The Cup series has introduced Electronic Fuel Injection for the 2012 racing season, and after two races we’ve already seen a couple of engine failures and at least one three-time series champion bitten by the idiosyncrasies of a computer in the car. While the technology has at least moved the top stock car series in the country closer to the 21st century, it is a new and different system for drivers who have not had to deal with the procedural steps of rebooting their race cars.
During the NASCAR media tour in January, several different crew chiefs mentioned how dealing with race cars that were out of fuel would take more steps to reset the EFI systems than just the car off then on like the drivers did in the “old days”. While teams would not have to use the squirt bottles of gas or ether that they used to employ on pit lane to get cars to refire, the drivers would have to remember to power their cars completely off and back on in order for the EFI computer to reset itself. If the pumps ran dry in the fuel cell, the system would apparently shut down and would not restart itself without the power being recycled to the main unit.
Depending on the crew chief, different stories were told about how the system would reprime once a fuel cell ran dry. Some crew chiefs stated that the sending units in the fuel cell would immediately start picking up fuel, as soon as the gas was put back into the cell. Other chiefs felt as though getting the system to begin sending fuel to the engine again it would require some very specific steps performed in a unique order to make the pumps begin pumping the gas again. While not having teams forcing gas into the carburetor while the team pushes the car down pit lane is a benefit, getting the system to build up the necessary pressure in order to function may or may not be a difficult task.
This past weekend, the issues for Tony Stewart bring up a couple of interesting questions. Stewart has proven, during his successful stock car racing career, that if the time calls for it, he can save enough petroleum to nab a win. However, with the EFI system, some of his techniques may be a bit more risky than they were in the past. Apparently Stewart turned off his car while trying to save gas this past weekend and, after turning the system back on, the car would not refire. After some exhaustive investigation by his crew, they ascertained that a breaker had been tripped on the unit. Once that breaker was reset the system functioned as anticipated. Unfortunately for Stewart, the field had passed the pit road twice while they were trying to figure out the issue and the defending champ was relegated to a 22nd-place finish after charging to what would have been a solid top 10.
In Fronstretch’s first Tech Talk article this week (https://frontstretch.com/mneff/37519/), Brian Keselowski discussed his views about the system and the fact that, while the fuel cell may be able to be sucked dry, the amount of fuel that it takes to make the system run properly may actually mean that the teams can’t really utilize all of that fuel because there is a residual amount of gas that will be in the system when the pressure required to make it run falls below a certain level. Therefore, while there may be some fuel in the cell, one of the two sending units may run dry and result in a drop in pressure that won’t allow the system to get the gas into the cylinders at the necessary levels for the engine to run.
As people adapted to cassette tapes and then CDs, or VHS tapes to DVDs, the racers in the Cup series will adapt to the ins and outs of the EFI system. It most certainly will take some trial and error. Some people will most certainly be bitten like Stewart was this past weekend and have to suffer through a less than ideal finish. Knowing the brains that are in the pits of the Cup series, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to have them come up with a less cumbersome method of restarting the system, including some lights that tell the driver if he has waited long enough and whether the system is prepared to be restarted. They’ll also probably develop more efficient sending units that will be able to get every last drop out of the fuel cell because one thing is for sure about drivers, they’ll push their cars to the very limits and that includes sucking every drop of gas out of their tanks.
One thing is for sure, drivers are some adaptive creatures and, as things develop and advance, the best ones embrace those changes and advance with them. Radial tires caused a lot of headaches for drivers who had been on bias ply tires for a long time, while drivers with less experience in the Cup series actually embraced the new tires more quickly. For some drivers they never adapted, others figured them out and excelled. The same thing has occurred with the new car design in the Cup series. Some drivers have truly struggled with the new car, whether it is the handling or what it takes to make the car go fast, but the best have learned how to make it work and some of the newer drivers in the series have embraced the new design more readily. The EFI system is just the latest in a long line of major changes in the Cup series that will take some getting used to. The drivers and teams who learn to maximize it first will have the most success but, in the long run, the best drivers and teams will rise to the top and win with the new technology.
When it is all said and done, you can teach old drivers new tricks.
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