethanol race car

Karl Jacob has a car that goes to 220 mph on ethanol.

DAVIS, Calif.--Reporters who covered software in the '90s will remember Karl Jacob. Microsoft bought his company, Dimension X, in 1997. He was chatty. Occasionally, some reporters referred to him as "sources close to the company."

After leaving the big M, he went off to Keen, Benchmark Capital and a few other things. And now, he's the world record holder of the standing mile speed record.

This Viper runs on ethanol. Michael Kanellos/CNET

In July, Jacob cranked up his modified Dodge Viper from a standstill to finishing a mile in 27.41 seconds. He hit 220.7 miles an hour during the sprint, a record. The old top speed for the standing mile was just under 218 miles an hour. He did eight runs on the day.

Jacob didn't drive the car on the record run. Instead, it was driven by Ron Misjak of Super Viper, which modified the car. In any event, Jacob did pay for it, has driven the car and says it's a kick. That puts him ahead of Alcibiades, who won a first in chariot racing at the ancient Olympics without getting behind the reins. (It was a common practice among the nobles.)

We spoke at the green car pavilion at the GoingGreen conference in Davis. Karl and Ian Wright of Wrightspeed showed off their performance cars. Others were showing off low-speed electric vehicles.

Jacob and a team of mechanics had to tinker quite a bit with the Viper. They boosted the horsepower from 500 to 1,200, for one thing. Additionally, they switched it from running regular gas to running E85 ethanol. E85 comes with an octane rating of 105, higher than regular gas.

The engine Michael Kanellos/CNET

"It is not common knowledge that you can convert these cars (Vipers) to E85," he said. But apparently, it's pretty easy. All you have to do is upgrade the fuel lines, change the engine's computer and alter the timing.

More than doubling the horsepower probably had a big effect on the performance of the car, but the extra octane can't hurt. Ethanol also cuts down on the greenhouse gases from the tailpipe. Fast clean cars are sort of a fad. Earlier this year, a 1965 biodiesel-burning Impala that beat a Lamborghini in a drag race. Electric sports cars, meanwhile, are coming to market.

Overall, the Viper and its modifications cost about $200,000. Good thing Jacob worked at Microsoft.