Inside the Sprint Cup move toward fuel injection

[Editor's note: we welcome in Marbles contributor Carol Fitzgerald to discuss some tech business. --JB]

It’s well-documented that the Sprint Cup series is planning a switch to fuel injection in 2012. What’s becoming clearer now is who the players will be, and how they might bring NASCAR even more into the 21st century.

In February, NASCAR chose Freescale Semiconductor, of Motorola lineage, and McLaren Electronic Systems, which has deep roots in Formula One, to come up with the new fuel injection systems. At the time, Robin Pemberton and representatives from the companies did a rather lengthy press conference to announce the deal, which you can see in full here.

McLaren will be making the Engine Control Units (ECU’s) which will drive the fuel injection, and Freescale will be providing the electronic brains to run them. McLaren engine control units have had Freescale technology at their hearts since 2000. Freescale is the largest U.S.-based producer of automotive electronics.

So what does this mean at the fan level? For those who would like to see NASCAR go greener, it means the engines will burn all the fuel they’re handed without releasing any of that dreaded carbon dioxide. For those who would like to see NASCAR running actual "stock cars," this is one step closer to what you see on the showroom floor. For those who are concerned about cheating, these systems will be tamper-proof.

Really. Every good gearhead knows that you can buy a programmable chip for your own muscle car and change your power-curve on the fly. So what’s to keep teams from changing the programming in their new ECU’s? Just this: the chips will know. Any alteration will leave an electronic "fingerprint": not something you can lift with flour and Scotch tape, but something NASCAR officials will be able to detect. Even supposing any team could get close enough to their cars with the device that changes the program, they won’t be able to hide it.

What kind of fuel injection will these cars run? Bootie Barker opined on Nascar Performance that the most likely jumping-off point would be throttle-body, a.k.a. single-point injection, and I’d say he’s got a good point. This basically takes the place of the carburetor so you don’t have to do much modification to the rest of the engine. One would like to see them go eventually to one injector per cylinder, but we shall see.

Meanwhile, McLaren officials believe this is only the start of new electronics in NASCAR. Tire pressure monitoring, on-the-fly suspension adjustment, automatic braking … the possibilities are practically endless. What electronic modifications would you like to see in the next generation of NASCAR? Air bags? Automatic drink dispensers? Have your say in the comments.

Inside the Sprint Cup move toward fuel injection

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