The engine is in place and...
The engine is in place and ready for the testing to begin. The world gotits first look at a potential spec engine for NASCAR competition duringthe 2005 PRI show in Orlando - photo by Jeremy Davidson/NASCAR
In racing, the standards of tomorrow are created by the testing oftoday. No part gets into a manufacturer's catalog or onto a retailer'sshelf without going through some type of testing.
When a change comes about in the sport, the process that brings on thechange involves testing. At the PRI show in Orlando in December 2005,there was plenty of interest in an engine sitting on a stand in theNASCAR booth. The engine was a piece that could be destined for use inthe Grand National West and Busch East series if all goes well. At thepoint of the display, initial testing had been done, but there was moreto come.
The next phase of testing happened at USA International Speedway inLakeland, Florida, in mid-January. It was the same location as theprevious tests. There may have been some changes from the display engineto the track, but those changes were not obvious. Some parts may havebeen swapped to see if a certain manufacturer should be preferred overanother. After all, one goal of the test is to determine the menu ofbest parts for the competitor.
Wegner Automotive Research...
Wegner Automotive Research has played a key role in the development ofthe engine and was on hand at the test to make adjustments and try newcomponents as needed.
For the test mule, NASCAR reached out to Grizco Racing, the NorthCarolina-based team that finished First and Second in NASCAR Busch NorthSeries point standings last year. (Note: The Busch East Series is thenew name of the Busch North Series.) On the first day, veteran BradLeighton took the wheel for the laps around the 3/4-mile speedway. Onday two, the chore fell to series Rookie of the Year Sean Caisse.Defending series champion Andy Santerre, who will focus on a managementrole with the team in 2006, supervised the testing.
The engine had been developed by renowned engine builder Carl Wegner ofWegner Automotive Research, and Wegner's team was present to handle alladjustments. After having 17 percent humidity for the first day, thereality of Florida kicked in as the humidity was 80 percent on day two.Air temperature lingered in the mid-60s with the track temperaturestarting off at a cool 59 degrees. Weather readings were regularly takenthroughout the day.
After a period of adjustments, including spring changes and the earlydiscovery and replacement of a faulty brake rotor, the laps started tomount. The goal on this day was to run about 400 laps, which would beclose to 300 miles. That is well in excess of the ordeal these carstypically endure on a given weekend.
The Grizco car at speed at...
The Grizco car at speed at USA International Speedway in Lakeland,Florida. Sean Caisse is at the controls.
On hand to watch the test was NASCAR Busch East Director Lee Roy, whoexplained the idea behind the new engine. "Our objective is to developan engine that will keep a similar horsepower figure, lessen the rpm,and cost less than half of what the competitors are paying now for abuilt engine. Carl [Wegner] came up with a good package that hits thegoal on the cost. With effort to get a spec engine and the compositebody, we are taking two of the areas of largest cost and cutting them byhalf or more. We think that will help us keep the competitive nature ofthe series and help the series grow."
While the engine was the main attraction, the body was facing its owntest. Previously, these cars had steel bodies and body replacement was atime consuming and costly step for the teams. It was a necessary evilbecause many have sponsors who want their products to stand out, and itwon't happen on a battered body.
"We'll be getting these bodies from one manufacturer, who will have adistributor network. We know the teams were spending $10,000-$15,000 tohang a new body. The lesser teams were forced to buy bodies that hadbeen cut off other cars. The composite bodies are much more costeffective. They are pretty flexible and much easier to repair," saidRoy.
Roy said the Richard Petty Driving Experience had switched to thecomposite body and found substantial time and labor savings. The bodieswill be used for the Busch East and the Busch West series, but there's asmall concern. The rules are not exactly the same, as one series usescars with a 105-inch wheelbase and the other requires a 110-inchwheelbase. To accommodate this, the manufacturer will sell the bodieswithout the wheelwells cut out, leaving it to the teams. Fitment is notexpected to be an issue. The 105-inch car that was tested looked fine.
The car on pit road. This...
The car on pit road. This gives you a good look at the composite body,another innovation in the works for Grand National competitors in 2006.The body could save the teams time and money during the course of aseason.
While the body was facing its own perusal, the engine was getting plentyof fine-tuning. Squirters in the carburetor were changed after a fewlaps during the morning session. Near the end of the morning run, a newintake manifold was brought in for a trial by fire.
At the end of the testing, the car was transported back to NorthCarolina. The engine was removed and the time-consuming process of partsanalysis was set to begin.
Roy remarked that there was a growing interest in the Busch East Series,and the development of the engine and body could really spur thecontinued growth.
"From what we've seen, this engine holds up well," said Santerre. "Itruns very competitive lap times. For anybody new coming into the GrandNational division, they should be able to put this type of engine intheir car and know they're going to be competitive at the racetrack. Ifthis motor doesn't show any signs of fatigue after this test session, Ithink that's a great sign for the future of the spec engine."
The last day of testing included several long-distance runs, and the carshowed no obvious signs of reduced performance. The true test comes whenthe parts are removed and inspected. NASCAR officials will make adetermination on specific parts to be required in the engines, whichwill allow the engines to be built by anyone. A complete parts list wasexpected to be available a few weeks after the latest testing, with thepossibility of more testing down the road. There is no set timetablesince NASCAR wants to be certain of its engine before offering it tocompetitors.