CHAMPCAR/CART: Mercedes "Brains" Run in the Family

MONTVALE, N.J. (July 26, 1999) -- Like children who share the hereditary traits of their parents, Mercedes-Benz race cars and passenger automobiles have similar genetic characteristics inside their "brain," also known as the engine...

MONTVALE, N.J. (July 26, 1999) -- Like children who share the hereditary traits of their parents, Mercedes-Benz race cars and passenger automobiles have similar genetic characteristics inside their "brain," also known as the engine control unit.

Modern open-wheel racing cars are marvels of engineering, purpose-built for speed and handling. Their siblings, road-going passenger cars, are designed for safety, comfort, ease of ownership and flexibility in both highway and city driving situations. While the two breeds might seem like third cousins twice removed, Mercedes-Benz racing machines and passenger vehicles share similar computer-chip technology.

Engine control units, or ECUs, are the "black boxes" that function much the same way that the human brain regulates the body. ECUs combine input from the driver with feedback from the car's sensors to tell the components of different systems what to do. This regulation function is similar in a Mercedes-Benz powered Champ Car, a McLaren Mercedes Formula One race car, and a Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan.

"The ECUs in both passenger vehicles and race cars basically are doing the same job," said Peter Patrone, department manager, advanced product planning for Mercedes-Benz USA. "The ECU takes the inputs, such as the speed of the engine, the gear selected and the throttle position -- and processes that information. The ECU then signals other controllers in the car to make the necessary adjustments for that set of inputs. The result in both cases is improved performance." Mercedes-Benz Race Cars Have a High IQ The eight Champ Cars competing in the CART FedEx Championship Series with Mercedes-Benz's IC108E Phase III (E3) V8 powerplant have the advantage of one of the most sophisticated ECUs available. Developed by Magneti Marelli, technical partner with Mercedes-Benz in CART, the ECU controls up to 240 channels of information and performs millions of calculations per second utilizing a unique computer chip from Motorola, technology they call "digital DNA.". In a series so competitive that every one-thousandth of a second counts, the speed of the ECU's real-time processing maximizes the driveability of the race car by improving throttle response, ignition timing and fuel delivery.

Beginning next season, the West McLaren Mercedes Formula One team will use ECUs that contain a computer chip called The Year 2000 Controller co-developed by Motorola, Apple and IBM for the PowerPC personal computer. The ECU, further developed by McLaren Cars Ltd.'s sister company, Tag Electronic Systems, is designed to withstand harsh heat and vibration, and relies on four lightweight-yet-rugged PowerPC chips working in parallel. The result is data processed in real time, optimizing engine performance.

Mercedes-Benz Production ECUs Feature Adaptive Technology The new 2000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class also features a Motorola computer chip in its ECU, as well as those of other top suppliers. Like its racing relations, the flagship sedan's ECU has the ability to prioritize and process thousands of signals per second gleaned from sensors located throughout the vehicle. The ECU then directs specific responses from a network of linked controllers, ranging from collaboration with the traction control system to increasing the volume of the radio as the vehicle accelerates.

The Mercedes-Benz brain even monitors the driver's style and adjusts the engine and transmission programs over time to mesh with the driver. "If the driver has a light foot, the ECU will signal the transmission to up-shift early to keep the RPMs low," Patrone said. "If the driver has a real lead foot, and tends to wind the transmission to redline all the time, the transmission adjusts to a sportier program, and lets the engine reach a higher RPM before it shifts. The systems are adaptive, so they can do more for you." In addition to supplying computer-chip technology and accessory mobile phones to Mercedes-Benz, Motorola is the primary sponsor for the Mercedes-powered PacWest Racing Champ Car piloted by Mark Blundell. PacWest Racing's Hollywood Mercedes Champ Car, as well as those of Marlboro Team Penske, Hogan Racing, Player's/Forsythe Racing and Bettenhausen Motorsports also compete with Mercedes-Benz power.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Mark Blundell
Teams Team Penske