Tom Ghent, Roush Yates Engines'...
Tom Ghent, Roush Yates Engines' Development Manager, played a large role in the engine builder's decision to race with recycled oil. Here, he shows us an FR9 engine that has been torn down for inspection after racing with Valvoline's recycled oil.
It's probably a safe bet to say that most of us would like to be as environmentally friendly as possible. But the problem is that too often the "green" option requires sacrifices. Like paying a premium for so-called "green" cleaners that don't work nearly as well as the old stuff. Or a hybrid car that's so complex only your dealership can repair it--and they charge two times or more the rate your local garage does. And then there's the fact that marketing departments have caught on to the green movement and are slapping "environmentally friendly" labels on everything so it's impossible to tell what is actually better for the environment and what is simply marketing hype. Then there are the perceived sacrifices such as alternative fuels can't make more power than a good race gas or EFI is too complicated for circle track racing.
Well, here's a green idea that we think practically every race team will be able to get behind because it's actually good for old Mother Earth without requiring you to make sacrifices with either your wallet or your race team. We're talking about recycled motor oil.
Current Cup engines use pistons...
Current Cup engines use pistons with minimal skirt areas, so there isn't much space to spread out the load. Here, the skirt shows minimal wear after a Sunday's worth of racing.
At first, this may sound like a terrible idea. After all, you depend on your motor oil to protect one of the most valuable investments of any race team: the engine. While you may have already seen products like Valvoline's NextGen recycled conventional oil at your local auto parts store for street applications, racing as we all know is not like driving your car to the store. Racing puts an entirely new set of stresses on motor oil that it never sees in a street vehicle. The rpm levels are higher, the temperature levels are greater, the tolerances within the engines are tighter, and in order to free up additional horsepower the oils used have to have the absolute lowest viscosity possible.
But Valvoline recently made us sit up and take notice when it began working with Roush Yates Engines to develop a recycled oil suitable for racing. And this was no marketing gimmick, Roush Yates Engines actually used the oil in the FR9 race engines it supplied to Roush Fenway Racing in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series this past season. Now, if a race team is willing to use it when millions of dollars are on the line, we figure that it has to be legit.
Using recycled oil is definitely great for the environment. We're not talking about saving a quarter of a penny because you switched off the light before you left the room; we're talking about a real impact here. Some industry studies estimate that three billion quarts of motor oil are drained out of cars and trucks annually. Every quart of that which is recycled is oil that doesn't have to be sucked out of the ground.
The main bearings also look...
The main bearings also look good. Here, Ghent points to one spot on the bearing that we assume is where aeration in the oil allowed an air bubble to form. With racing oil, it's critical to have an oil that resists aeration, and only having one spot like this is a good sign.
On top of that, Valvoline's Dan Dodson says that the process for recycling oil uses a lot less energy than drilling for virgin crude and refining it into usable oil. "When you consider that for virgin oil you have to search for the deposits, drill and pump it out of the ground, ship it to the refinery, and then refine it, that's a lot of steps compared to recycling used oil." The other big advantage of recycled oil is that the raw materials, so to speak, are right here in this country. We don't have to deal with foreign nations that may not have the best relationship with the United States, and the cost of shipping is greatly reduced.
What actually goes on in the recycling process is something that Dodson, understandably, didn't want to give too much detail about. He did, however, tell us that it's much more involved than simply filtering the old oil and bottling it back up again.
Recycled oil must actually be re-refined. Dodson says that the oil particles themselves never wear out, but the additives that are included in practically every oil formulation often do. The major process in the re-refining of the oil is something called "hydrocracking," where hydrogen molecules are injected into the mixture which does something more chemically complex than we are prepared to write about. It's a whole level about just pouring a bunch of old oil through a strainer. After that, Dodson says the oil is broken down into its various base oils. Different bases are used for different products, and he says that only specific premium base oils are chosen for recycled racing oil. After that, the correct additive packages are blended back in--such as PTFE for racing (more commonly known as Teflon), among others--and then the oil is ready to go racing.
Tom Ghent is the Development Manager at Roush Yates Engines who worked with Dodson during the development process of Valvoline's NextGen racing oil.
Likewise, the rod bearings...
Likewise, the rod bearings also look good. There are obvious signs that these bearings have been in an engine that has been run hard, but Ghent says he sees nothing out of the ordinary that would make him worry.
"Valvoline approached us around April 2011 about possibly running a recycled racing oil," Ghent explains. "I wasn't too sure about it at first, but we have a great working relationship with Valvoline and they know what we need in our racing program so we told them we would be willing to look into it." Ghent says that he and the rest of the Roush Yates Engines crew were more than willing to leave the engineering of the actual product up to Valvoline since that is its expertise. RYE, on the other hand, was concerned only with how the oil performed in its racing engines.
"We did a lot of research validation," Ghent says of the process. "What the stuff was made of didn't concern us as much as how it compared with the oil we were using previously. We looked at both power and durability.
One of Roush Yates Engines'...
One of Roush Yates Engines' new FR9 race engines costs as much as a small house, so there is no doubt that only the highest quality oil will be used in it, no matter the cost. The fact that RYE is confident enough in a recycled oil formulation from Valvoline is a great sign that it will work well for Saturday-night racers as well.
One of the first things RYE did with the oil was put it through an AVL dyno durability test. An AVL dyno isn't just for straight power runs. It can be programmed to simulate the stresses an engine sees on the racetrack over time. So, for instance, it can replicate tracks from Martinsville to Talladega, mimicking not only the upper rpm limits reached at the end of the straights, but also the way the engine is loaded on turn exit. It can even replicate the driver spinning the wheels on a restart.
"After that we would tear the engine down and look at critical areas to see how well the oil was protecting the engine," Ghent says. "We'd look at the lifters, the camshaft, the piston skirts, the bearings and the cylinder wall wear just as a start. And I have to say, I was surprised at how well this oil did.
"Once it passed the AVL test," he continues. "Then we took it to a track test."
And after track testing, the engines were again torn down and inspected part by part to see how well they held up with the recycled oil. Besides simple friction protection, Ghent says that he also looked very closely at how well the oil held up in extreme circumstances.
"You don't want to test only under perfect conditions," he explains, "because you will rarely have that in racing. So during the dyno testing we would spike both the water and oil temps to see what would happen. You will get that during a race if for example you have a hot dog wrapper covering the grille, and you want confidence that the engine will live like that for a bit so you can wait for a caution. If you have to come in for a pit stop under green, that can ruin your whole day.
"So we actually tested this oil for short bursts up in the 300- to 320-degree Fahrenheit range. We don't like to run the oil that hot, but knowing you can if you have to for a few laps gives you a nice comfort zone. The recycled oil held up really well and was definitely no worse than the virgin racing oil we had been using."
After Ghent and the rest of Roush Yates Engines' staff had given the NextGen racing oil their stamp of approval, it was introduced in racing engines in actual competition for the NASCAR Nationwide Series first and then finally made its way into Cup competition beginning with the July event at Kentucky Speedway. With the exception of the Roush Fenway drivers that made the Chase for the Cup, the oil was run by practically every team powered by Roush Yates Engines after that.
Currently, the Valvoline NextGen oil used by Roush Yates Engines is a custom formulation made specifically for its needs. But it's a great example that a recycled motor oil can be successful in racing. And although as this went to press we hadn't been able to confirm it, we have heard that there will soon be options available for Saturday-night racers.
So, maybe the next time that Prius owner gets all smug with you about your race car, you can stick it to him and ask him how much oil he recycles?