NASCAR took another step toward one of the biggest technological changes in its history on Monday by conducting an all day test of new electronic fuel injection systems at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The EFI systems are scheduled to replace carburetors, long the air-fuel management device in NASCAR, during Daytona Speedweeks in 2012. More tests of the systems are scheduled for Thursday at Talladega Sueprspeedway and October 31st at Martinsville Speedway.
NASCAR and team officials expect no problems with the new systems, and NASCAR has stressed repeatedly that the control units for the injectors are virtually tamper-proof in response to questions about potential outside-the-rules tinkering by mechanics and engine builders.
“The EFI for 2012 appears to be brand new and appears to be coming very quickly, but our whole road to fuel injection actually started five or six years ago,” said Sprint Cup Series director John Darby Monday.
“We looked at the steps we needed to get there. We worked very closely with engine builders and manufacturers to get the architecture of the engine to some very close parameters. We’ve reached that point.”
Horsepower numbers aren’t expected to change dramatically with the new engine systems, and fuel mileage might improve to a slight degree, officials said. If there is a concern in the months leading to the systems’ debut at Daytona International Speedway in February, it might revolve around the impact of heat on the new system configuration.
“One of the main concerns is the reality of all the connectors and components we haven’t used before,” said Doug Yates of Roush Yates Engines. “These are long races. What we’re worried about is connectors and just finishing the races.”
All four Hendrick Motorsports teams, both Stewart-Haas Racing teams, one team from Richard Childress Racing, one team from Michael Waltrip Racing, one from Earnhardt-Ganassi team, a team from Joe Gibbs Racing, and one from Roush-Fenway Racing participated in the Monday test session, some event worked on some engine endurance.
The new systems and the accompanying computer chips will provide officials and teams with a wealth of data, but NASCAR is sticking by its stance that telemetry cannot be used during actual competition.
“Many of the open-wheel series have the ability to look at live data, and some even to adjust from the pit box, but, in staying with stock car racing style and fashion, we would rather have the race teams prepare for the race, take their best shot and 500 miles later have a winner,” Darby said. “We don’t want the winner to be because of a computer-driven method from a pit box. We still want the guys to be out there bumping and grinding and rubbing fenders. That’s real important to us.”
The new systems will not eliminate the use of restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega, but Darby said the change will allow for use of a wider range of sizes in plates.
Jimmie Johnson said his Chevrolet erformed well during the Monday test.
“Everything’s great as far as drivability on the track,” he said. “We’re learning a lot of the little basic items. It’s really ‘EFI 101’ today. We’re learning all the basics.”
Jeff Burton said the operation and “feel” of the race car Monday were essentially the same as before.
“Nothing felt foreign, odd or unusual,” Burton said. “It’s a miniscule change.”
Burton said the biggest difference will be how engine builders and engine tuners work with the new system. Their biggest tool will be a laptop computer.
“We don’t want to take the engine tuners we have today and replace them,” he said. “We want to train them to operate this system. Having them be a part of every test is important to understanding the ‘tuneability’ of the system.”
A Roush Fenway Racing Ford driven by 2011 Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne, had the fastest speed of 189.793 miles per hour. Bayne’s Roush Fenway Racing Nationwide Series teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr also got behind the wheel of fthe No. 6 for the test. Jeff Gordon was second at 188.679.