Racing Technology: The trickle-down effect

Racing Technology: The trickle-down effect

When automobile racing began more than 100 years ago, it was a contest among different carmakers to see who produced superior vehicles. I guess you can say that was the inception of the concept of “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

Today, automakers are still providing engines, components and sponsorship money to race teams-and to a larger extent than ever-in order to convince the buying public that their engines and vehicles will go faster, last longer and outperform those of their competitors.

The public perception the automakers have always hoped for has been that the vehicles they build are so strong, durable and powerful that they’re fit for racing performance-in other words, that the technology used to make their vehicles is track-tested.

The Vortec ASA 5700 engine is made for the American Speed Association Racing Series. Based on GM’s LS1 engine, the powerplant is modified to produce 430 horses and 430 ft-lb of torque.

CM Goes ‘Stock’ Car Racing Among the many racing programs that General Motors participates in is the rapidly growing American Speed Association, or ASA. ASA started in the midwest in 1968 as a form of short-track stock car racing. In those days, the cars were simply track versions of street vehicles. As the series grew, mechanical rules were added to more or less level the playing field for all competitors. Properly prepared cars, skilled drivers and a little bit of luck would determine the winner, not financial support and sponsorship. Other innovative ASA rules include mandating the use of mufflers, for the benefit of spectators’ ears.

Starting with the 2000 season, the ASA put the “stock” back in stock car racing, when the use of the GM-built Vortec ASA 5700 engine became mandatory. This engine is based on the 5.7-liter LS1 engine found in street versions of the Corvette, Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. The Vortec ASA 5700, however, is rated at a potent 430 hp and produces 430 ft-lb of torque.

The engines are assembled at GM’s Romulus, Michigan, facility, then shipped to Lingenfelter Performance Engineering in Decatur, Indiana, where they’re modified slightly, dynotested and sealed. At that point, the race teams can make no further alterations or adjustments to the engines.

To keep the playing field level, the teams receive the PCM of the ASA 5700 just prior to the race and are not allowed to make any software modifications to it. The “black boxes” are GM production units calibrated with slightly different values for fuel delivery and spark advance to enhance racing performance. They have the same diagnostic storage and retrieval capabilities as passenger car modules, so key parameters and functions, such as injector pulse width, spark advance and critical fluid temperatures and pressures, can be monitored. This information is returned to GM for research and development purposes. According to Mark McPhail, GM Racing Lead Engineer, “What we learn on the track is directly applied to our passenger car engines.”

ASA race teams receive identically prepared Vortec 5700 engines, which have been modified and dyno-tested by Lingenfelter Performance Engineering. Once shipped, the engines are not allowed to be altered in any way prior to a race.

GM benefits from its racing programs in another way, according to Don Taylor, GM Group Manager for Racing.

“Each year, three or four GM powertrain engineers are rotated to duty with the Motorsports Program,” he told us. “In this way, they get the benefit of working directly with race teams and performance specialists. They can then take that experience and knowledge with them when they return to creating systems for passenger cars.

“Another example of the feedback effect from ASA racing,” said Taylor, “is that we found a way to improve the connecting rod bolts on the LS1 engine. If we were not supplying these engines to a racing program and examining the engines after the races, we may not have found the improvement.”

Honda’s Racetrack R&D Improves Production Engines

Honda has made good use of its R&D efforts on racing circuits to enhance its consumer products. According to Robert Clarke, General Manager of Honda Performance, “One of the most prominent examples of racing technology finding its way into street vehicles is the variable valve timing system found on our VTEC engines.”

Honda’s latest engine, the 2.0-liter i-VTEC, will be appearing in the 2002 Civic Si coming out this summer. Computer-controlled operation makes it the company’s cleanest, most efficient engine ever

VTEC (variable valve timing and lift electronic control) was originally developed in the mid-’80s to give Honda’s Formula 1 cars a broader torque curve. The most valuable production results of this technology have been in emissions control and fuel economy. When it was adapted for use in passenger vehicles a decade ago, VTEC was quite revolutionary. Appearing in the 1.5-liter Honda Civic and the 1.7-liter Acura, it varied the valve timing to produce a “lean burn” effect.

For 2002, Honda is introducing the next generation of VTEC in the 2.0liter DOHC engine for the Civic Si. The i-VTEC system (the “i” stands for “intelligent”) uses a computer that makes decisions based on stored algorithms to determine the amount of timing advance or retard to create optimum performance, emissions control and fuel consumption. Honda refers to this combustion system as “clean burn.”

Interestingly, according to Clarke, “The biggest direct benefit of the racing programs to Honda is the development of people.” Engineers and technicians from Honda’s mainstream R&D departments who work on the racing program become more cognizant of the effects of technological thinking, then apply that thinking to the production vehicles that reach the streets, and eventually your shops.

Wix Filters Out Problems

Automakers are not alone in their use of racing to develop and improve products. Many component and parts manufacturers, as well, have learned valuable lessons on those giant oval labs.

For example, Bill Stamey, Product Engineer for Wix Filters, says that although his company’s main business is making and selling high- quality filters for the general public, Wix makes use of the best testing laboratory in the world when they go racing.

“Our racing program has taught us a lot about dealing with high pressures, high temperatures and rapid oil deterioration,” says Stamey. “Testing at the track led us to develop gaskets for our [oil] filters made with nitrile compounds to withstand rapid buildup of high temperatures. This same technology was incorporated into our filters for light and heavy-duty vehicle use to avoid premature gasket failure in adverse conditions.”

Wix improved the gasket material and created a new filtration media for its oil filters as a result of testing and research done in its racing programs.

According to Stamey, Wix’s racing program also led to the development of a synthetic filtration medium, which better withstands the effects of high pressures and contaminants. This design improvement has been incorporated into many Wix filters for general use.

“Most of the filters used by NASCAR teams, such as Gibbs, Roush and Yates, are returned to us after use,” says Stamey. “We can then examine filters that were used in the toughest of racing conditions and determine ways of making the products we sell better.”

Clevite Bears the Pressure

Even components as seemingly simple as crankshaft bearings have been improved by corporate racing involvement. Bob Anderson, Team Leader for Clevite Bearings, puts it this way: “We use the racing programs to look at what possible problems could arise under certain harsh conditions.

“For example,” he adds, “in our NHRA drag racing program, the Top Fuel and Funny Cars have very powerful engines that explode to life, creating tremendous torque and hundreds of horsepower for just a few seconds. During those few seconds, the force exerted on the crankshaft bearings is enormous, due to the high degree of crankshaft flex. If the bearings fail to facilitate the smooth spinning of the crankshaft, the consequences are going to be extremely costly.

“Although the micro-babbitt type of bearing used in drag racing is different than the type used in OE manufacture or aftermarket repair, we continue to learn a lot from the racing program that helps us engineer better products for the average vehicle.

“If a manufacturer is considering using a line of bearings in its vehicles,” Anderson concludes, “the fact that the bearing manufacturer has proven the product under racing conditions may be of benefit. The OEM knows that the products coming from that supplier have been proven on the racetrack.”

Vortec ASA 5700 Engine Specifications

Displacement: 5.7 liters (5665cc)

Horsepower: 430 @ 6200 rpm

Torque: 430 ft-lb @ 4800 rpm

Compression Ratio: 10.11

BoreStroke: 99.0×92.0mm

Firing Order: 1-8-7-2-6-5-4-3

Redline: 6800 rpm

Cylinder Block: Aluminum 90 deg Vee, deep skirt with cast-in iron sleeves, 111.76mm bore spacing, 234.70mm deck height

Crankshaft: Cast nodular iron with undercut & rolled fillets

Crank Pin Journal Diameter: 53.318/53.338mm

Main Bearing Journal Diameter: 64.993/65.008mm

Main Bearings (5): Aluminum lead/silicon alloy with centered bulkhead thrust bearing

Bearing Caps: Powdered metal with 4 vertical bolts, 2 cross bolts

Cylinder Head: Cast aluminum 356 T-6, heat-treated, cross-flow, wedge combustion chamber (67.3cc volume), hi-flow evenly spaced, symmetrical ports

Pistons: Cast aluminum, flat top Intake Manifold: One-piece composite, symmetrical runners

Throttle Body: Aluminum, 75mm bore diameter

Fuel Injection System: H-style, Bosch DR2 regulator, 400kPa constant pressure, Bosch EV6 injectors

Cooling System: Conventionalflow, crossflow radiator, 2-speed electric dual fans, centrifugal/beltdriven pump

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Copyright Hearst Business Publishing Mar 2002