News & Media

NASCAR defers fuel injection to 2012 season

January 22, 2011, Dave Rodman,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR's competition update held Friday at Daytona International Speedway as part of Preseason Thunder testing touched on a lot of topics but produced only one hard news item -- no fuel injection in a 2011 Sprint Cup points race.

In several news briefings since late last season, NASCAR officials had talked about moving toward a possible mid-season 2011 introduction of the system, which would replace the carburetors that have been used in Cup racing since its 1949 inception, despite having virtually no application in modern production vehicles.

"We're working through our fuel injection program right now [and] we've made some great strides in the last 60 days or so," NASCAR vice president for competition Robin Pemberton said. "We don't anticipate any points races this year -- or races -- with fuel injection.

"It'll be a year dedicated to finetuning and getting the process down, whether it be inspection or the team side of it, with building engines. That's going along quite well."

The head of Ford's factory-backed engine program, Doug Yates of Roush Yates Engines, put the perfect perspective on the decision from the manufacturers' and teams' point of view before NASCAR managing director of competition John Darby, who concurrently is serving as Cup Series director, re-confirmed the decision.

"Let's say, for sure the second race of 2012 [for a tentative debut]," Darby said. "And with how fast we progress and how fast we can get going, we'll look at Speedweeks 2012."

Yates' company builds engines for Ford's primary teams in the Cup Series: Roush Fenway Racing's four entries, two each from Richard Petty Motorsports and Front Row Motorsports, and the Wood Brothers Racing car that runs about half the schedule.

In addition, Roush Yates for a number of years has built engines for the Grand-Am Rolex Series, exclusively using fuel injection. According to Yates, RYE will support eight cars in the Daytona Prototype category, the Rolex Series' headline division in the Rolex 24 at Daytona at the end of the month.

Despite that background, Yates said he fully supported NASCAR's decision, comparing it to the initial integration of NASCAR's current Cup car. The former "Car of Tomorrow" was introduced to Cup racing in 2007, when 16 races featured the new car and 20 were run using the former, so-called "standard car."

"I think we saw, running the COT in some of the races and the old car in some of the races, how painful it was for the teams to operate that way -- for us to have fuel injection for part of the season would have been tough to balance," Yates said. "Any change of this magnitude is something that we have to work together in concert with NASCAR, to understand the specifics on the geometry of the layout, to make sure it's fair and competitive for each manufacturer [and] the first hurdle was trying to make sure the system was fair and equitable for everybody involved."

Yates said all four manufacturers had submitted injector-equipped intake manifolds for NASCAR's approval, but "that's just the start." He cited the needed work on speed, reliability and "a whole new system of connectors and sensors that we've never had before -- so we don't want to get in a race situation and somebody falls out of a race because of something we didn't anticipate or fully validate before we got here.

"There are a lot more things that need to be worked out, such as who'll be the supplier of the ECU [engine control unit], the injectors and specifics like cam sensors, crank sensors and things such as that. So it's taken longer than I think anybody, going into it, expected -- we thought we'd be up and running by this season.

"But it is a little bit more complicated a process than anyone expected. If you think about it, NASCAR's been on carburetors for 60 years but I think to make this change is something we all -- and NASCAR's driving the ship on this -- agreed to dot the i's and cross the t's and when we do roll out fuel injection, let's make sure we have it right, the system is reliable and is fair to everyone in the garage as we move forward."

Darby agreed that the single point of implementation was a plus from NASCAR's perspective, as well.

"Every individual team owns race cars, so you can manage that in a split-season, as you call it, fairly simply," Darby said. "But not every race team that competes owns their engines -- there are a tremendous amount of lease programs in our sport. So a split season becomes difficult for the engine suppliers to figure a budget, for a lease customer without knowing when the [injection] program would be initiated.

"I think there's an overall comfort level to where, if you do the same thing, week after week after week -- everybody will adapt to the new system quicker. So there's a very significant difference between introducing a car and splitting it up a little and bringing in an engine program that pretty much dictates the more consistently we can run it, the better it'll be."

Yates, who gained his extensive knowledge from his father, said that while he'd worked with carburetors for a long time, and could see their simple beauty, that change was also a good thing.

"As comfortable as you get with things, we have to keep our sport relevant to the general public and relevant to the manufacturers," Yates said. "The funny thing is, I've had a lot of people come to the company who would ask me how we could still be using carburetors -- but once they saw how simple and effective they were, they appreciated them more than fuel injection."

Both Yates and Darby downplayed a misconception that the electronic technology would lead to increased ability to cheat the system.

In a nutshell, Darby said no additional inspectors would be needed to monitor the program, because the Cup officials' roster already had a diverse background -- with hands-on knowledge -- and additional training would be given to fill in any informational gaps.

"In motorsports racing, obviously your concern is more about making horsepower and letting the engine race, dependably and reliably," Darby said. "Your focus is more on the overall performance of the engine -- it's not on how much your coffee cup vibrates in the morning, on your way to work. From the get-go that makes the system a little bit simpler.

"The good thing is that in today's world, not only with the ability to not only write firmware and software, but at the same time to put security locks and tamper-resistant programs that are installed within that, it makes it a lot easier, from NASCAR's side, to ultimately police the system.

"The things that you would be concerned with as you introduce electronic controls into the car, most of those are safeguarded in the architecture of the system to start with," Darby said. "The safeguards [will] be manufactured by a supplier and from there, NASCAR and the supplier will work hand-in-hand in maintaining the security of the systems."

One of NASCAR's primary goals is to keep its playing field level, while at the same time competitive. Darby explained fuel injection wouldn't eliminate that.

"The race teams themselves won't have the free will to go in and rewrite anything they want to, regarding both the firmware and the software, on how the engine controls are operated," Darby said. "There will be some fixed parameters [for that] but they'll still have some parameters, like most tunable engines do, where they'll be able to open up a page and set fuel maps and timing incidents and all of the things that ultimately drive the engine performance -- and they'll have a pretty big playground to do that in."

Yates said, despite his company's experience with fuel injection in other venues, that didn't really denote an advantage. Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines also has a winning tradition in Grand-Am and Toyota has a championship legacy in Grand-Am with the Lexus engine.