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DATE News (chronologically)
11/12/09
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The NASCAR Engine Conundrum and COT
This articles talks about the marvelous Car of Tomorrow, which we have called he  Car of Yesterday...

So how about this new Ford engine, the FR9?

  Greg Biffle says he expects it to run either here or Homestead next week in one of the Jack Roush or Doug Yates cars. It performed admirably at Talladega last week, the restrictor plate version. That bodes well for next season's Daytona 500.

  And certainly it's way overdue to run on an 'open' track. It should have been in some Fords back in the spring, or early summer, or late summer, or early fall, to work the kinks out. You can do all the in-house testing you want, but the real test is out on the track.
    Biffle, while "really excited" about the new engine, says "it's going take a little while" to get it in all the Fords next season. He's figuring by mid-summer.

"You can imagine how many engines and parts they need to build up in order to ramp up next season to get the engines full-time in all the cars," Biffle says "And we still have a big uphill battle in implementing that new engine once we're satisfied with the performance and the reliability."

"That's because – again, don't laugh – these engines are car-specific. You can't put an FR9 into a car designed for an FR8, for example.

Dodge has had similar problems too. All this is saving teams money?

And Biffle worries the transition could be a bit ragged: "I raised my hand and said 'Hey, the first third of the season,' instead of us jumping all over the map (with car chassis and aerodynamic designs) because you really have to have these cars built differently for the engine bay to work, I said 'I'll run the old engine for the first third.'

"Our old engine has a lot of power, a lot of reliability…and five or eight horsepower isn't really going to win or lose a race."

Why the long wait to get the new engine on track? Well, first, obviously it's a darned expensive project.

Second, well, why does Ford need a new NASCAR engine anyway? The old one has been doing quite well. Remember Roush himself fought against this silly horsepower war for years, pointing out repeatedly that NASCAR was going down the wrong trail by okaying increasingly powerful stock car motors….starting first with that new Dodge engine, then the new Toyota engine in response, then finally a new Chevy engine in response…..

And now NASCAR teams are playing with 900 horsepower under the hood. That's ridiculous, 900 horsepower? These guys once put on perfectly respectable racing with 640 horsepower. How did NASCAR let this thing get so out of hand…and for what reason?

Saving money? How is this engine war saving anyone money? And how is this engine war making the sport a better show? This whole deal is like spitting against the wind.

Why?

And part of the fallout is one reason the number of winning NASCAR team owners has diminished so dramatically. One big problem with the sport is that there are too few engine operations left. You want to play this game? Well, standing in line for an engine lease program, if you can even get on the waiting list, and at what a price. And you think you're going to get the best engines from a lease program? LOL

This sport was built on individual entrepreneurs, trying to outwit each other. Now it's just another Detroit-like assembly line production.

Where are the sport's independent engine builders? Why did NASCAR let that part of the sport wither and die? What can NASCAR do to revive it? NASCAR is trying to go with 'spec' engines next season in Trucks, to save that series from economic demise, with Detroit dropping support. But just what kind of 'spec' engine is still unclear to Truck drivers. And it will only be an option, apparently. So unless Carl Wagoner, the well-respected 'little guy' engine man, can figure out how to match up his 'spec' NASCAR motor against the sport's powerhouses, that project seems ill-fated.
 
But there's more at play with this new Ford motor than just something that makes better torque or more horsepower. It's designed in part to help improve a car aerodynamics, to help it turn better in the corners…because this car-of-tomorrow doesn't have enough downforce to do the job very well.

Huh?

Now you don't have to have an engineering degree to realize that having to fix an aerodynamic problem with a new, expensive engine sounds pretty dumb. If there's an aerodynamic problem, fix it with aerodynamics.

But so far NASCAR hasn't.

Hey, let's see, from college physics, isn't the relevant equation something like 'aerodynamic problems increase exponentially as speed increases?' Presumably vice versa.

Why not, uh, slow the darned cars down? Like Robert Yates first suggested in 1993. So teams are spending enormous sums designing trick-gimmicky 'bump-stops,' those tiny high-tech shocks that keep a car from bottoming out on the track.

Huh?

Instead of teams using real shocks and real springs, NASCAR has created a world where teams have to 'coil-bind' springs (essentially compressing the spring to the point it is not longer 'springy' but just a hard lump of steel for the driver to ride on – great on the back, eh, Jeff Gordon?) and then use 'bump-stops' to keep the from 'splitter' from breaking by hitting the track.

Huh?

Does all this sound like something you'd see going on at your local short track? Of course not. This is all – in engineering lingo – quite backwards. And someone might note that drivers can use this 'splitter' – hey, who makes these things anyway, and how much do they cost? – to cut another man's tires.

Great.

Houston, we've got a problem….

Maybe it's time to scrap this car-of-tomorrow and go straight to car-of-tomorrow II. (Oops, isn't that the suggestion that got former crew chief Larry McReynolds in such trouble with NASCAR when he dared point out the problem?) The trouble, of course, is NASCAR has gotten its team owners in so deep and so expensively with the current COT and its odd technology, that no one really wants to spend the money to get out of this jam.

So maybe if we all just ignore it a little while longer, it will all just go away. mikemulhern.net

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