The ASA Transcontinental Series Engine is based on GM's LS3 and features an electronic fue
Back in late January the American Speed Association journeyed to South Africa for the inaugural ASA Free-State 500K at Phakisa Freeway (covered in the Aug. '10 issue of Circle Track). As the 24 competitors in the race took the green flag, there were two cars in the field that had something a little different beneath their hoods. Car numbers 98 and 900 both looked like typical full-bodied American stock cars, but their powerplants were anything but. Nestled between the tube frame chassis of these two stockers was the new ASA Transcontinental Series engine, a 500-plus horsepower electronically fuel-injected racing motor.
Built by Minnesota's Schwanke Racing Engines, the engine is what officials of the ASA are calling the future of stock car powerplants. It's actually an LS3-based motor that Tim Schwanke, owner of Schwanke Racing Engines, dove inside of to beef up and make suitable for oval-track competition. On the dyno it puts out 525 hp and 505 lb-ft torque on 94-octane pump gas-all for a price tag of just less than $15,000. That's not bad at all when you consider that some of the motors in the FreeState 500K were hand-built open engines with price tags north of $35,000.
The ASA Transcontinental Series Engine's price includes LS3 Vortec aluminum block assembly, GM LS3 aluminum heads, L92 truck intake and 90mm throttle body, 36-pound injectors, custom pistons and forged rods, 0.550 lift hydraulic roller cam, an ATI super damper, 85-amp alternator, steel dry-sump pan, Barnes single stage scavenge pump, KRC power steering pump, front motor mount kit, electric in-tank fuel pump kit, inline fuel filter and regulator, serpentine beltdrive, air intake and mass airflow sensor kit, throttle cable, 13/4-inch spec chassis headers, hydraulic clutch kit, steel bell housing, Spec 8-inch 26-spline clutch, low oil pressure and overheat protection, EFI PCM, a 7,000-rpm rev limiter, custom wiring harness, and an installation kit with instructions. That's a long and healthy list for a race engine that comes in with a price tag just under $15,000.
However, the motor is electronically fuel injected, a feature that is looked down upon by many in today's short track community. Many sanctions and promoters run scared of electronics in race motors, claiming that they are an open invitation to cheaters. But that's a fallacy says ASA Transcontinental Series (ASATS)Tech Director Mike Lemke. "All we need to do is change the 'brain boxes,' checking rpms as far as the rev limit, and measuring the bore of the throttle body. That's it."
The ASATS motor is sealed in an effort to deter creative mechanics but the programming of the ECU is the real roadblock. If a sanction were to randomly issue and/or swap ECUs between competitors, no amount of internal tweaking of the motor would add power. In fact, the ECU can be programmed to recognize whether or not anybody messed with the guts of the motor.
"You use the on-board automotive computer that is used to control the whole programming for ignition and fuel," says Tim Schwanke. "I just promote the idea of rotating that computer amongst competitors and that is pretty much the end of your tech."
Overall, Lemke loved what he saw from the engine in South Africa. "I am very encouraged by this engine package, especially from the cost side. In many of America's top racing series, teams are paying anywhere from $40,000-$50,000 for a 12:1 engine, where this package comes in at $14,999.99."
Dennis Huth, ASA President, had Lemke write the rules for the Free-State 500K so that these EFI engines could compete side-by-side with both open motors and crate motors. The goal was to encourage participation from stateside teams with the car's weight becoming the equalizing factor. Crafting rules that allow different motor combinations is a trend that our own Bob Bolles is seeing repeatedly on the AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour this year. For stateside tracks and sanctions, adding EFI to that mix should be an easy step to take when they realize all of its benefits.
Spies (No. 900) said that the gobs of torque produced by the Tim Schwanke-built EFI motor
The other Schwanke EFI engine in the FreeState 500K was owned by Ron Barfield and driven b
Capetown, South Africa's Johann Spies stands next to his EFI-powered ASATS stock car.
Easy tech and cost effective parts are one thing but how does it race?
Two competitors ran the Schwanke 525 in the race. Capetown, South Africa, native Johann Spies, whose "Aaa-ooo-ga" yell became the trademark battle cry for the event, finished an impressive Fifth, in his No. 900 machine. Car No. 98, owned by Ron Barfield Sr. had Australian Shaun Richardson behind the wheel. Richardson actually led part of the race before a flat tire sent him spinning out of contention. Both racers had nothing but positive things to say about the fuel-injected engine.
"This engine . . . amazing!" exclaimed Spies. "I had so much torque, and torque is very important on a track like Phakisa. I could run down and pass anybody coming off the corners. The engine is really, really strong."
For Spies he never planned on racing the Schwanke engine but circumstances led him and his team down the EFI path. A catostrophicfailure of his traditional carbureted motor in practice sidelined his primary car the day before the race. Rather than installing the backup engine, he was able to negotiate a deal to buy Dustin Dudley's Schwanke-powered car.
His first opportunity to drive the car was at 11 a.m. on the Saturday before the race. With the rev limiter set to 7,000 rpm, Spies was clicking off lap times under 38 seconds with a best of 37.8 seconds, good enough for third fastest on the practice chart.
"I can't tell you how great this engine drives. I love it," said Spies. The whole story surrounding the South African's experience was something that engine builder Schwanke loves to recount.
"Putting a car together in three days, shipping across the world, putting 25 laps on it before selling to Johann and having him finish Fifth-that's a Hail Mary pass there," said Schwanke. "I couldn't have scripted it better."
For his part, Richardson agreed with Spies on the motor's prowess. "The fuel-injected engine is definitely the way to go in the future. I was very happy with the way it performed and the power did not drop away," he said. "They are a lot more economical so there are less pit stops because we are burning less fuel. We were leading the race before the caution on lap 179. Because of debris on the track, I was unfortunate to pick up the debris and on the restart we got a left flat tire, which put us in a spin and it was game over. At that time in the race, we were lapping quicker than anybody else and this shows how strong these engines are."
Schwanke seemed most proud of the motor's fuel consumption, or lack there of. "Our fuel economy was just under seven laps per gallon, which is about 40-50 percent better than the carburetor counterparts, so we are happy with that. Matter of fact, Ron Barfield Sr. had a pretty big smile on his face. [He was] about ready to skip a fuel stop there, then Richardson lost a left rear tire and that was the end of his day."
A 40-50 percent savings in fuel translates into a 40-50 percent savings in money. And with today's economy, every racer can appreciate how saving money can impact their racing activities.
Schwanke's engine also offers the racer a high degree of protection. The motor has an overheat protection shut down system built into the programing. If the engine gets up to 242 degrees of water temperature, it starts randomly shutting down cylinders. Now the motor won't quit, nor will it stop, it just loses power and slows down.
In addition to the overheating protection there is a low oil pressure system safety as well. If the motor's oil pressure drops below 19 pounds of pressure it shuts the fuel pump off. "That is another feature that is on a production vehicle that you drive everyday," smiled Schwanke. Those two features alone can save a racer from blowing an engine and loosing a serious amount of money.
When not racing on asphalt, Spies races a Dirt Late Model that looks and performs remarkab
The ASATS Engine can be the solution to make stock car racing relevant once again. "There are 110 part numbers used to build the 525 package, 48 of them are production GM numbers that you can go to your local dealership and order the parts, which is pretty much unheard of in racing today," Schwanke explained. "What I'm trying to incorporate is economics. We have 12 dealers across the United States that we trained here in Minnesota to build these engines and work the program."
At the heart of bringing the Schwanke engine to South Africa was a goal to demonstrate that our industry needs to incorporate OEM technology into racing for the betterment of the sport. Everything from better fuel mileage to the environment as a whole would benefit from this type of package.
The reason it hasn't, according to Schwanke, is resistance from the racing community. But that seems to be changing. What the ASA was able to accomplish in South Africa proves that current OEM technology can be successfully built into a competitive race car.
"Not many people know this but Phakisa Freeway is located at over 3,000 feet of elevation, and we didn't have traditional race gas for the event. Everybody used aviation fuel," explained Schwanke. "Our engines didn't need any adjustment since the mass airflow sensor (MAF) automatically took care of adjusting the air/fuel mixture to the altitude. In a nutshell, these EFI packages allow competitors to go anywhere and everywhere to race regardless of altitude or fuel supply and without spending hours on end tuning their engines."
The EFI motor is truly a versatile powerplant, that is quickly gaining acceptance in international racing circles. Schwanke reports that a racer from Capetown who routinely competes against Spies on dirt has purchased two engines to run in his Dirt Late Model, a car and series that closely mirror DLM racing in the states.
Schwanke is also continuing development of these engines for a number of different series, including a 410 Sprint Car package running on methanol. The cost of that motor is less than $20,000 and it includes a radiator!
"We can take the LS3 platform engine and make packages ranging in power from 525 horses to more than 750 hp. It's truly a wonderful platform to use for race engines."
Schwanke envisions more advancements for this engine, one of which is drive-by-wire technology. Drive-by-wire essentially eliminates such things as a stuck throttle cable. Beyond proving its mettle in the FreeState 500, Schwanke says he has more than 500 of these types of engines in service in 14 different series of racing-from road racing to experimental aircrafts. The trip to South Africa was beneficial for Schwanke as he has established new relationships and is currently working with car owners in the U.S. to ship more cars to South Africa for its new ASA National African SuperSeries.
"The great thing about our event in the Republic of South Africa was that we were able to start with a clean slate. We had the opportunity to try new things like Schwanke's fuel-injected engine and Five Star Race Car Bodies' composite body," Huth said. "With us having that clean slate, we are able to produce a product that is cost effective to the race team, which allows more people to participate and be competitive. Grassroots racing, that is on the local, regional, and national level, needs to be heading in this direction for racing to survive."
While Huth, Schwanke, and Lemke have worked hard to develop a competitive and cost effective package using EFI, it was the on-track performance of Spies and Richardson that prove EFI not only works but can effectively compete. It won't be long before we see these engines racing and winning stateside.