Testing electronic fuel injection for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway this week was a pretty historical day. Dr. Andrew Randolph, ECR Engines technical director shared a brief Q&A interview with the race media.
YOUR THOUGHTS ON HOW THE TEST FOR THE ELECTRONIC FUEL INJECTION (EFI) IS GOING FOR THE FIRST TIME ON A NASCAR SANCTIONED TRACK: “It is going very well. We are setting the transient characteristics of the engine. That is how it works when you get into the throttle and out of the throttle because that is where fueling becomes a challenge is when you’re having rapid changes in the throttle position. That is what we are spending most of our time working on is the calibration for when they are letting off the throttle and getting on the throttle.”
HOW MANY SENSORS ARE THERE GIVING YOU THE READINGS FROM THE TESTING? “There is many sensors on this vehicle. Compared to a carbureted engine, there are in race, there will be an additional eight to 10 sensors, but for testing here, we have more than that. We have double that probably."
THE DATA ARE YOU ARE GETTING TODAY, DO YOU USE IT RIGHT AWAY TO CONTINUE THROUGH THE TEST OR TAKE MOST OF IT BACK TO CONTINE TO ANALYZE AND WORK WITH IT? “Both. We record data in such a way that we can go back and replay exactly what the engine saw here on the track. We can replay that on the dynamometer in a laboratory setting. We can replicate everything we are doing here in the lab with better sensors and better repeatability so we can look in depth at exactly what we saw that we think we can improve on.”
NASCAR’S GOAL IS TO HAVE A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD WITH THE EFI, WHAT LATITUDE DO YOU HAVE CONTINUE TO LOOK FOR MORE HORSEPOWER? “We are actually quite happy with the system because it has considerable room for invention; for science. Certainly there is room for people to do it better than other people. We would like to think that whenever we have an opportunity to excel, then that is what we will do.”
ARE THE COSTS SOMEWHAT OF A CONCERN WITH THE EFI PROGRAM? “You can look at costs in two ways. You can look at the dollars that it costs to implement the technology. But then you also have to look at the benefits that you derive from it and make a value judgment on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing to do. We are certainly in full support of it being a good thing to. It adds technical relevance to these engines compared to what is production on the street now. Every small block engine that is on the street is fuel injected and these are going to be fuel injected small blocks as well.”
SO IT PORTED FOR FUEL INJECTED LIKE A CHEVY ON THE STREET? “Yes, just like a Corvette. Port fuel injection is what all small blocks on the road in passenger cars are and that is what this is going to be. So it adds more technical relevance to what we do for the manufacturer. It improves the fuel efficiency of these engines and reduces emissions.”
DO YOU THINK THIS ADDS MORE MARKETABILITY AND MORE WIDELY APPEALING TO FANS? “It certainly makes it a lot closer to the production. They are called stock cars and it makes them a lot closer to what is stock and the engines that are sold. From that standpoint, there are probably are some people that will relate to it a little more.”
TALK ABOUT THE NEW EQUIPMENT YOU WILL BE USING FOR EFI: “It’s really interesting. Historically, we always have one engine tuner that goes with each engine with every car to all of the races. And that engine tuner, his talent or his skill, is to take feedback from a driver and convert that into a mechanical change that he might make to the engine to make it better. Now what we are having to do is take feedback from a driver and convert that to a software change on a laptop that then gets put into the engine to address whatever concern or whatever area the driver feels like can be improved. It’s really an upgrading of the skill sets and it is a kind of different approach to each weekend when you are at the track. How to get the most out of what we have.”
THE DRIVER WILL FEEL A DIFFERENCE? “Oh certainly and that is what we are doing today. It’s not necessarily clear looking at data on a screen what is good and what is bad, so, we have different drivers driving the car giving us their subjective feel of ‘yea, I really like that’ or ‘I don’t’.”
SO IT WILL BE DIFFERENT FOR EVERY DRIVER BASED ON THEIR STYLE OF DRIVING? “Yes, there will be. In very much the same way as cars are setup differently for different drivers now, it is very possible that calibrations will setup differently for different drivers.”
HAVE YOU HAD TO HIRE NEW STAFF? “No. We may in the end-up hiring one person But Earnhardt Childress Racing started participating in the Daytona Prototype Series a year ago and that is fuel injected NASCAR Grand-Am Series. One of our main reasons for choosing to participate in that series was to increase our knowledge of fuel injection and calibration and to upgrade the skill set of our engineers. We are taking the people that have been working on Daytona Prototype now and using them in the Cup program. We feel like that gave us a good head-start. So, no, we are not actively pursuing additional people. We are doing it with what we have.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU EXPECT TO LEARN BEFORE WE ACTUALLY GO TO DAYTONA IN 2012? IS THERE STILL A LOT TO BE DONE? HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO LEARN A LOT IN THE SHOP OR DO YOU NEED MORE OF THIS VALUABLE TEST TIME ON TRACK? “Oh my goodness, yes. We have very sophisticated test facilities in the shop. We try to replace testing to a large extent with facilities that actually allow us to be more repeatable and more accurate in what we do. But, nevertheless, there are things that happen at a track. For instance, G-Forces on the engine and on the car as you go around a corner that you can’t do in a laboratory. The track time is invaluable to us. So, yes, there will a number of additional track sessions between now and Daytona. NASCAR is going to have probably two or three more in conjunction with events that they are sponsoring. But we’ll also be going to non-NASCAR sanction tracks and doing additional testing.”
WHAT WILL THE FANS IN THE GRANDSTANDS SEE THAT IS DIFFERENT WHEN THEY ARE WATCHING A RACE? WILL THE CARS GO FASTER? “No, NASCAR has selected components to keep the power level very close to the same as it has been. From a driver’s perspective, they should like this much more because it will be smoother so it will idle better, they’ll have more control when they are coming in and out of the corners because it will put more emphasis on their skill as opposed to managing variability of the engine. Things you used to see that maybe had a lot of ‘G-Whiz” value like flames coming out of the tailpipes as cars went around the corner, that is un-burnt fuel that is escaping the combustion process and leaving the exhaust. It is very inefficient but might be kind of fun to look at. That will probably go away. Should go away because now we have much better control over the fuel mixture and we shouldn’t get in situations where we are pumping un-burnt fuel through the engine.
“From a fan standpoint, they really won’t notice much difference, but there will a lot of difference inside the car. It won’t sound any different.”
CAN MISTAKES BE MADE IN THE PROGRAMMING THAT LEADS TO ENGINE ISSUES? “Hopefully this actually reduces the number of reduces the number of engine failures because by having improved control over fuel and spark, we should be able to operate the engine in a regime where it is much happier for virtually everything it does. Whereas when you have a carburetor, that is harder to do. For instance right now with the carbureted engine, if you get a piece of paper on the grill and the water temperature goes up, then if the driver isn’t looking or just doesn’t want to come in, then you can have engine failure fairly soon from overheating. What we can do now, because we are measuring water temperature, we can, as the temperature goes up, we can retard the spark or we can do things on the engine side that will reduce the power output of the engine and either make it where the driver wants to come in because the thing is going so slow or will protect the engine from failure.”
YOU CAN DO THAT DURING THE RACE? “Yes, that will be part of the calibration. It has a sensor in the water so as the water temperature goes up then some other control function of the engine will retard spark or will do something else to the engine to limit the performance as the temperatures rising to keep the engine from expiring. This happens automatically. This is the nice thing about having computer control of an engine as opposed to mechanical control.”