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Exhaust Notes

NASCAR's Electronic Fuel Injection Breaks Cover at SEMA 2011

The art of mixing air and hydrocarbons goes digital, for good.

By Andrew Wendler Nov 3, 2011 2:57PM

(Courtesy NASCAR)With the 2012 season opener at Daytona less than four months away, NASCAR has finally started to release some details about the electronic fuel injection systems that Sprint Cup teams with be running next year. Sixty years after its inception, NASCAR's premier racing series ditches Bernoulli's principle for high-pressure injection. "Exhaust Notes" spoke about this polarizing decision with Mike Fisher, NASCAR's managing director of research and development, via phone from the floor of the 2011 SEMA show in Las Vegas.

Exhaust Notes: Seriously, aside from the slow and steady trickle of official -- and unofficial -- press releases and the not-so-secret test sessions at Charlotte, Martinsville and a few other tracks, how long has NASCAR been plotting the demise of the carburetor?

Fisher: We waited for the all of the manufacturers to finish with the latest updates of their engines. Toyota was first and Ford the last. Overall it's been about two years.

EN: NASCAR is obviously the most American of all the big-time racing series. How was the decision made to select McLaren, a British company, as the developer/supplier of the fuel-injection program?(Courtesy NASCAR)

MF: Well, we had a pretty widespread response to announcement of NASCAR’s search for an [electronic control unit] supplier. I can't remember the exact number, but nine or 10 manufacturers from all over the globe, [including] the United Sates, responded to our bid request. When we narrowed them down to a few finalists, we made the decision to go with a company with tremendous technical resources as well as a very strong track record with hardware and software in motorsports. McLaren is the spec-ECU supplier for Formula 1 and [Indy Racing League]. They really understand what it takes to perform that role in the motorsports environment.

The other thing that a lot of people don't realize is that McLaren's partner in this venture is Freescale Electronics, one of the largest semiconductor chip-set makers in the world, and they're located ... in Austin, Texas. They supply all the internal hardware for the McLaren ECU.

(Courtesy NASCAR)EN: I noticed a very prominently displayed Holley EFI logo on the throttle body of one of the new EFI-equipped NASCAR engines. Is this just for testing purposes or will the Holley part make the show?

MF: Yes. Holley is a spec supplier for the throttle-body unit. Holley continues to be a very valued supplier in our sport. Obviously a big chunk of their business was carburetors, and in making this change we wanted to make sure they were involved in it.

EN: Would it have made sense for marketing purposes to brand the entire system with a more traditional parts manufacturer's name? The trickle-down effect on their consumer products could be quite profitable. It seems a crafty aftermarket brand would jump at the chance, even if they were purchasing the technology from someone else.

MF: The similarity to a consumer hot rod system is there, but I don't know if our purpose-built pieces would be applicable in that arena. But the future is open; we'll have to see how consumers react.

EN: Speaking of brand names, I see Bosch has been named the official supplier of oxygen sensors for NASCAR. How many sensors will each car have?

MF: Two -- one in each exhaust bank. The cars will be running a closed loop system, providing feedback on the air/fuel ration and allowing the ECU to correct for that.

EN: Mileage and emissions: Any significant data yet?(Courtesy NASCAR)

MF: Right now, the teams are still going through their tuning process and checking out the various boundaries within the ranges of adjustment that NASCAR is allowing, and we're not making any real bold predictions until they finish that process out. Obviously, we think that over the course of time we'll seem improvements in both, but it's tough to put any specifics on it at this point in time.

EN: What kind of [pounds per square inch] are these fuel systems going to be running at?

MF: Five bar, or about 75 psi.

EN: Is there a fuel return line?

MF: I believe three of the four manufacturers are running a return line; one is not. We call that a deadhead setup, in fuel architecture terms.

Let me stress that the driver will not be able to make adjustments to fuel pressure, fuel mapping or any of the hardware, for that matter. Drivers will have to live with the setup they load in before the race for the entire day.

EN: That brings up the issue of tampering. Hacking is practically a national pastime. Is NASCAR going to distribute the ECUs, with the turbo-pressure blow-off valves, or will teams be on the honor system here?

MF: NASCAR is not going to keep or distribute the ECUs. The teams will purchase them from McLaren. Each ECU will be serialized, the case will be sealed and a radio frequency ID chip will be mounted on the box. That RFID chip will be read when teams arrive at the racetrack, and NASCAR will plug into the ECU to ensure the correct software is loaded and hasn't been tampered with. We basically set the sizes of the fuel and ignition maps and the ranges of adjustment, and have them pre-programmed into the devices by McLaren.

During the event itself, the teams and NASCAR will have the ability to log engine parameters and data onto the ECU and download it later for officiating purposes. The teams will also be allowed to download select data for the purpose of improving their state of engine tune.

There's no telemetry, like we had in sports cars and Indy Car and Formula 1, and no plugging in during pit stops.

We've leaned on McClaren for guidance in this process, and we've given them a bit of input to acclimate them to our style of racing and how we like to officiate things. It's been quite an evolved project.

EN: There's a phenomenon in that occurs on high-speed ovals -- and pardon my lack of proper terminology here, Mike -- where, due to centrifugal force, more fuel finds its way to the outside cylinders of an engine, forcing the carburetor man to make a compromise and make adjustments to dump more fuel in the intake than regularly needed to keep the inside bank of cylinders from starving out. How will the injection systems deal with this?

MF: A lot of engine manufacturers have become quite adept at dealing with this in the current carbureted cars, and I think it will become easier with the EFI cars due largely to the high pressure of the fuel delivery.

EN: Will the introduction of EFI require teams to add employees specifically for EFI-tuning purposes?

MF: I know some teams have bolstered their resources in the EFI arena, but others have simply re-educated their existing engine tuners. Many of the top engine builders also produce engines for Grand-Am and other racing series that currently use EFI, so it's more a matter of learning the little nuances of the setup on the Cup cars.

EN: What are the ECUs going to cost?

MF: We haven’t made an official announcement on the price point for these units at this time.

EN: Are you worried about the reliability of the ECUs under the heat and stress of the racing environment?

MF: No, that’s one of the reasons we chose McLaren. Since McLaren has supplied the spec ECU to the F1 teams, they have never had a failure.

EN: Does the switch EFI make the possibility of running E85 -- a fuel as closely associated with America's heartland as NASCAR itself -- any more imminent?

MF: I don't know that those two are strongly tied together. Fuel injection opens up a window of fine tuning and adjustment, obviously, that would make transitions like that a bit easier, but at this point the decision to implement fuel injection is completely independent of the decision whether to increase the ethanol content of the fuel or not.

EN: One last question for you. Is going to be another 60 years until we see the push rods disappear?

MF (seemingly bemused): I can't make any bold predictions in regards to that. The system we have in place is very developed and refined. Some might say it's the ultimate rendition of the push-rod design. But, obviously, one of the main reasons for going to EFI was an attempt to remain relevant with current passenger-car design and technology, and add that degree of relevancy to our sport.

Nov 4, 2011 3:09AM
Here's what NASCAR should do.  Go back to the days when manufacturers had to race something that was available on the showroom floor and sell at least 2,500 of them retail every year.  The "SC" in NASCAR used to stand for stock car.  Time to get back to that.  The only brand that can actually sell something on Monday akin to what's being raced on Sunday is Dodge with the Charger and Challenger.   Run on down to your local Toyota dealer and ask to see the RWD V8-powered Camry.  They don't exist and NASCAR shouldn't allow them to participate with faux Camrys. 
Nov 4, 2011 9:33PM
Who really cares if the (NAS CAR)  has F.I. or a Carb? Since the cars are no longer Fords or Chevrolet's Or any other brand cars. Some will say but they still have Dodge or Toyota
etc. engines. Well the engine specs.are so very tightly controlled by NASCAR that they too are
nearly identical
  So essentially the engine has become just a part of the car. And in reality that car  can only be thought of as a   (NAS CAR). So now on race day you only have one chance to feel like a winner. In the past the fans had several chances to feel like a winner.
Because if your favorite driver didn't win you still had several chances to win if your favorite
brand of car came in first. Now how many people are going to care which NAS CAR wins?
The cars should be based on a factory produced recognizable model,V8,RWD, two doors etc.
 What ever happened to brand loyalty? Oh yes NASCAR killed it.

Nov 7, 2011 12:53AM
I wholeheartedly agree with The Beltway:  Go back to the days when manufacturers had to race something that was available on the showroom floor and sell at least 2,500 of them retail every year.
While Nascar has evolved, and certainly has it's place, how about pitting vehicles that you or I could buy from the dealership, modify (to an extent) and race man to man? We can do such at local drag races, but I would like to see a real race with modified true stock cars run around the track. Wanna talk excitement? Watch a Front Wheel Drive Toyota Camry bite it into the wall at 80mph. That's real, that's excitement. Of course, all safety precautions should be required to race, no fatalities or serious injuries are ever wanted in a race. It's then a test of driver skill, and their expertise in building their stock car.  Just my humble opinion.
Nov 7, 2011 6:07AM
I was a real race fan until the "SC" in NASCAR no longer meant Stock Car. When Richard Petty and the others were racing was when it was NASCAR, but now it has lost it's edge. No working class person could ever afford a high tech vehicle like these and would never be found on a showroom floor at Ford, Chevy or Dodge. I realize that vehicles need to be safer, but keep them STOCK!
Nov 4, 2011 7:24AM

"EFI was an attempt to remain relevant with current passenger-car design and technology, and add that degree of relevancy to our sport."


The change to EFI will be the only thing relevant!  The remainder of the vehicle has nothing to do at all with current passenger cars save for maybe the emblems.


@The Beltway:  "SC" now stands for Spec Car.

Nov 7, 2011 4:33AM

I have been a “Stock Car” race fan for most of my life. Growing up in the garage business with my dad in the late 60s & 70s was great.  All manufactures were involved

with racing one way or another even American Motors! I believe that one of the biggest reasons NASCAR had grown to what it is/was is a common “joe” could go to their favorite dealer and purchase a car that was like their favorite driver was racing

on Saturday nights and Sundays. The manufactures pumped big bucks into the sport not because they like racing but because it was great advertising! I can’t believe the manufactures are still dumping sponsorship money into NASCAR when there is no real association between the showroom floor cars and NASCAR race cars, they are not racing Fords and Chevys they are Sissy Cookie Cutter Racecars. This is no longer a growing sport as NASCAR would have us believe sometimes change is good but in my opinion NASCAR is going down the wrong path…. RESTRICTOR PLATES…. Racing is about going as fast as you can the real driver knows when fast is to fast that is why you have a gas pedal and a break! CHANGE POINT SYSTEM… Stupid… COOKIE CUTTER RACECAR… Give me a break we don’t need race teams anymore-just fuel men and tire changers… Why not do like IROC teams build identical cars, driver comes to track and draws this weeks race team from a hat…NO MORE CARBS…Just what NASCAR needs to be more like Indy Car…what’s next electric hybrids? One nice thing about all the changes that NASCAR has done is it is going to save me a lot of money…. NO more NASCAR for me.


Nov 3, 2011 4:44PM
Nascar engines will have pushrods as long as American manufacturers do. (they still do, don't they?)
Nov 7, 2011 9:15AM

Another reason I do not watch NASCAR.  Nothing is stock, it's all custom made.  They are not tacing stock cars they are racing NASCAR auto's.  It's boring and no longer a win on Sunday and buy on Monday.

IMSA and the Rolex series is more interesting and fun. Every car is from the manufacturer and modified to race.

Nov 4, 2011 5:00PM

Why is Toyota the only foreign badge in NASCAR? Why did NASCAR even consider a foreign manufacturer for an American event?  I wont mention that Toyotas inline six was based on a Chevrolet inline six. Where is Mercedes, BMW or Jaguar? What happened to the manufacture production vehicle? NASCAR is now a hybrid vehicle with production vehicle skin (marketing).


Really sad to see an American sport rooted in garage savvy reduced to global technology (Japan).

Nov 4, 2011 8:14AM
556v... that is why i do not like the indy racing league as much anymore. the cars are all the same.
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