CHAMPCAR/CART: Mercedes Benz Splits Hairs Building Engines

Splitting Hairs Mercedes-Benz Engine Builders Seek Perfect Fit MONTVALE, N.J. (July 19, 1999) -- In every aspect of racing, teams and manufacturers look for the perfect fit -- a union of personalities and technology that leads to...

Splitting Hairs Mercedes-Benz Engine Builders Seek Perfect Fit

MONTVALE, N.J. (July 19, 1999) -- In every aspect of racing, teams and manufacturers look for the perfect fit -- a union of personalities and technology that leads to victory. For Mercedes-Benz, anything less is unacceptable. At the Ilmor Technology Center in Plymouth, Mich., engineers at the race-engine design and manufacturing arm of Mercedes-Benz take the concept of the perfect fit to new extremes. Splitting hairs is no exaggeration, considering Ilmor uses machines accurate to within tenths of a micron -- the width of a human hair is approximately 70 microns. Responsible for the assembly and maintenance of the Mercedes-Benz IC108E Phase III Champ Car engines for five CART FedEx Championship Series teams, Ilmor manufactures 70 engine blocks at the beginning of each season, performing 350 rebuilds throughout the year. While some of each engine's 4,000 parts are cleaned, inspected and reused after each race, others are designed for a single event. In a search for a competitive edge, parts are constantly studied, looking for ways to improve tolerances and performance, while at the same time making them smaller and lighter. "An ounce here or there might not sound like a lot, but with thousands of parts, every ounce counts," said Paul Ray, vice president of Ilmor Engineering. "And every piece has to fit together flawlessly and be able to tolerate the extreme heat and violence of a race car engine. Over the course of a 500-mile race, an engine will go through more than two million revolutions, so a savings of one ounce per revolution multiplied by two million is a real difference." To find the perfect fit, Ilmor inputs Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawings directly into the Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machines, bringing concepts to life and creating identical, intricate parts of every shape and size. The CNC machines, provided by industry leader Haas Automation Inc., also speed up the process of finishing parts and testing new concepts. Before computer automation, it took nearly 18 hours to manufacture a cylinder head for a race car. With the Haas machines, time is cut to about three hours and identical parts can be produced 24 hours a day. "Now, when our engineers come up with new ideas, we can produce them immediately and give them a run," Ray said. "We want to locate our machines with technology partners to impress clients in valuable markets," said Haas marketing editor Preston Gratiot of the relationship with the Ilmor Technology Center. "Our association with Mercedes involves us with a very valuable team." In addition to supplying engines to five teams with eight drivers in CART, Mercedes-Benz defends its 1998 Formula One World Championship with driver Mika Hakkinen and the West McLaren Mercedes team. Mercedes-Benz also competes in the highest levels of professional golf and tennis -- sponsoring the PGA Tour's season-opening Mercedes Championships in January, and the ATP Tour's Mercedes Super 9 series, nine tournaments among the richest and most prestigious in the world.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Mika Hakkinen