NASCAR Vice President Steve O’Donnell made a statement at Iowa Speedway last month that the sport will make an announcement soon about their plans to reduce horsepower in the Cup Series. As the details have been hashed out, the engine builders for all manufacturers have been involved in the process, ensuring the final solutions work for all major sides. Frontstretch took some time at Talladega this past weekend to sit down with Doug Yates from Roush Yates Racing Engines to hear what he could share about what’s coming.
Yates has been building engines for the Cup Series and many other forms of motorsports since he was a child. He is now the head wrench at Roush Yates Engines, which builds powerplants for NASCAR, IMSA, dirt Sprint Cars and Late Models, asphalt Late Models and many other forms of local racing. He knows as much about the Electronic Fuel Injection systems and how to make horsepower as any person in the sport. He enlightens us on everything that has been discussed and how, in the end NASCAR’s goal is about reducing the amount of air that gets into the engine, cutting speed and hopefully improving competition.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch.com: How are things going in the Roush Yates Engine world so far in 2014?
Doug Yates: We have had a great start to the year. The Penske cars have especially qualified very well with this new format. The new rule changes for the cars have been really good. Joey Logano has won two races so far and Richmond last Saturday night was one of the most exciting races I think I’ve seen in a long time. Brad Keselowski won at Vegas and Carl Edwards won at Bristol so, through nine races I think we’ve had a really good start on the Cup side and Brad won the Nationwide race at Vegas as well. On the IMSA side, we are off to a really good start with our EcoBoost program and Chip Ganassi’s team. We’ve won the last two and they are out at Laguna this weekend trying to go for three in a row.
Unfortunately for Yates and Ganassi, the EcoBoost ride finished third at Laguna Seca this past weekend.
Neff: How does that work when you have someone like Ganassi who is a Chevrolet team in the Cup Series but races a Ford in IMSA? Is there any crossover technology that you worry about them observing and taking back to the Chevy camp?
Yates: It all starts with Ford Motor Company. It is their initiative to run a production-based technology and they work very closely with Chip and his guys. Our role is to provide the engines and do a great job for them. I actually saw Chip yesterday and he gave me a hug, so we must be doing a pretty good job for them. That can turn on you in a heartbeat but they have a great team, and have for a long time. Roush Yates and Ford are just proud to be a part of their IMSA program today.
Neff: A little bit about EFI. We are three years into the deal. The first year, we worked out the bugs. The second year, we fine-tuned it a little bit. What are we doing with it now that we’re in the third year?
Yates: It keeps progressing. It has been a great change for the sport, in my opinion. It has brought new technology and new people who are interested in our sport that never were before. What you can do with the data is probably the biggest thing. Really understanding what happens to the engines at specific tracks. Taking that and trying to fine-tune it to a higher level is progressing. Year one was get through and make sure nothing fell off of the car and year two, we advanced the technology. This year, we are continuing to do that. Bringing that technology back to the shops with the goal of being able to reproduce what happens on the track at our shops and on our dynomometers. Continuing to advance the engines and the engine mapping. I didn’t know how far it could go, being so new to NASCAR, but it continues to impress and advance every year.
Neff: The latest buzzword in the garage is horsepower reduction. Is NASCARworking closely with you and the other engine builders, in these discussions, as this process has come about?
Yates: Absolutely. NASCAR has had more engagement with the engine building community than they ever have before. We’ve had five meetings now and Gene Stefanyshyn has done a great job leading those meetings. At first, it was a little bit of going through a process to get everyone to talk and open up. Our lives are about competition so those meetings, at first, were a bit of “I can outdo you on this.” Everybody has now settled in to try and achieve Brian France and NASCAR’s two initiatives of trying to improve racing through a reduction of horsepower and to try and figure out how to save some cost for the teams. Those initiatives are both challenging. Everyone has their opinion on whether less power will lead to better racing. I don’t think anyone really knows but NASCAR has some strong evidence and belief that it will be better so we are on board with that. Then, the question becomes how do you do that and save money? Anytime you change something you have to obsolete parts and start over. It is a delicate balance. The engine builders, at first, were all about tearing it all up and starting over to get to reduced power. What we realized really fast was going to less cubic inches or something of that magnitude throws a lot of parts away. It is a delicate balance to achieve both of those goals.NASCAR is doing a good job of listening to us but in the end, they’ll have to use their wisdom and make the final decision to do what is right for the sport.
Neff: You are an engine guy. It seems very counter-intuitive to your nature to get on board with giving up horsepower.
Yates: I’m a big fan of restrictor plate racing. I’ve always been a fan of it. The reason I like it is because, at the end of the day, it is competition. We want to make more power but, ultimately, we want to beat our competitors. When we go to Daytona or Talladega and you qualify, especially single car, that is a real measure of where you stack up. That gets us excited and gets me excited. Racing is about relative difference in speed and as long as there is racing, no matter how much power we can generate, we’ll figure out a way to win.
Neff: What are some of the things they are talking about doing to reduce the horsepower? Is cubic engines still on the table?
Yates: We went down that path to start with but we realized quickly that would result in obsoleting a lot of parts, especially the crankshafts. You would do it, not throwing the blocks away, but reducing the stroke. Cranks are very expensive and have a very long lead time. Yes, they are consumables, but you don’t throw them all away at once. So where we are today is reducing RPM, talking about taking 500 RPMaway. Effectively, that reduces speed on the racetrack and goes along with making the parts last longer. Talking about roller cams. The Cup series is the only series that has a flat tappet cam. It is a really hard application and it is probably the only series in the world that has a flat tappet cam. It gets it more like Nationwide and Truck so the parts could be passed down and they would last longer. If we need to reduce power more, we’d do it through a reduced throttle body size, reducing the air flow through the throttle body. Those are the mechanisms that will be utilized to reduce power.
Neff: With the throttle body being tied in to the EFI system, is it possible to useEFI settings to reduce power or does that open a big can of worms if you monkey with those settings?
Yates: At the end of the day, the way you control power is through reducing airflow to the engine. It is an air pump and the more air you give it, the more power you can make with it. If you reduce the airflow, just like we do at Daytona and Talladega through a restrictor plate, that is a way to get there. Somewhat controversial but, through the years, like when Bobby Allison went into the fence here in 1987, that was with an 830 carburetor. The first thing they did was make them go to a 390 carburetor at plate tracks, so it isn’t unprecedented. That reduced the air flow and that was the first step in going to the restrictor plates. It isn’t really that big of a deal; it is just a matter of what size throttle body do you want to start with?
Neff: Is there any discussion of reducing the cowl openings to reduce the amount of air that would get into the engine?
Yates: That has not come up in our discussions at all.
Neff: People have asked about this question before, since restrictor plates were a band-aid in 1987 and we’re almost 30 years down the road and still using them. Is there any way the EFI system could be adjusted to cap horsepower?
Yates: Fuel, air and spark are the big drivers. Fundamentally, they have to do it through the airflow side of the engine. Formula 1 doesn’t let you add fuel during the race, so that is one way to accomplish it. But what does that do for your competition? I think a gas man is a critical part of the pit stop and the way we do things here. We have to do something that is good for the whole series. That is where guys like John Darby come in and provide a lot of value. There are people who can spend a lot of money and there are guys who can’t. You have to balance that competition. You also have to make it where anyone can come race. This isn’t a franchise market because that is how NASCAR has it designed. You want to make sure you are controlling the costs so it doesn’t turn into Formula 1.
Neff: As this develops and we end up heading down whatever avenue we go down, Roush Yates Engines is in a myriad of different racing disciplines. Will some of the technology from the other disciplines that you are involved in help you out to make whatever changes you need to make on the Cup side?
Yates: Absolutely. It has already helped us in some decision making. We build a lot of big cubic inch dirt Late Model and off-road truck engines. It gives you a well-rounded experience of what cubic inches mean, what the power curve can look like at 358 or 302 or 436. The thing I’m really excited about today that we are working on is a direct injection program with the EcoBoost engine. Those kinds of technologies are inevitable to come into our sport in the future. How it relates to next year, sure, there are some things. How it relates to things five to ten years down the road is probably a bigger, more relevant piece for Roush Yates.
Neff: You mentioned limiting RPMs. Are they looking at rev limiters or the overall design of the engine?
Yates: They are looking at doing it through gear ratios. We crossed that bridge years ago when we decided to limit the RPMs and they did it with the final drive ratio. It was a really good way to do it. If the engine will achieve more RPM because it is making more power or the driver gets off of the corner better and he achieves moreRPM, then so be it. I think the final drive ratio is a good, easy-to-police way to get there. That is the adjustment they’ll make. They do the same thing today in Nationwide and Trucks based on the RPM range they want to run. That has been a good, effective way to run.
Yates has continued to fine-tune his engine operation in conjunction with Jack Roush and Ford Motor Company over the years. The continuing race for horsepower feeds his passion for the sport and keeps him coming to the racetrack every week. WhateverNASCAR decides to do to reduce the power and speed of the cars, Yates and his army of engineers will be sharpening their pencils and computers, milking every ounce of power they can. One thing is for sure: Yates power puts winners in Victory Lane every week of the racing season, with Greg Biffle coming up just short at Talladega (second place). Yates’ knowledge permeates an organization that squeezes every ounce of speed out of the metal and rubber that makes up an internal combustion engine.