NASCAR Gets Wired
Change is coming to NASCAR. Electronic fuel injection has arrived this season, replacing the traditional four-barrel carburettor while the introduction of ECUs has brought the thin edge of the electronic wedge to the top level of US stock car racing. And next year a new Sprint Cup car will make its debut featuring more brand identity for each of NASCAR's four manufacturers Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge and Toyota.
When the current, safer 'spec'-car – the so-called 'Car of Tomorrow' – was introduced in 2007 it erased any individual identities between the competing brands, and was not received happily by either fans or the manufacturers. In recent years there's been a clamour from all quarters for NASCAR to allow more individual identities. So it will come to pass next year.
Toyota Racing Development's president, Lee White, is unrestrained in his enthusiasm for the close working relationship NASCAR has developed with its manufacturers in making the move to fuel injection and developing the 2013 Sprint Cup car.
"The 2013 car has probably been the most amazing collaboration we've ever seen," White declared. "There's been a truly remarkable degree of cooperation with everyone pulling on the same end of the rope to get that to happen, so the manufacturers are finally going to get some real brand identity in the cars that we haven't had for five years with the CoT. If there was an issue we needed to get out on the table, we did it. Everyone has worked together really well."
The new car will be sleeker than the CoT with shallower windshield angles and different nose and tail proportions (above). "The current car is disproportionate because the tail is so long and the nose overhang is so short," said Ford Racing's chief aerodynamicist Bernie Marcus. "So we moved things around and made the nose a little longer and the tail a little shorter.
"You can put your own character into the side of the car and into the wheel openings and the front bumper," added Lee White. "Those will be unique to each manufacturer."
NASCAR's Sprint Cup fuel injection system comprises well-proven Bosch pumps, injectors and sensors plus a McLaren ECU, which is similar to the unit used in F1 and IndyCar. McLaren's ECUs are produced in a partnership with Freescale, a large-scale supplier of ECUs and electronic bits to the automotive industry and a wide range of consumer products. Freescale has been a McLaren partner for 10 years.
The biggest problem in adapting EFI systems to NASCAR is coping with the large quantity of heat generated by a stock car. "The heat is a tremendous issue," said White. "The exhaust runs right through the car and you have to do everything you can to keep the components cool. When you look at the heat and the inertial loads and vibration generated by these cars it's a very unfriendly environment for hundreds of wires and connectors."
NASCAR's vice-president of competition, Robin Pemberton, stressed that despite the arrival of electronics in NASCAR, data systems and telemetry will never be allowed during race weekends. "We won't be there anytime soon by design," he said. "We'll save that for testing and run our races without any of that. We want the man and the machine. We want the teams and the human to do it. In our world, that's what makes us healthy, and that's what keeps our owners healthy. The arms race doesn't help make racing better, it just helps you spend more money."
Pemberton added that the penalty for messing with the electronics will be very serious. "Minor isn't even on the gauge," he commented. "It'll be a top of the line penalty."
So as much as NASCAR has opened the door to the modern world it remains committed to the first principles that have always driven it: keeping the nature of the competition as simple as possible and ruling with an iron fist.