Tommy Wheeler - Dodge teleconference

Weekly Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Transcript July 10, 2008 Tommy Wheeler, Engineering Services Director -- Gillett Evernham WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE NEW DODGE R6P8 CUP ENGINE? "Everything is progressing as much on schedule as any ...

Weekly Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Transcript
July 10, 2008

Tommy Wheeler, Engineering Services Director -- Gillett Evernham

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE NEW DODGE R6P8 CUP ENGINE?

"Everything is progressing as much on schedule as any new development program ever is. We're in the middle of running durability trials and performance tests as we speak. For the most part, we remain on schedule, hopefully getting it on-line near the end of this calendar year and full implementation in the 2009 season...well ahead of the 2010 mandate from NASCAR."

WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE HURDLES TO GET OVER IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THIS NEW SPRINT CUP ENGINE?

As racers, we are eternal optimists. Every week, 43 teams show up to the race tracks and all 43 think they're going to win the race. Only one actually achieves that goal. I think that it's inherent in all of us, especially engineers, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have told you we would have won our first race with it by now.

The reality is that these things come on-line at the pace they need to. This is probably no exception. We went through some similar hurdles that we are going through now with the R6. Getting casting integrity and really filling the production is what's hard. We went through similar things with the R5. It's similar with what other manufacturers have gone through in recent months and years bringing on new engines.

The biggest challenges before us is not making performance or making the engine durable. It's getting it implemented because of the volume of the engines that we have to produce at Gillett Evernham and the significant change over with plumbing and hardware that is required.

IS THERE A TARGET DATE THAT A NEW ENGINE WILL BE IN A CAR AT A RACE?

I would like to believe that we're going to see a couple engines make the race track before the season is over. The implementation is the biggest challenge because we don't have the luxury (to switch between the current and new R6P8 engine) due to the way the engine is going to be mounted in the car, the plumbing and all the other ancillary-type parts. We don't have the option of racing at Charlotte in October and then the very next week not racing it with the same car.

Once we kind of go down that path of saying, "Yes, we're going to race this (engine) in Elliott Sadler's Best Buy machine," we don't have the provisions of waffling on those types of decisions beyond that if we're going to use that car again.

BECAUSE OF THE WAY THE CAR HAS TO BE BUILT?

That's exactly right. The support mechanisms with the oil systems and fuel delivery systems and electrical wiring is so different, that once we go down that path, there's really no going back. We're just trying to make sure that when we say it's time to go racing with the R6P8, we've got a package we're absolutely 100% confident in. Then I think we can be on that (schedule) for the remainder of the season. I still think five or six...maybe even 10 races are realistic before the season is over.

PROBABLY WITH A NON-CHASE DRIVER?

Yes. We want to learn as much as we can about this engine as quickly as we can because we're optimistic that it's going to be performance improved. That's why you do new engines. You hope it does something positive for you. In this case, we're really targeting improved water flow capabilities and reduction in mass, so we want to make sure that we can have that online as soon as possible. Trust me, I'm as aggressive as anyone that you'll ever meet. So I want this online just as soon as we can get it there comfortably.

HOW MANY ENGINES WILL THIS REQUIRE FOR GEM?

Based on six Sprint Cup engine programs, you'll be looking at 500 engine builds a year that we'll need to build and support. It's a pretty big undertaking. The thing that is most interesting is that we manage a fleet of 100-pus engines that are rebuilt after each race event. Of 100 engines that are in your fleet, approximately 50 percent of those engines are together at one point during the season -- which is the beginning of the season. That's what's got us nervous -- making sure that we're ready and comfortable with the engine. I don't think any engine shop has the capacity to recover from a mistake at the beginning of the season because of the volume of engines you have to put together -- Daytona and three west coast races in a row. It's a pretty large task at that time of year.

HOW SECRETIVE ARE ENGINE DEPARTMENTS OF CERTAIN PARTS OF THE ENGINE AND WHY?

Between Dodge teams, there's a lot more sharing that goes on than with our non-branded competitors. We certainly protect the exhaust port, intake port, valve lift, valve timing and intake manifold. Those are the keys for performance these days. The way the rules are with NASCAR, the devil is in the details. Having all those systems work in harmony is part of the magic that makes this series work and part of the magic that makes our Gillett Evernham engines perform as well as they do. Engine design in NASCAR and engine performance the way we approach it is very difficult with the NASCAR rules because you don't have the latitude to say, "I want to change the valve angle." Or say, "I don't like where the valves are positioned relative to spark plugs, so I'm going to make a new combustion chamber." Or say, "I don't like my exhaust port trajectory relative to the exhaust manifold." You don't have that latitude. What you submit to NASCAR is what you're stuck with, so it really becomes an optimization series where you have to take those parts and work all the details to death. All those parameters are the things that we don't talk about because those are a large part of the details that we have to go after for performance improvement.

IS THERE COMPETITION AMONGST ENGINE SHOPS?

I'd be lying if I said that there wasn't. We definitely have a lot of competition. Qualifying day is certainly a day we kind of watch. To us, it's kind of an engine showdown, particularly at the large tracks. We also track our durability. Not having engine failures at tracks like the Coca-Cola 600 -- that's a significant event for engine shops. You definitely walk around with your chest stuck out a little bit more then normal.

HOW HAS RACE ENGINEERING CHANGED OVER THE LAST DECADE?

The biggest thing that has happened over the last decade -- we're not any smarter then we were 10, 15 years ago -- the difference is that we have more information to make aggressive improvements with confidence. With the advent of computer science and finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics, we can iterate so much quicker and we can design connecting rods in a virtual environment without having to design a connecting rod and put it on a dyno and finding that it fails. We have durability test cells that do nothing but their purpose in life to break things. They do nothing but durability tests -- the Charlotte's, and Dover's and Bristol's and tracks like that. And we have rig tests designed to even look finer into a valve train. We fail stuff just as much, we just don't do it in a public arena like we did.

IS COST PERFORMACE ACTUALLY IMPROVED? Absolutely.

This V-8 engine that we run is the most optimized race engine in the world. I will challenge that to the very highest levels of Formula One all the way to Pro Stock in drag racing. This engine is highly evolved due to the quality of people working on it. These tools have been a cost savings. It's a lot cheaper for our owners -- Ray Evernham and the Gillett family -- that we fail an engine on a dyno instead of me telling them, "Gee, I'm sorry, we failed six engines on Saturday (at the race track)."

WHERE DO YOU SEE THE MOST IMPROVEMENT ON THIS NEW ENGINE?

I feel that we're very competitive with horsepower. We hope that it opens doors that we don't even know that are there. I have always hoped that it is going to have performance capability. I think the biggest areas where it's going to be improved is in the water flow and mass -- overall weight of the engine. Dodge engineers working with all the Dodge teams have done a great job understanding that it's very important to have improved coolant flow because of trying to run these engines so hot these days. With track position being so important, we're finding ourselves not wanting to keep the grill as clean we used to because you're too afraid to lose track position. It's very resilient. It can handle a variety of operating conditions. I really think that this engine is going to help us with that.

WOULD IT IMPROVE WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION?

Absolutely. The COT is a fairly heavy vehicle as designed. All the teams have been working diligently to get weight out of the vehicle so that we have adjustability. NASCAR mandates the weight of the vehicle as it rolls across the scales. They don't tell you where it has to be. The old racer lore is 'low, light and left'. So this engine is going to allow us to achieve those goals which are to put the weight where we want it and adjust the right percentages in the front and rear and right and left. We want to make our racecar drivers happy.

IS ANY CHANCE OF IMPROVED FUEL MILEAGE AS COMPARED TO WHAT YOU'RE USING NOW?

I'm not sure you're going to see a great shift in fuel economy because the amount of power we make, it takes a certain amount of fuel to make that a reality. As competitive as this is, I don't thing you're going to see pure fuel mileage racing immerge from what we're seeing now. I don't envision this being a great fuel mileage increase, but I also don't see it being a detriment either.

ARE YOU DOING MOST OF YOUR TESTING ON A DYNO?

The bulk of our work right now is on the engine dyno. We're doing this because we feel like it is important to really monitor not only the global performance of the engine, but how much performance we lose over the course of a race. What goes wrong first is ultimately what we are looking for first. Once we fix that problem, we try to figure out what gives us grief next. So most of our testing is confined to rig testing or dyno test and I expect that to continue for the next month. I'm really eyeing the month of August to be on a race track a fair bit and really start pushing this thing further.

-credit: dodge motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Ray Evernham , Elliott Sadler