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Eddie Corr on tuning for Top Fuel
Europe's first 300 mph run(s)
The 2001 car we used was known as CM004 (CM003 was a sh*t-box hire car which we prepared one winter but never actually campaigned). So basically during 2001 we got a handle on the car, that is understanding the basic balance between engine power and clutch. At first we just tried to get the car down the track, keep it in one piece, repeat the runs, and this we did. Additionally, in the middle of that year we had a non-Championship race in Germany but not with our regular driver Andy Carter. Car owner Rune Fjeld from Norway had cut a deal with fuel veteran Gordie Bonin to drive the car at Hockenheim's NitrOlympX. At first it had a splintering effect within the little team of Carter Motorsport. Why should we go to run the car for Rune to make money from a hire event, basically a demo or match race, when he doesn't have the decency to utilise our driver Andy!
Well we soon realised the reason why we should go ahead and do this. Under the pressure of competition I had never enjoyed the opportunity to actually experiment with the car, every run being critical to get down the track and keep toting up points for a possible Championship. OK it was our first year in the Championship and the consistency hat fitted us well and yielded great returns. We were comfortable with it and we were getting somewhere. However I relished the thought of learning a little more about actually tuning the car to go seriously fast, as opposed to just repeating runs which were reasonably fast.
So the team agreed to do Germany with the idea that we were tuning the car up for the European Finals. The Finals was as ever to be the season's last race, with typically good traction and weather, and where the Championship would be decided.
At that match race in Hockenheim, we'd made a baseline run in Q1, and then I recalled a little gem from Morgan Svensson back in 1997. A simple but correct concept; that an easy way to target a clutch performance improvement is to get the cannon to achieve a fixed position earlier in the run, even if the gradient thereafter is the same. So, adopting this philosophy, I set the car up for Q2 with a new clutch curve (moved the first two timers and changed the last jet, OK a small gradient change!) and the car ran its first ever sub 3.40-second eighth mile!
It worked. We'd gained a tenth at half track! However as is often the case with race cars, and especially so with nitro cars, you often take one step forwards and two back, well our NitrOlympX ended with a round one loss for us due to a fuel leak. Anyway, we had something in our back pocket for the European Finals, and in fact we did run well at the Finals, managing to repeat three elimination runs of 5.03, 5.03 and 5.01. This was on a tricky track which many couldn't get down at all, so we got our Championship win. Like I said the consistency hat fitted us well, but I'd had to play a safety margin at the finals to ensure I didn't beat myself and cost Andy the Championship. We'd run well, but again we had chosen to hold back from attempting any seriously fast runs, until the time was right.
So what constitutes "seriously fast" in European Top Fuel at the start of the noughties? Well either a four-second run, or a 300 mph run, preferably both! The four-second barrier had been broken in 1997, so that only left the 300! To give a little background to the 300 mph story, the “Race to 300” in Europe wasn't as well publicised as perhaps the race to the first four-second run, perhaps due to the difficulty of delivering a 300.
In 2002 we at Carter Motorsport didn't have the budget to do the whole Championship, so we focused on performance targets and a little personal glory, i.e. that first 300! We actually stuck our necks way out and put it on our web site that we would do it! So we could talk the talk alright, big deal...
We still had those clutch lessons from Germany 2001 in the back pocket. So when we found ourselves with good weather and a good track at the 2001 FIA Main Event, we'd waited eight months for this opportunity. I'd flown in from engineering WRC cars in Russia, tired but prepared; it was time to walk the walk.
We ran the Q1 session on Friday night and the numbers were as follow:
So what would you change for a 300 mph run? We were less than 3 mph away from it, and due to repeatability (or the lack of) a more timid man may just have run the car again in the same tune up, and it may have just picked up 3 mph due to run variance. But we wanted to guarantee it not hope for it! But how? Well, a quick look at the figures shows that the run is out of proportion, i.e. the terminal speed is a little high for the ET. Furthermore the incrementals for the first eighth are very lame. The times for 60, 330 and 660 feet are a little off par, and this is confirmed by the low speed at the 660 point. Bear in mind we had no logger on this car, and the European tracks are never as good as US tracks so it isn't that easy to just turn the screws up and make a car run 300. So the driver debrief was all important. And that man, Andy Carter, reported no tyre shake at all! So we knew we could push the car a little harder. We had achieved that 3.30 eighth in Hockenheim at 240 mph so clearly if we reinstated that type of clutch set-up, we should gain thirteen hundredths and just over 3 mph by half track. That 3 mph at half track should easily yield more than we needed at 1320 but what if it didn't? We would have lost one of those race chances to run seriously fast, so we decided to push the car even harder than in Germany.
Now, regarding engine power I set that using an arbitrary scale I devised to compare corrected engine power levels. It references ignition, blower, nitro percentage, compression ratio, air quality, etc. We had ran 9.9 as the general baseline setting in 2001, 11.6 in Hockenheim 2001 with the new clutch setting to produce the better eighth miles, and in fact had taken a step backwards from the baseline engine power level and clutch setting at the 2001 FIA European Finals in order to be certain of not beating ourselves in our first Championship battle.
In Q1 at the 2002 FIA Main Event we had returned to 11.6 engine power level, and had even more clutch than in Hockenheim, yet the eighth mile wasn't as good! Remember the world of competing effects?! Welcome back! More clutch or not we would need yet a further increase to achieve the same result, we were on a different track now. Hence the last clutch jet was increased yet again (the last jet offering the finest adjustment˜least effect, whilst conversely the first jet offers the coarse adjustment˜most effect). We also increased the engine power level to 12.6 for the second attempt. This is particularly important to note as the corrected altitude was against us in Q2, the air being approx three hundred ft worse than in Q1. Therefore for the same ignition, almost 3% more nitro was needed, a massive absolute change but a small relative change due to the air quality.
On the next run everything worked, we ran almost exactly the eighth mile target of 3.30, just like Hockenheim, and picked up those 3 mph at the eighth, plus another 3 mph making 6 mph, and kept them all the way to 1320! Therefore giving us a very firm 303 mph! We had done it! With no logger and with only a three-step air cylinder for ignition control, probably similar technology to when Dale Armstrong tuned Kenny Bernstein to the first 300 in the States.
But there is another little lesson in strategy here for all you budding Crew Chiefs; no matter how confident you are, no matter how happy you are, no matter how long you've planned a run, and when the conditions are then right for you to do that run, keep your cards close to your chest. There are a lot of wily old coyotes in the fuel pits and one of them might just make your run for you when they see you shaping up for it.
One such coyote was Rune Fjeld, owner of our hire car, who was running England's Barry Sheavills in the other car at that time. I was getting my weather info from Rune's weather station and because it wasn't raining, the track temperature was good, and the last weather reading was where I wanted it, I was over the moon. So over the moon in fact that I was running out of Rune's trailer when he caught me with "How are the conditions Eddie?", I was so deliriously happy with my own little war plan, and Rune hadn't even run Barry's car in Q1 the night before so what threat could they pose? They were locked in a Championship battle anyway and won't be interested in chasing 300 glory, would they? Anyway before my feet hit the floor I'd blurted an uncharacteristically candid "It's brilliant Rune!" and kept going to get our car warmed up and on the start line. Rune may have been in a Championship but a good track is a good track, and he turned the screws up. Barry suspected the unspoken 300 was afoot, he was ready for it and he wanted it and, as it was a qualifier, he bloody redlit and went for it.
And he got it!
Europe's first 300 mph runs took place side by side! And Barry actually took it as he crossed the finish line first by virtue of his red light even though he actually ran a slower ET than us, a 4.97 to our 4.89.
So there you go, lessons all round for everyone. There is also an interesting point concerning the ignition curve on that 4.89 run but I will cover it later in the tech section on ignition.
And here is the run sheet, note that the clutch wear is higher in Q2 over Q1 due to the higher engine power, and curiously it was within one thousandth of the wear of that tuning run in
Interestingly did you know the engines which made those first 300 mph runs must have had about forty five spark plugs in each head, such is the number of plugs I've seen since then claiming to be the 300 mph spark plugs!
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