Montreal last summer was warm and sunny for NASCAR racers…this time around, though, it was rain—and rain tires!? (Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Horsepower, horsepower, who’s got the horsepower?
Lee White, the Toyota racing boss, says his teams are getting a raw deal from NASCAR with that horsepower-cutting engine rules change 10 days ago, and he castigates NASCAR for making the change and he rips Chevrolet for pushing for the new rule.
However GM’s Pat Suhy says White “doth protest too much,” and Suhy says Toyota, even after the change, still has more horsepower.
And Suhy says he suspects Toyota ‘fudged’ on that Chicago engine dyno, downplaying just how big an engine edge Toyota does have.
Suhy, Chevrolet’s group manager for NASCAR, says facts are facts, and Toyota has indeed had more horsepower to work with the past year and a half in NASCAR’s Nationwide series. And Suhy says even with the new rule Toyota still has about a five horsepower edge over Chevrolet on that tour….so he will be anxious to see what happens next week when the NASCAR tour hits Michigan International Speedway.
Now is this really the way to finish a race? How much money would you pay for a ticket to this? NASCAR is on a roll….but the wrong way.
(Ron Fellows, driver of the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet sits in line during a red flag delay at the NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200 Montreal presented by Dodge on August 2, 2008 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.) (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Of course, with $4 a gallon gas, maybe Daytona and Detroit should be looking at miles per gallon as much as miles per hour.
Suhy says he and his men are ready for the ecological challenge…though Suhy says ‘alternative fuels’ may be the better way to look at the issue.
“There are some racing series that ration fuel….But, hey, think about the performance of a NASCAR engine – making 700 horsepower and still getting five miles per gallon….compared to street cars that make 400 horsepower and get only 10 mpg,” Suhy says. “Consider that, we do pretty good in NASCAR.
“Rather than looking at miles per gallon, we’re looking at alternative fuels for racing, how to do alternative fuel. Like ethanol.
“So instead of mpg, let’s look at it from another perspective – how can we impact how much oil we use?
“For the Indy 500 we had an E-85 engine Corvette as the pace car, for example.”
(And so why a regular gas-guzzling Corvette for the Brickyard 400?)
NASCAR may need a much better rainy-day game plan than it had at Montreal. NASCAR teams still don’t know how to race in the rain, and it shows. (A member of the Fastenal Dodge team prepares rain tires during the NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200 Montreal presented by Dodge on August 2, 2008 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.) (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images for NASCAR)
GM, particularly high exec Brent Dewar, has been pushing E-85 passenger vehicles—85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline – for several years
Now Suhy says GM is ready to put E-85 engines in its NASCAR stockers, whenever the Daytona-Charlotte sanctioning body gives the okay.
Indeed, NASCAR executives has long dodged the question of why does NASCAR keep letting the manufacturers improve engine designs and create more horsepower, when the sport – and its fans – might be better served with engines with less horsepower.
“Do people want to see drivers going into the turn at Indy at 210 mph or 180 mph? “ Suhy asks rhetorically—to make the point that racing side-by-side at slower corner speeds would make for a better show for the fans.
Jacques Villeneuve, in a Toyota, returns to NASCAR action in Montreal…but can he make it stick on the other side of the border (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
NASCAR and Detroit did study new, smaller, lower-horsepower engines a few years ago, but after extensive study and discussion, the project was shelved.
“When we were all discussing ‘the engine of the future’ a few years ago, we were looking at 600 horsepower engines, with fewer cubic inches,” Suhy says.
“They wound up putting it on the shelf, saying ‘We have it, if we ever need it.’”
Engine legend Robert Yates started pushing NASCAR for smaller, less powerful engines back in 1994, but the sanctioning body has ignored the issue generally.
Now Suhy says GM is offering a different tack: “We have been developing an E-85 NASCAR Cup racing engine, which we plan to share with NASCAR. We’ve been racing that in our Corvette this year.
“There is an issue of materials-compatibility, rubber seals and aluminum parts in the carburetor (because ethanol is somewhat corrosive). But we make E-85 engines of every variety for the street, so our guys know how to make it work.
“There would be issues to study, like we did when we went to unleaded fuel – looking at valve seats and lower end bearings.
“But we think we can put a package together that would be as durable as the current NASCAR engine.”
And Suhy says an E-85 changeover could be implemented very quickly in NASCAR, if the go-ahead were given: “We’re confident it’s something we could do in fairly short-order. Maybe not in four-to-six weeks, but probably 12 weeks, or half-a-year turnaround time.”
That might be an excellent PR move for the sport.
The beautiful Montreal skyline, as Toyota’s David Reutimann leads Chevrolet’s Ron Hornaday Jr. during practice for Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide race (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
However the current issue under debate is the Toyota engine, which in its Nationwide configuration, is flat kicking butt.
The line has been that, because Toyota has more horsepower, its teams can put more downforce in the Toyotas stockers to help them go into the corners better.
Toyota’s horsepower tends to come at higher RPM, at the end of the straights, while NASCAR Chevrolet teams have traditionally pushed hard to get engine power at low RPM for more punch up off the corners. In fact last year Toyota men were criticized, lampooned even, for going the wrong way on their RPM curve engine design, when Toyota teams appeared so far off the pace.
But this year Toyota’s smarts are evident – the car-of-tomorrow this season has maybe only half the downforce of last year’s big-track stockers, so any little extra bit of downforce into the corners is a big boost.
He who laughs last….
“When you have more horsepower you can make those tradeoffs,” Suhy says. “If you can go through the turns better because you’ve got more horsepower, then you can afford to give up speed on the straightaways (downforce helps in the corners, but it becomes speed-cutting drag on the straights). That gives you an edge over the guys (with less horsepower) who have flare their fenders in (to cut straightaway drag) just to keep up on the straights, because they can’t go into the turns as fast.
“Fundamentally we knew we were behind with our SB2 engine (a 10-year-old design) against their stuff…that we would be down on horsepower. Not that we were behind but that the rules that made us run the SB2 (instead of the much newer R07 engine) kept us behind.
“And we suffered the same last year too—but the difference this year is now Toyota has some great teams and drivers.”
That is Joe Gibbs’ bunch: Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, and crew chief Dave Rogers.
And going into Saturday’s Montreal race (where Chevrolet teams were favored) Toyota teams had won 15 of the Nationwide tour’s 22 events.
“So we’ve been lobbying NASCAR for the better part of a year to let us run our R07 engine in Nationwide, so that architecturally we would be on the same playing ground as Toyota,” Suhy says.
If NASCAR executives are bailing out of their Mexico City venture, after just four years, why should anyone take NASCAR’s international ‘push’ seriously? Jacques Villeneuve, here, would like to know (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
After increasing complaints about Toyota’s rampaging through all three NASCAR series this year, and after Toyota drivers swept four of the top five spots at Chicago three weeks ago, NASCAR took Chicago engines, about a dozen, after that race back to Charlotte for dyno tests. And a few days later NASCAR changed the Nationwide rules to cut Toyota engines by about 15 horsepower.
White insists the data from those tests are not nearly as conclusive as the rule might indicate.
Suhy, however, says that Toyota may have been fudging in the tests, in a sense. “Looking at those dyno tests—and look at the ‘average’ horsepower (under the RPM-increase-over-time curve), rather that peaks, because you race ‘average,’ not peak – the best was David Reutimann’s (he finished fifth in the 300), the second best was (winner) Kyle Busch,” Suhy says.
“And when Kyle did his victory burnout, well, we know that burnouts are a good way to kill horsepower. So the number he ran (on the dyno), well, he was probably really better than Reutimann.
“And Tony Stewart (who finished ninth in Chicago) either missed a shift or over-revved in that race.
“So on the race track we feel Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart had the best engines….but we’ll never know for sure.
“But based on the tests themselves, Chevrolet was third-best. We were 20 horsepower off the Toyotas across the power-band.
“And we’ve seen the new rule as cutting horsepower from 12 to 16….so Toyota should still have an advantage.
“I don’t know if we’ll see it on the Montreal road course, because so many other things go into effect on a road course. But I think we’ll see its effect clearly at Michigan next week.”
Rainy rooster-tails cover the Montreal field as Ford’s Marcos Ambrose (#59 STP) takes the lead from Scott Pruett on the restart after a rain delay during Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide 200 in Montreal at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. But it’s unfair for NASCAR to put underbudgeted Nationwide teams under such a financial gun as having to race in the rain. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images for NASCAR)
White says, because of this rules change, NASCAR should now mandate that Chevrolet run its R07 on the Nationwide series.
Suhy says “That’s fine with us.”
So the next move in this mini-drama is up to NASCAR.
A complicating factor – Ford and Dodge.
Ford’s Jack Roush has been reluctant to push a new engine, given the financial difficulties in Detroit and the expense involved from $8 million to $12-million-plus.
However Dodge already has a new generation NASCAR engine, though Dodge teams haven’t done much with it, surprisingly.
Roush and Doug Yates have been designing a new Ford NASCAR, based loosely on the Toyota design, and it should be submitted soon. NASCAR executives have been pushing Roush to get the new engine out for review.
However, it appears Roush is not only disinclined to push hard for a new Cup engine, he’s also less than enthusiastic about a new Nationwide engine either…of course Carl Edwards has been doing quite nicely with the old motor.
A real world champion, Jacques Villeneuve wants to make the transition to NASCAR…but so far it’s been a fitful journey. So why? Is it time for NASCAR racing bosses to get in gear on this project, or are they going to bail on Montreal just as they bailed on Mexico City? (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
And Dodge? It had the sport’s state-of-the-art motor when it came into NASCAR in 2001 (so much so that NASCAR had to change the rules and take away its cylinder advantage). This season Dodge teams have had yet another brand new engine to work with, and it’s been baffling why Dodge teams have been so slow, reluctant even, to put that new engine on the track.
“That first Dodge engine was 45 years newer in design than our small block Chevy,” Suhy said. “That new Dodge set the new standard, actually defined the box you wanted to be in.
“So I don’t think Dodge’s new engine is going to be that much of an improvement as the R07 was compared to our SB2.”
However a new Dodge engine is certainly not a step backwards either.
Agree? Disagree? Don’t just brood. Express yourself here, and make your voice heard clearly in NASCAR headquarters in Daytona and Charlotte and in NASCAR race shops throughout North Carolina and the rest of the country.
We want your reaction, so please comment on this story and offer your own opinions and insight, on this topic, on our NASCAR videos, and anything about NASCAR. Any questions, just ask Mike at [email protected]. And bookmark this page for continually updated NASCAR reports: https://independenttribune.net/index.php/sports/mulhern/
Richard Childress, who just donated $5 million to help launch a new medical program at Wake Forest University’s Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem NC, watches practice for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway. But was Childress the triggerman for NASCAR’s new rule cutting Toyota horsepower? (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)