CHAMPCAR/CART: Mercedes Benz Racing Movies

Lights. Camera. Race! Making Motion Pictures Inside Mercedes-Benz=s Racing Engines MONTVALE, N.J. (July 28, 1998) -- There's a little bit of Hollywood inside every Mercedes-Benz racing engine. As part of the unceasing search for more...

Lights. Camera. Race! Making Motion Pictures Inside Mercedes-Benz=s Racing Engines

MONTVALE, N.J. (July 28, 1998) -- There's a little bit of Hollywood inside every Mercedes-Benz racing engine. As part of the unceasing search for more power and efficiency, Mercedes makes videos inside the IC108E Champ Car V8 while it is running! Although none of these productions will ever win an Academy Award, they may help a FedEx Championship Series driver win a trophy of a different kind at the Miller Lite 200 in Lexington, Ohio, Aug. 7-9.

"The level of competition in CART means that we have to do absolutely everything possible to extract every bit of performance we can out of our engines," said Paul Ray, vice president of Ilmor Engineering, the race engine design and manufacturing arm of Mercedes-Benz. "Video imaging is one of the tools we use to do that.

"It allows us to literally make a video of the internal workings of a Mercedes-Benz racing engine in action. We record the fuel injection process, valve movements, combustion events, things like that. Then, when we run that footage through sophisticated computer software, we can look at it frame by frame and discover ways to make those processes more efficient and improve the engine's performance."

The system, which can cost more than $50,000, includes a borescope, which connects to the camera; eight different tips, which are like the lenses on a camera; a control unit, which references each frame of the video with the engines’ progression through the combustion cycle; and a monitor to watch the action. Popcorn is extra.

"E.R." to "Top Gun" George Clooney and Tom Cruise have probably never heard of video imaging technology, but the on-screen worlds depicted in Clooney’s television drama and Cruise’s big action film are the primary applications for this type of equipment. The high-resolution, low-distortion fiber optic equipment that Ilmor employs to inspect the IC108E’s innards is very similar to that used in the medical industry for endoscopic procedures and by commercial and military aircraft technicians for jet engine inspection and maintenance.

"Like the medical applications of video imaging systems, the most difficult challenge we have when we look inside a running engine is the access," said Miguel Dhaens, a 28-year-old electromechanical engineer from Ostend, Belgium, who works at Ilmor’s Brixworth, England, headquarters producing these miniature motion pictures for Mercedes. "There is very little space in which to work, particularly with the new engine, which is so compact. The Olympus Videoimagescope that we use requires an access hole of only eight millimeters in diameter and, depending on which tip we use, will allow us to look straight ahead, to the side or backwards, so we can get the picture we need, despite how tight the working environment is."

Spotlight on Injection Cecil B. DeMille to Martin Scorsese, all great movie makers are artists. Even though his setting is a cylinder head rather than a sound stage, camera angle and lighting are just as crucial—and just as tricky—in Dhaens’ development work with the Mercedes-Benz IC108E as they are in the production of a major motion picture.

"Camera positioning is very important," explained Dhaens. "Any time you’re shooting in the inlet system of a running engine, you’re going to be interrupting the normal flow of air and fuel with the access hole and the scope. The idea is to get the shot you want, while creating as little disruption to the flow as possible."

Dhaens’ idea of mood lighting involves a trick of double exposing each frame of the video, like taking a flash photograph with two flashes for every picture. The result of these timed firings of the flash is a double image from which Dhaens can calculate the speed and trajectory of every single drop of fuel as it is sprayed into the inlet track by the fuel injector. Talk about a close-up!

Although the latest Miguel Dhaens film is not "coming soon to a theater near you," you will be able to see the five-team, eight-driver Mercedes-Benz CART contingent in action at the Miller Lite 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on ABC television. The telecast of round 13 of the 1998 FedEx Championship Series begins at 4 p.m. EDT.

Lights. Camera. Race!

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tom Cruise