- Team solves clutch issue
- Looks for better results in Houston
Mission Under Control As Wilk Heads For Houston
HOUSTON (April 25, 2011) -- Tim Wilkerson will readily admit that his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car was throwing some great challenges at him early in the season. He might even go so far as to divulge the fact it was driving him a little nuts, with inconsistent performance and a lack of results. But, after qualifying in the top half and advancing as far as the final round at the most recent race on the NHRA Full Throttle tour, in Charlotte, Wilk now sees his LRS Ford in a new and better light, and his own ability to adapt to changing parameters has been the key to the turn-around. His next challenge will be to continue this positive trend at this weekend's O'Reilly Auto Parts Spring Nationals, near Houston.
We started this year with new discs, and they just did not want to work with our tune-up.
For Wilk, the difference between 2010 and 2011 has mostly been confined to the bellhousing. This season's new clutch discs proved to be less agreeable with last season's tune-up, and Wilkerson needed to methodically plot his way through the pitfalls to find a balanced comfort zone with his LRS Ford. The improvements were noticeable in Gainesville and Las Vegas, but it was Charlotte where the results began to match the performance.
"I would guess that a lot of fans don't understand just how different clutch discs can be, and how much that can knock the car off its performance curve," Wilkerson said. "We're not so much talking about differences disc to disc, although that happens too, but it's more batch to batch. When you get a huge new batch of discs, that were all made at once, you try to learn what they want as soon as possible and then you can get on a roll. When you run out, though, you have to order more and that next batch is more likely to be different than it's likely to be the same. There are just a lot of variables in the process of making them, and they may all look like identical twins but they can act like they're unrelated.
"We started this year with new discs, and they just did not want to work with our tune-up. Pomona was a mess, and right then we knew we had to kind of back way off and start inching up on this deal from a new direction. It took a few races, but we started getting some laps where all of a sudden the clutch did what it was supposed to do and the car was running better. By the time we got to Charlotte, we had a much better handle on it, and the results finally came to us. It's just a process you have to wade through, and sometimes it isn't pretty."
Wilkerson makes it clear that the clutch disc issue is not so much one of "good or bad" but simply a matter of difference. Wear characteristics have a huge impact on how the motor transfers power to the track, and if a batch of discs wear differently than the previous bunch, successful tune-ups can become unsuccessful overnight. The key is to adapt.
"That's exactly right, and you have to be able to adjust how you tune the car to get the most out of the discs you're running," Wilk said. "You can't just be bullheaded and say 'We've always run the car this way and we're not changing now' because the discs won't cooperate. We're tuning our Ford very differently right now, but it's an approach that works for the clutch packs we have and that's what we have to do. It's been a bit like putting a whole new jigsaw puzzle together, and we're not done with it yet.
"Even when our car has run almost flawlessly, the key word is the 'almost' because these things never are really perfect. They're just too unpredictable and hard to harness. When some new variable comes into play, whether it's clutch discs or new blowers, or new heads, or whatever, you have to take what the car will give you, and hopefully it will give you enough to succeed. I think we're getting there, so we'll see how we do this weekend in Houston."
Tim Wilkerson is a rare bird in this sport, as an owner, driver, and tuner. In all three positions, he has established his reputation for clear thought and patience, and as the NHRA tour heads to Houston, that approach might just be ready to pay off once again.