Wednesday, August 3, 2022


Engine 2021: knock knock?

Me: Who's there?

Engine 2021: Your connecting rods!

Me: %@#*! $#!^!!!!!

Some car jokes are funny. Automotive "knock knock" jokes are not... But if you're gonna race a heavily modified car it's a risk. Unfortunately, in this case I was caught between the intersection of Road Racing and Autocross... 

The engine had been newly built in 2020 to support 9250 rpm redline and use 14:1 compression, this had involved special valves, Ferrea roller rockers, lightened crank, Carillo rods, Cosworth pistons, and an externally driven oil pump system. This system was a half step between the traditional wet sump and a dry sump system. Basically it ran a pump off the crank that sucked oil out of the back of the pan which had had the drain plug replaced with an AN fitting. 

The engine was delivered in the spring of 2020... when covid was at its worst. During this period I was not very motivated because no racing was being held for the foreseeable future, and even when the first events were opening up I didn't want to attend because I and my wife have contact with vulnerable individuals. So, once things seemed to be turning around I got motivated again, but I had to go slow and be careful because the car had been apart so long. In the end I managed to get the car running again for 2 events at the end of the 2020 season. Both events turned out to be extremely tight, low speed courses. One so much so that my co-driver decided the course just wasn't fun and didn't bother with the last run.

These events showed that re-assembly went well and there were no major issues on that front, but also failed to really stress the car. It's possible that speeds on these two courses never exceeded 55mph. So when I put the car away at the end of 2020 it seemed like all was well. Unfortunately this was not true. 

The oiling solution had been supplied by Dynamic Racing Solutions who built the engine, and they claim they had used it successfully on two track cars. They are stand up folks who have a solid reputation on Lotus Talk forums, and field mid pack or better cars for professional TC Series races, so I don't doubt that this is true. But as road racers are often amusingly keen to point out autocross is not road racing. 

Road racing has hard stops no doubt, and they pull plenty of sideways G's too... but the transitions between those actions are smoother and less violent most of the time. Also road racers rarely hit the rev limiter or shift as soon as they do. Autocrossers do so regularly, and may ride the limiter, because we just don't have time to be shifting up and then back down unless there's a LOT of rev limiter. For anything less than about 1.5-2 seconds of rev limiter shifting is slower for autocross.

First event 2021 had a much more typical course. It was clockwise and the run through the small runway was mostly the type of sweeping transitions my car excels at. Because of my massive tires and big wing/splitter, after the initial slalom I found I was able to just keep the pedal down, and I touched the rev limiter just before the braking zone. I stabbed the brakes bled just enough speed and had an absolutely fabulous run through the sweeper onto the main run way, exiting hard on the gas. THIS was what I had built the car for and it took off like a rocket and quickly found the rev limiter again, this time for something close to the 2 seconds that would suggest maybe shifting is profitable. I managed appropriate braking for entering the slalom after the faster section...

Up until this point I was in Nirvana. Somehow I had more or less nailed the course so far on my first run and everything felt just GREAT. I can still remember that joy. It was that good. 

I entered the slalom with maybe just a tiny bit too much speed for the hard back side entry, but still basically it went well, and soon I went to add more speed... But then, the bottom fell out of my world. The car lagged and slowed rather than accelerated. I was momentarily confused. It felt like fuel starve, I wondered if I'd forgotten fuel. But soon it was clear something was wrong. 

I limped back to grid with the car actually threatening to stall on me at one point but then seeming to smooth out a bit about the time I got to the finish... I coasted back gently and talked it over with my co-driver. I decided to take it back to the trailer, hook up the computer and see what I could see. As I pulled out of my grid slot I heard a "clack clack clack" sound that I had never heard before. I quickly found it to be repeatable any time I pushed the engine to 2krpm, I quickly realized that it could pretty much only be one thing. I coasted up to the trailer ramp and shut it off. Friends helped me push it onto the trailer. 

My new engine had rod knock.

Data from the ECU showed that the clanking of the rods triggered the engine knock protection, and this very likely prevented me from throwing a rod through the side of the block entirely. If such a thing had happened on the exhaust side of the block, fire and total loss would have been possible. Hooray for good knock sensors and sensible ECU protection routines provided by Cohesion Motorsports!

The combination of working fine in slow courses, and failing bearings after hard brake / turn / accel / limiter pointed straight at the oiling system. Removing the pan I found that though 3/4 of the baffling had been retained there were some gaps where the 4th side had been removed probably allowing some oil to escape along the sides. Then I went back and watched one of my earlier videos and right at the end after the stop into the finish I heard a now way too familiar sound... 

Just a brief second of rod knock sound there and at low speed, probably nearly harmless as such aside from some minor wear acceleration, but a harbinger of the disaster to come. Not having heard it before I didn't recognize it in 2020. 

As described above, I would have broke hard and then accelerated to 9250 rpm immediately, so that knock would have arrived just as I got to around 8-9krpm... no good. A track car would have been turning, but usually waiting slightly before feeding in the power exiting a turn. Plus the track car would have had a shift point in there to bring the revs back down. What we call a sweeper in Autocross is a crazy sharp hairpin on a track. The oil would have sloshed forward, and then immediately leftwards with the motor working hard/fast to redline without oil and without pause.

My brand new race engine that only lasted for about 20 minutes... not funny at all.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Cone Dodgy Numbers

This post is not to be taken seriously. No seriously, I mean that. This post is where I attempt to guesstimate the results of my latest power improvements, and I will be venturing into the world of comparing results from different dynamometers and no such comparison should ever be trusted, but all too often it's the best we can do, so let me make some excuses, and then we can get on with the dubious number wrangling.

Click here to skip my rambling and just see the graph....


In theory the right way to upgrade a car's power is to do a several dyno pulls on dyno A before modification and then after modification calibrate and re-measure on the same dyno A. For further modifications, one would ideally have another before/after pull on Dyno A. Dyno B which is a different dyno altogether shan't be involved and dyno C is right out! 


I didn't do that. Not because it's a bad idea but due to a combination of time constraints, weather and cost. After all, dyno time is not free.
  • Weather: Modifications of major magnitude are often done in the winter, and the decision to proceed often coincides with the onset of cold weather. Once the snow is up, toting around the 20ft trailer becomes a lot less fun. The risk of loosing everything I worked on due to one ice patch or similar is daunting because I'm not maid out of money. 
  • Time: If I would decide earlier in the season this would be less of a problem, but when engines, or major portions thereof are being replaced and the first event is early April, and one pulls the trigger after Christmas, adding a trip to the dyno into the schedule is dubious, especially since the engine builder wanted some key parts off the original to get started.
  • Cost, well dyno time isn't free, but the time off to visit a dyno is potentially even more expensive, and as I said, I'm not made of money.
Ok them's my excuses and that's that. (Well yes it does boil down to Gus is cheap and he procrastinates... shhh!) 

Also in this case there was a necessary switch in dynos because the dyno from last time was down for service, so even though I stuck with my Emtron ECU and my tuner Nick, I had to take it to a different location. 

Funny Math

Even using the same machine, day to day atmospheric difference can cause some variation, but as a rule aside from what the operator might do inputing measured temps/humidity/pressure there's little one can do to ensure equality there so one just hopes that that source of error is not significant. 

Beyond that the different brand of dyno have different overall reading tendencies, much of which is fuzzy despite no end of internet discussions on the topic. Obviously, in the real world a given pull releases X amount of heat energy, and Y % of that winds up being used to accelerate the dynamometer. In theory they should all get the same result but in practice they don't, and the proprietary nature of their software and hardware is such that it's bad business for any Manufacturer to clarify how their numbers relate to this theoretical truth. All that any consumer grade dyno actually guarantees is consistency for runs on that dyno (assuming consistent atmospheric conditions of course). For tuning an engine that's what's really required, and so no shop is going to invest in a system calibrated to a real world standard. Only large OEM's have that kind of budget, and they "simplify" things by measuring the engine outside of the car anyway. ("Brake" horse power).

So in the portion of the world not working with multi-million dollar test labs, we have to wing it. 

The dynos in question are a Dynojet (last build) and a Dyno Dynamics (this build). What we do know from the internet, and from the claims of my tuner is that Dyno Dynamics is among the "heat breaker" dynos. The readings from these dynos tend to be lower than the much more common and nearly industry standard Dynojets. Both the Nick and the world wide web say something like 10-15% lower readings for the same car on a DynoDynamics vs a Dynojet, but that's a really really huge range. For a 190hp reading that's a range of 209 to 219, and for a build that is comming off of a 193 Dynojet reading that's a 60% difference in how much power was added, and saying a range always leads the conversation into hemming and hawing in an unsatisfying way, so I want to pick a number and have some basis for it that is is only partly insane.

Rather than using an internet post with little or no known basis in fact, I'm going to lean on my knowledge of what changes are being made to the car and derive a "possible" factor to convert the new dyno readings to the scale for the old dyno. 

Some Logic?

Things I know about the effects of the changes to the car that are relevant to this exercise include:
  1. The Compression ratio changed from 11.5:1 to 14.0:1, and according to this page, that's supposed to give a 5.7% increase in power. This is based in hard physics including the Ideal Gas Law (PV=nRT) etc. so, unless something else changes, it should be fairly predictable.
  2. The RPM limit is being raised to 9200, this means peak HP is not comparable and we can't use that number for scaling things, we should be using peak torque instead.
  3. The new roller-rocker setup deletes the variable lift function and ignores the lower cam. The lower cam is so named because it functions in the lower RPM's, typically below 6200. Any measurement below the cam switch point in the old build has both cam and compression changes to account for, so it's hard to predict the change under 6200 rpm.
  4. The cold air intake was increased from 2.75" to 3" and the throttle body from 65mm to 70mm, so the upper RPMs are likely benefiting from that change as well as the compression change 
So it sounds like there's nothing left, but that's not quite true. I *think* its reasonable to presume that the air intake is never limiting the developed torque until after the torque peak. Other factors could limit it first, but with the torque increasing, the air is not limiting, and thus below the torque peak and above the cam switch in the old tune is an area that  should be valid for comparison where only the compression change should be having an effect. Conveniently torque peaks are also frequently reported on dyno sheets. That conclusion of course relies on the assumption that the port/polish jobs and valve flow are similar, but I have no reason to suspect changes there. 

One thing I'm leaving out is the effect of the lighter pistons, and the lighter crank, which probably provide a slight gain beyond the 5.7% because less energy is stored as kinetic energy in the rotating assembly, but I would also expect the belt driven external oil pump to have a little more drag than the O.E.M. internal pump, so I'm going to guess that those are both small and mostly offsetting each other.

So that seems to imply that I can have a solid expectation based on a very inflexible bit of physics for the change at the old build's torque peak. The old torque peak was 142.1 ft/lbs at 6750 RPM (luckily this is solidly above the cam switch) and the expected result is 150.2 flt/bs at 6750 RPM. Since the new build's dyno graph reads 132.5 at 6750 RPM, this says that the scaling factor to convert from this particular Dyno Dynamics to that particular Dynojet is approximately (150.2 ÷ 132.5 = 1.134 a. k. a. 13.4% ) Thus the new torque peak of 134.6 ft/lbs @ 7000 rpm translates to a Dynojet number of 152.5 ft/lbs @ 7000 rpm. 

The Result

This result is nicely reassuring since the scaling factor is nicely within both my Tuner's claims range and the range of what you find on the internet. Overlaying the new chart on the old chart, lining up the axes and scaling things to match the above 13.4% factor gets me a comparison chart like this:

Factored comparison of dynamometer results. Note that MPH marked at RPM are only valid for a 4.8 final drive setup. The stock final drive is 4.5, so the 61mph top on the stock trace is more like 67mph in a stock vehicle. Thus I pack this power into a 7% smaller MPH range to begin with.

So the theory of this build was that the top end would gain power and revs, and the bottom end would experience competing effects with CR changes having positive effects and cam changes having negative effects. The hope was that these two would offset each other and lead to an overall faster car. 

I'd say it kinda, mostly worked. 
  • 0-4000 rpm we lack good data from the prior build but what is there suggests a definite loss, but this loss is only at launch and only poorly designed courses spend significant time under 30mph. It does seem likely that launch bogging will be a difficulty, but that is < 5% of the course...
  • 4000-5000 RPM has smoothed out substantially for a small net improvement which is interesting because my scouring the internet for dyno graphs led me to associate that shape with the PPE Engineering exhaust header I'm using. the fact it went away without changing the header is interesting.
  • 5000-6200 RPM has lost some oomph, to the tune of about 10 tq. This is sad, and I did notice it when driving. It's hard to say what impact this will have. 37 to 45 mph is a common acceleration range so this is a bit worrisome. I'll be pondering any ways to improve this. Moving down to a stage 2 cam might help since stage 3 tends to be a peak hp cam. 
  • 6200-9200 RPM shows gains are strong and clear and on par with expectations. My build lacks an ITB intake and is clearly running out of breath at the very top, but hits a dynojet corrected peak of around 216 whp, and the ITB setups built by DRS post 220 to 225 whp. I had dared to dream that the big bore throttle body and bigger intake might allow me to capture all of that, but that was just dreaming and I know it. I suspect I did get ~10 hp out of that switch in any case since the hp peak is still around 8k and the compression alone can only account for 205 of the 216 (dynojet) hp. The fall off is faster however so I wonder if the rising intake velocity isn't compressing the foam filter or something. The intake is sold for 400hp supercharged cars but something is up... since the torque peak moved but the hp peak didn't.
So the net result is that my car has become a bit more course dependent, where faster courses should be much better, and slow stuff hurts slightly more. At the end of 2019 I drove 2 courses where I was riding the (then 61mph) rev limiter for 8-10 seconds on a 50 second course, raising the limiter alone is likely worth a half to a full second on such courses, and the power gains in the upper range hopefully worth .25 or .5 on faster courses. I'm hoping I only gave up a tenth or so on launch and no more than 1-2 tenths in the mid range. The only two courses I managed to run in 2020 were both pretty much a worst case scenario with very little time over 50mph (same course designer). I look forward to some faster courses in 2021 to get a real look at what it can do. 

The positive side of that is that most national level courses are faster courses... so it will be at its best where it counts the most. 

So now it's time for you to shoot holes in my assumptions in the comments section if you can :)

Friday, September 11, 2020

The season that Never was: June-Sept

As June rolled around plans to re-start racing were afoot, but soon so was a second surge in COVID-19, and a lot of uncertainty. For most of June and early July I basically ignored my build. My life has me with just 1 degree of separation from some 95 and 100 year old people, and in contact with others that have reason to believe COVID-19 would be particularly hard for. So even if some folks were racing, I couldn't in good conscience go hang out with 50+ other people. 

By August things seemed to have remained stable at a low level in Massachusetts with just a few hundred cases state wide for a while. Additionally several races had been held by several clubs without any of them making the national news cycle as super-spreader events. Thus I began to have some hope that racing could be done safely. I started to work towards getting things put back together. Back in April, I had had a mix-up with ordering heater hoses, and that had to be resolved, which since it involves a lotus parts order took several weeks. Also I had to figure out how to get the harmonic balancer installed. This was complicated somewhat by the extra gear pasted on the front of it to drive the new oil pump. 

The fitment was just a little too tight for me to feel comfortable pushing it on by hand, even though that was supposedly how it was supposed to go. For whatever reason it felt sticky and I *just know* that if I pushed it I'd probably give it uneven pressure and cause it to dig in and gall things up. It was one of those cases where I had that all too familiar feeling that I was about to ignore my instincts and then immediately regret it (much like that feeling when the torque wrench isn't beeping, but the nut feels like its going to strip... and you trust the wrench only to later realize it was set to ft. lbs not Nm... yeah...). So I took a deep breath and... stopped before I screwed it up. 

Of course, the crank has a M12 1.25 mm fine threaded bolt, which is a size that exists in exactly NONE of the harmonic balancer installation tool kits out there. In the end I made my own ordering threaded rod, nuts, washers and a bearing from McMaster Car

Clearly not a solution for tight spaces, but when the engine is dangling from a crane, it works just fine. With this and a just a fine skimmer of light oil, it went right on with no fuss. Then I discovered the bolt that had been sent with it was 8.8... and factory torque says 120Nm... nope. So order a better bolt from Belmetric. 

And somewhere along the line the aluminum underdrive pulley for the alternator had gotten dinged, and had to be replaced... but the alternator nut and hex drive shaft proved a challenge. I wound up ordering a Schwaben 22mm offset open end wrench allegedly specifically designed for alternator nuts. Simple, right? A wrench is a wrench, right? But when it arrived it didn't actually fit! It was 22mm per my calipers, the nut was 22mm per the same calipers, but the corners in the wrench were slightly too rounded... Really Schwaben? you only had one job to do here... only one thing to get right that actually mattered.... (No link for you!)  So since I'd been going through a parade of deliveries, loosing 1-4 days each time I took a file to it and "Made it fit damnit!"... and that worked just fine as, if only as a 6 point rather than 12 point. 


So at that point my heater hose finally arrived, and suddenly there was nothing blocking any re-assembly of the front of the car, and also I installed the new Stack Oil pressure gauge, and unblocked the re-assembly of the interior... The number of pieces of my car in the garage was now back ahead of the number in my basement!

Visible Progress! In the forward direction no less!... but then... I found a reason to take the intake manifold off the engine...  That's the subject of the next post... 

Monday, September 7, 2020

The Season that Never Was: Feb - May

In addition to its other more horrific effects, the pandemic also makes for really boring racing blogs. This year was originally supposed to be THE year. as in THE YEAR.... I finally went all in, got the built motor I've wanted for this car since about 2012 .... 
  • Brand new OEM block (finally ditching the one my former mechanic nearly destroyed)
  • 14:1 Cosworth pistons
  • Carillo rods
  • Custom DRS spec Supertech valves
  • Supertech springs
  • Supertech Ti Retainers
  • Micropolished timing gears
  • ARP head/main bolts
  • Daily Engineering external wet sump oil pump
  • Ferrea roller rockers
  • Piper Stage 3 cams (retained from previous)
  • built by Dynamic Racing Solutions a shop with a strong history of successful high RPM normally aspirated 2zz race motors.
This should be sufficient to allow my car to run at 9200 rpm safely, restoring (and slightly enhancing) the top speed in 2nd gear which had been lost with the move to a 4.8 final drive.

It arrived in early February, seemingly with enough time to swap it in and get it tuned. By Mid-March it was clear that the realities of the world at large were going to completely prevent racing for the near term. All events were canceled until further notice. This was a real downer, and I found myself unmotivated to continue for a while. By May things were still in a state shown in this video my wife shot:

Things in progress at the time were:  
  1. Swap in full race motor built by DRS Motorsport
  2. Refresh as many coolant hoses as possible, including heater hoses
  3. Remove evaporator, dryer etc remnants of AC system
  4. Upgrade to all aluminum radiator
  5. Refresh the steering rack. (it had developed some clunking, usually a symptom of nylon bushings wearing out.
  6. Add Oil Pressure gauge
I've started making progress again, so in the next post I'll bring things up to date with the current state of affairs.