CHAMPCAR/CART: Magneti Marelli's ECU-The Brain of a Champ Car - Part 1

Part One of a Four-Part Series Relating Racing Electronics to the Human Body The "Brains" of a Champ Car Engine The Magneti Marelli Engine Control Unit BROOKLYN, Mich. (July 13, 1998) -- Charles Darwin's "Theory of Evolution" generally applies...

Part One of a Four-Part Series Relating Racing Electronics to the Human Body

The "Brains" of a Champ Car Engine The Magneti Marelli Engine Control Unit

BROOKLYN, Mich. (July 13, 1998) -- Charles Darwin's "Theory of Evolution" generally applies to living things, but recent advances in race car intelligence suggest that Champ cars have evolved as well. These cars now have a highly developed brain.

The brain on the Mercedes-Benz powered Champ cars can be easily located. It's on the left sidepod of the car, inside the "black box" known as the Magneti Marelli engine control unit (ECU).

Magneti Marelli developed the ECU for the new Mercedes-Benz IC108E engine in the CART FedEx Championship Series. Its job is to combine input from the driver, such as throttle position and fuel mixture settings, with feedback from the car's sensors to tell the various components of the electronics and fuel management system exactly how to behave. The ECU functions much like the human brain regulates the body.

"A perfect example is a race car driver is doing several things at the same time. He is steering, pushing the throttle and the brakes, and he is attempting to pass his competition. These are all conscious decisions he is making based on input from all of his senses - what he sees, feels and even hears," said Giancarlo De Angelis, who is responsible for the Magneti Marelli racing department. "A driver is also breathing. His heart is beating. His brain is performing unconscious functions critical to life.

"The ECU is no different. It takes conscious input from the driver and the engine and combines it with pre-programmed data to make the engine function at optimal levels at all times. It is constantly regulating the entire system."

One of the reasons the Magneti Marelli ECU performs so well is because it has a very high IQ, thanks to a unique computer chip designed by Motorola. Marelli, who developed the microcode within the processor, has exclusive use of the chip for one year, and is developing the same chip for use in its passenger-car line of ECUs.

"We like to refer to the Motorola chip in the Magneti Marelli ECU as 'digital DNA', because it is the foundation for all functions performed by the ECU, just as DNA is the foundation for human life," said C.D. Tam, senior vice president and general manager of Motorola's Transportation Systems Group in Austin, Texas. "The Motorola chip makes the ECU faster and more accurate - it enhances performance. It is really the brain of the ECU, just as the ECU is the brain of the engine."

"Magneti Marelli's ECU controls 240 channels of information and performs millions of calculations per second," said De Angelis. "It's like moving from an old computer to one of the brand new models available today with a high-speed processor. The Marelli ECU is faster and more accurate. It improves the driveability of the race car because it improves throttle response, ignition timing and fuel delivery."

Motorola is the primary sponsor of the PacWest Racing entry of Mark Blundell. Also competing with Mercedes power and the Magneti Marelli "brain" are drivers with Bettenhausen Racing, Hogan Racing, Marlboro Team Penske, Hollywood/PacWest Racing and Player's Forsythe Racing.

MM071398/06

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Series IndyCar