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All testing talk centers around fuel injection

July 07, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



All testing talk centers around fuel injection

SPARTA, Ky. -- Sure, only five of the 51 cars who took part in testing at Kentucky Speedway on Thursday were powered by fuel-injection systems.

But to hear everyone talk afterward, it's all about fuel injection these days, man. While the drivers seemed almost indifferent to the fact that the new system was being tested on a NASCAR-sanctioned track for the first time, team officials, engineers and others seemed more excited about that than anything else.

"I will say this: we wouldn't have done it if it would have been worse for us."

--ROBIN PEMBERTON

What was the fuss all about? Well, much of it seemed to be about making the sport and the cars that race in it "relevant" as NASCAR moves ever closer to doing away with carburetors and going completely to race cars powered by the more modern fuel-injection systems in the Sprint Cup Series by the start of the 2012 season.

"I will say this: we wouldn't have done it if it would have been worse for us," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. "This will be the same or better [competition-wise]. We feel like our competition is the best it's ever been. We'll put it up against anybody -- and this is just one more thing that we've tackled in the last year or so that moving forward will be more relevant out there."

From a manufacturer standpoint, going to fuel injection makes the cars being raced on the weekends in NASCAR much closer from a production standpoint to the cars that are sold by dealerships during the rest of the week.

From a competitive standpoint, as Pemberton said, it shouldn't make a discernible difference to fans or even the drivers behind the wheel.

From a technical standpoint, it simply is a much more efficient way to deliver fuel to the engines that power the cars.

"We're always turning left, so [with a carburetor] the outside cylinders tend to get more fuel than the inside cylinders," explained Howard Comstock of Dodge Motorsports engineering. "So when you go to fuel injection, you go from a mechanical device to an electrical device. It's controlled by a module that has sensors all over the car. They sense all the parameters that you need to look at, and they tell the module how much fuel you need in each cylinder -- which we didn't have the ability to do in the carburetor in an efficient way. It tells the injectors how much fuel to put in each cylinder in all conditions. That makes everything way more efficient."

Comstock said that Dodge has had the technology available for 25 years, so now it is just a matter of transferring it from street production models to race cars and making certain all the parts can withstand the rigors of having an engine run at high speeds for 400 and 500 miles at a stretch. How they handle the heat generated in various points of the car where sensors are placed currently is one of the main concerns -- but now what is learned in race cars may be used in future production of street models, and vice versa.

"The injection thing, particularly at the level we're doing it here, is something we have three decades of experience with," added Lee White, Toyota Racing Development president and general manager. "I know for us, it's been a matter of logging laps and making some minor changes to adjust drivability issues more than anything. There is nothing that we've seen in terms of performance on the race track that worries us at all."

It does present the Sprint Cup teams with new challenges from both a conversion cost standpoint and a personnel standpoint, according to Travis Geisler, competition director for Penske Racing.

Fuel Injection Speeds

Practice 1
DriverTeamSpeedRank*
Skinner TRD173.717 27
Dillon RCR173.21033
HornishPenske173.07136
Almirola HMS172.227 39
DriverTeamSpeedRank*
HornishPenske175.25622
Skinner TRD174.537 35
Dillon RCR173.43342
Almirola HMS170.138 51

"Certainly it's a more efficient way of delivering fuel," Geisler said. "From a team side, the infrastructure of a team has to change so much. You think of all the nuts and bolts between an EFI [electronic fuel injection] and a carburetor system, and all the people it takes to support that. Over time, we've developed a lot of specialists for carburetors -- guys who have worked their whole careers on understanding how all that works. Now all of a sudden you take a guy who has been focused on a mechanical device to distribute fuel to a guy who needs to take an electrical device and do it.

"So it's a totally different skill set, a totally different focus that person needs to have. So you've got to keep an eye on how your company is handling that from a personnel standpoint, and what you have for infrastructure that's built up."

Geisler said previous estimates that it will cost teams approximately $26,000 per each EFI system it needs to purchase are close. He also said for Penske Racing's two teams, the intent is to purchase 10-12 "modules" per season for not only repeated use in primary and backup race cars on the tracks, but also for the use in engine testing on dynamometers at the shop.

Various other parts related to the systems also will need to be purchased on a regular basis, Geisler said. He also said he agreed with Pemberton that the added cost will be worth it in the long run.

"We knew that there would be some added cost to this," Pemberton said. "But any time you have a rules change, there is going to be some added, up-front costs. We thought it was something we needed to do for our sport; we needed to do it for our competition; we needed to do it to be relevant out there.

"When we decided to take this on, everyone knew the challenges -- and that's why the timeline was as long as it has been. Anybody can do fuel injection. But to do it the way we have, with our partners like McLaren and the manufacturers -- Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and Dodge -- and keep a level playing field, that's the most important thing. Because at the end of the day it's about keeping that level playing field, and continuing to put on outstanding competition on the track."

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, said it was exciting to see the cars with fuel-injection systems keeping up with other current Cup cars on the track Friday. Most of the drivers were in regular cars, attempting to get a feel for the 1.5-mile configuration that their series will run on for the first time this Saturday night in the inaugural Quaker State 400.

"To come here and see all the manufacturers have it on the track, this is a huge step for our sport to make the cars relevant with what's on the street," Harvick said. "It is huge for the manufacturers to have that."

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, added: "I don't know enough about the new fuel injection to have a really strong opinion on it. I like whatever is simplest and most even. Ricky Stenhouse [Jr.] was running the fuel-injection [Ford for Roush Fenway] and it looks like it is really fast.

"From what I can tell, it doesn't seem like the fans are going to be able to tell a difference in the racing. They say the drivers won't be able to tell a difference in the cars. In the end, if it allows Ford and other manufacturers to develop stuff for cars that they produce for the road, then I think it's better."