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Gentlemen, Hack Your Engines! 563

Les Gasser writes "Ahh, drag racing! If you've never experienced the scent of nitro or the flashing flames of a top fueler running 320MPH+ in 4+ seconds in a standing-start quarter mile run at dusk, you're missing world-class performance art. (See 'High Performance' for the classic on drag racing history and culture). Now the NYTimes (registration needed) has 'Gentlemen, Start Hacking Your Engines,' an article on 're-engineering' engine control computers for maximum performance, combining the drag racing and tech-geek traditions." Having learned everything I know about racing from Gran Turismo, I'm amazed to learn there's more than just buying a "racing chip".
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Gentlemen, Hack Your Engines!

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  • Reg-Free Link (Score:5, Informative)

    by imag0 ( 605684 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @06:54AM (#5053697) Homepage
    Here you go, tiger.
    get your reg-free link right here. [nytimes.com]
  • by hfastedge ( 542013 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @06:56AM (#5053702) Homepage Journal
    Cobweb...if you had seen "The Fast and the Furious" you would of remembered the laptop that the police officer/(under cover racer) had a mad leet laptop controlling his engine.

    There was opengl and everything....

    You are so 2 years ago.
  • Formula One (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @06:59AM (#5053707) Homepage

    For real computing in Cars then look at Formula one. Launch Control, Engine Control, Automatic and Semi Automatic gearboxes, traction control etc etc etc.

    These are cars that can be remotely re-tuned during a race. From a tech perspective its amazing.

    However it ruins what should be a battle of man and machine and enables the big spenders to kill the little guys everytime. Computing is great for some things, but it too often reduces the skill required in sports like Motor Racing, making it a battle of programmers rather than drivers.

    Fully automated remote racing with large cars might be quite cool, but what makes it really interesting is that people can make mistakes, and even better take risks that a computer wouldn't think are smart.
    • "These are cars that can be remotely re-tuned during a race." Somebody has been watching the Compaq/HP commercial I think! ;-)
      • by DG ( 989 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @08:00AM (#5053842) Homepage Journal
        Not only can the engine management engineer retune the engine on the fly during a race, most of the teams go even further.

        Every team has what is called a "7-post shaker rig". This is an electro-hydro-mechanical device that places a hydraulic ram under each tire, plus 3 more attached to the aero centre for feeding in aero loads. By playing back the loads recorded by the car during operation by the position sensors, load cells, strain gauges, and accelerometers though these rams, the engineers can watch the car operate under real racing conditions in the lab.

        Well, the bigger teams transmit the telemetry coming off the car during the race back to the shop in England, where the shaker righ data is played back on a duplicate car on the shaker rig in near real-time, so that they can keep an eye open for problems.

        F1 has more money and technical ability than can be imagined.

        • yah, and while Schumacher may make ninety-two MILLION dollars (or was it $89M?) a year for driving around in a Ferarri, he still wouldn't know a good time if it danced naked for a dollar.

          anyway, the 7-posters are marvels of engineering technology, and a stunning example of what neccessity can create (they didn't come into widespread use until the FIA banned unlimited track time during R&D) - it's a shame most of the tech in F1 nowadays is of so little use to roadgoing cars (i want my 3.0L, 700hp 18,500rpm NA V10 dammit!!!) that we'll never see any practical use for these sorts of things. My question is, when marlboro eventually goes broke (don't tell me you don't see it coming), who's going to fill out Ferrari's $400mil budget?
          • by Viol8 ( 599362 )
            700hp? This season the engines were pushing 850+! Next season I wouldn't be surprised if they go over the 900hp mark.
            • yeah, 850hp in qualifying, where they only need to last ~5 laps before putting a piston through the cylinder head. [in the turbo years, the BMW 1500cc engine ran in a qualifier at 68+ pounds of boost, turning out 1300hp - useless trivia, and a demo of what F1 will do with no limits] in race tune, i'd wager most of the engines are probbly between 650-750hp. probably less with next season, as teams will only be allowed one engine per weekend (no destroying one $1mil mill in qualifying and then slapping another in for the race).
          • One of the advantages of the F1 guys going crazy is that their stuff trickles down to us little guys.

            Shaker rig time is now cheap enough that even small teams like mine (hey Malda! Wanna sponsor a race car?) can afford it, once and a while.

            http://www.morissdampers.com offers 4 and 7 post shaker stuff.

            The only reason I haven't used it is that I don't (yet!) have the data to drive the rig. It wants 4 suspension position sensors and 4 wheel accelerometers as a minimum.

            But even then, there's still stuff to be learned from even simple stuff like frequency sweeps. The NASCAR guys recently discovered the Ohlins rig in North Carolina, and it's been booked solid for a year now.


            • yeah, mayne R&D stuff for small-time race teams, but there's really almost nothing that is applicable for street use - i don't wanna deal with an engine with a 3:1 bore:stroke ration, pneumatic valves, and piston speeds approaching Mach 1. although the aeros would be nice; anybody know where i can pick up an F1 front wing?
    • Re:Formula One (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Osty ( 16825 )

      However it ruins what should be a battle of man and machine and enables the big spenders to kill the little guys everytime. Computing is great for some things, but it too often reduces the skill required in sports like Motor Racing, making it a battle of programmers rather than drivers.

      Ah, but the article was about drag racing. Where's the skill in that? Okay, sure, you have to be able to get a good launch, and shift properly. Otherwise, "Keep the throttle wide open, and don't touch that steering wheel." Of course, I agree with you 100% with respect to wheel to wheel road racing ("road" as in "race track with lots of nifty turns", not "main street").

      Of course, the real fun is driving on road tracks yourself. Nothing quite like learning the limits of your driving ability (for most people out there, the capabilities of their car will far exceed the capabilities of the driver, so they'll be limited by their skill before they're limited by their car). Leave the computer stuff for things like RARS (Robot Auto Racing Simulator [sourceforge.net]), and enjoy the skill it takes to drive a car fast in the real world. Call your local track, see when they start doing DE (driver education) days. I'm already signed up for lapping at my local track, are you?

      • Re:Formula One (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GregWebb ( 26123 )
        Er, no.

        Dragsters put out truly massive torque. Unless you have a perfect differential and are driving across Black Rock desert after it's been smoothed and flattened some more, you _will_ get torque steer. It's apparently quite hard work to keep them straight.

        I'm not actually a drag racing fan but it's a lot harder than you make it sound.
      • Re:Formula One (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tet ( 2721 )
        Where's the skill in that? Okay, sure, you have to be able to get a good launch, and shift properly. Otherwise, "Keep the throttle wide open, and don't touch that steering wheel."

        A few corrections... yes, dragsters have to be steered. There is just so much power that the slightest imbalance in tyre pressures, for example is enough to send a car sideways. I've seen top fuelers going down the strip with alternate opposite lock. Scary. Secondly, there's no shift, because there's no gearbox. It's pure direct drive. The clutch is progressive, based on centrifugal weights. Many a drag race is won or lost on the settings of the clutch weights. Too much at the start and you wheelspin. Not enough, and you don't get away quick enough.

      • Bah, cars, keep your metal cage. I'll take my bike any day, it's faster, handles better, and requires more skill and balls than racing a car ;)
    • For one thing, it's required that drivers initiates the gear change. Secondly, true automatic transmissions loose a lot of the power between the engine and the wheels.

      F1 cars have a shifter knob that you just push or pull to shift up or down respectively. I forget what it's called. The Toyota MR2 spyder has one of those things as well.
      • "paddle shifting" is the term you are looking for. You have two paddles on either side of the steering wheel, one paddle is upshift one is downshift - at least on the MR2 I would imagine F1 car's are similar.
      • Perhaps that's why he wrote "automatic and semi-automatic" (emphasis added). The fact that current F1 rules might prohibit automatic gearboxes doesn't mean there haven't been or won't be automatic gearboxes.
        • No, they don't. They used to but modern F1 gearboxes are automatic. Programmable and with a driver override but they're autos.

          Before anyone worries, no, they don't use torque converters... They're automated manuals.
      • Those are called sequential gearboxes.

        But don't F1 teams use gearboxes which are operated via two paddle switches (behind the steering wheel)? These gearboxes are semi-automatic: there is no mechanical linkage, the gearchange and clutch are operated under computer control. The driver does select the gear.

      • Tiptronic gear changing, most luxury cars have it like new Porsches etc.
      • Yes they are. (Score:4, Informative)

        by DG ( 989 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:52AM (#5053831) Homepage Journal
        F1 gearboxes have been fully automatic for most teams for a couple of seasons now. They retain the ability to do manual gearchanges if the driver wants to, but that almost never happens.

        They are not torque-converter slushboxes like passenger cars. These are sequential-gearchange boxes like motorcycles, with hydraulic-actuated, computer-controlled shift mechanisms. There are zero drivetrain losses compared to a full-manual version, and they outperform a driver shifting in every respect.

        • Read the rules (Score:5, Informative)

          by sh0rtie ( 455432 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @01:14PM (#5055877)

          Why don't you read the F1 rules ?

          Transmission []

          Only two wheels may be driven and automatic gearboxes are banned
          Each individual gearchange must be initiated by the driver

          The minimum number of forward gear ratios is 4 and the maximum is 7

          All cars must have a reverse gear operable any time during the race when the car's engine is running

      • Secondly, true automatic transmissions loose a lot of the power between the engine and the wheels.

        F1 does not use automatic transmissions with a torque converter (nor VanDoorne's transmissions), but instead an automated gearbox which works by the same principles as a manual, except that the gear change is automated.

    • Unobtanium (Score:3, Informative)

      by TygerFish ( 176957 )
      What you say can be taken in a different way though. Instead of having computer-controlled fuel injection delivering unbeatable performance only to the big boys, it might also work to level the playing field.

      When I was into motorcycles as a kid and read everything about them, one of the buzz-words that popped up most often when writers talked about high-performance motorcycles was 'unobtanium.' One of the biggest advantages enjoyed by teams from the biggest companies was access to parts that were engineered to the n-th degree and racing was a game between big companies that was won by the one that could put the most thought into producing advantage by exploiting ever-narrowing margins of difference between machines; 'first make it out of magnesium to make it light, *then* drill some holes in it to make it lighter.'

      In any field where hacking the hardware provides the main advantage, the big boys have more, but the value of these innovations evaporate as the technologies they employ become understood by more people. The ability to influence performance through software can be said to improve things for whoever has programming talent.

      A small company might not be able to turn half-a-dozen world-class engineers loose on piston head design, but a talented coder can do things that have no material basis, exploiting interrelating factors to improve performance that don't start out life in a cad program like fuel-air mixtures/tire-pressure/tire-temperature and composition.

      A ceramic engine block is one thing, but really understanding how *your* vehicle's engine works in a turn and getting the last inch of *extra* out of it might be something that not even a major manufacturer can replicate easily.
    • Re:Formula One (Score:2, Insightful)

      by humps ( 245087 )
      If you have watched F1 enough, you'll soon realise it has always been a competition between the car manufacturers, drivers are only tools to show how fast these cars can really go. There aren't that many M.Schumacher out there who can drive a crap car and still win. Just look at Jacques Villeneuve, he is crap, without a decent car, he is very crap.

      Engine Control, Auto 'box however did not ruin the sport as you claimed. Auto 'box is only taking away unnecessary human control. It lets the driver concentrates on steering the car with the right degree and applying the correct speed. In what way does auto 'box makes the sport less interesting to watch? If it was manual, will the drivers make mistakes with simple gear changes and contribute to the entertainment factor of the sport at all?

      Traction/Launch Control, however takes away more of the entertainment factor because drivers are more likely to make mistakes in applying throttle, break and steering, much more so than changing a gear to loose a race.
    • Barney Oldfield (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tisha_AH ( 600987 )
      Racing used to have a driver and a mechanic in each car. The mechanic was responsible for keeping the vehicle at it's top performance. (Sometimes by reaching into the motor to make adjustments to the carb. I don't see the differences between a mechanic on the sidelines with a lap top, telemetry link and computer control system to make those same adjustments.
    • Re:Formula One (Score:3, Informative)

      by MrScience ( 126570 )
      It's interesting to note that drag racing is intentionally "old-school". They have made it so that the competitors are racing virtually identical equipment, so it's all down to the pit crew (heck, the driver just presses a button and steers, the car does the shifting). The run the engines so hot, that the pit crew has to rebuild the enginge after every race, sometimes within only a few hours.

      Most of my info came from some show, and this [avkids.com] is all I could find about these restrictions on the web.
      • Re:Formula One (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tdrury ( 49462 )

        In top-fuel the driver doesn't press buttons - he pulls three levers - one for each gear.

        Some interesting factoids that are almost 10 years old:

        - topfuelers burn 10 gallons of nitro-methane just on the burn out
        - the engine pumps enough air in the 1/4 mile run to inflate the Goodyear blimp
        - your cars fuel line is about 3/8" inner diameter and pressurized to about 30 psi (IIRC). A topfueler's fuel line is 1.5" inner diameter and pressured to 170 psi!
        - a topfuel motor's horsepower is estimated at 5000 hp because no dynomometer can measure that much power (again this was 10 years ago)

        I'm not really a fan of drag racing (I prefer road racing myself), but those factoids I've remembered for tens years because they were so impressive.

  • by min0r_threat ( 260613 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:00AM (#5053710)
    Oh fab! But before I start hacking my Golf GTI I am definitely going to wait for the sequel to this article: "Gentlemen, improve your brakes."
    • So, it begins.... (Score:2, Informative)

      by LinuxGeek ( 6139 )
      Might I suggest that you visit vwvortex [vwvortex.com] and start reading the forums. You can find all sorts of good info and suggestions for your GTI. Suspension mods are a good place to start before adding serious horsepower. Just a chip change (APR) can take a 2001 1.8T from 150bhp to 215bhp, more than enough to show the factory setup isn't ready for racing.
  • Fuel Efficiency (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Omkar ( 618823 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:02AM (#5053712) Homepage Journal
    Imagine if the people took the same initiative when looking for fuel efficieny.
    • Re:Fuel Efficiency (Score:4, Interesting)

      by giel ( 554962 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @08:47AM (#5053947) Journal

      There are numerous contests which focus on obtaining fuel efficiency when it comes down to miles per gallon. Both universities and motorcompanies contribute to such contests.

      Volkswagen for example developed the 'Volkswagen AG' - IMHO this is what you get if you let a bicycle and a canoe spend some quality time in a private room - but it is very fuel efficient.

  • Nintendo (Score:5, Funny)

    by Omkar ( 618823 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:05AM (#5053720) Homepage Journal
    Having learned all I know about racing from Mario Kart, I'm surprised they don't just carry some mushrooms and turtle shells.
  • by chiark ( 36404 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:07AM (#5053724) Homepage Journal
    You may find this interesting, particularly if you're into rallying at all and have heard of both Subaru and Prodrive, who prepare rally subarus and also make a performance pack for road-going cars.

    The new high performance Impreza (STI VII) Prodrive Performance Pack uses a piggy back chip to "fool" the ECU into allowing more boost on its turbo.

    The reason? Prodrive don't know how to re-program the OEM ECU correctly.

    A third party has hacked a tool to reprogram the ECU - something no-one else has managed. This largely is the work of one guy, who has done something that is apparently not possible :-)

    Rumour is that Prodrive will be using the ecutec tool to reprogram ASAP.

    Another mate has reverse engineered the ECU for older models and is blowing chips to give increased performance...
  • by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes&xmsnet,nl> on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:17AM (#5053744)

    ECU hacking has been around for a while. For popular cars, you can get aftermarket ECUs which are tuned for more performance. On a non-turbo, street legal car, the best you can expect is a 10% power increase. On turbocharged cars you could get more (just turn up the boost), but you quickly run into reliability problems because the engine can't handle the increased loads.

    To get significant power increases, you still need to apply 'old style' tuning tricks like adding forced induction, changing camshafts and uprating engine internals.

    • by chiark ( 36404 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:37AM (#5053798) Homepage Journal
      Have to agree with this. On non-forced induction cars, all you're doing is removing any safety margin built into the current map by playing with timing. Advancing ignition may give some benefits but runs the risk of det, or pre-ignition, or pinking, or pinging, or knocking or whatever your locality calls it ;-)

      With a turbo on the car, things start getting more interesting as you can get more air into the engine, which means it'll need richer fuelling to achieve anywhere near stoich (or even safety ;-) ) but runs the risk of det again which'll knacker your engine pretty damn quickly.

      With the Impreza, which is my weapon of choice, the map is incredibly rich before doing anything... The general concensus is that this is done to keep engines from going bang, as out of the box they'll come with between 218 and 275BHP from a 2 litre engine, along with a 3 year warranty.

      Tune them simply and carefully and for a little money you'll see high 200s from them. Beyond that, my opinion is that your internals will need some consideration - particularly con rods and those little gudgeon pins which hold your piston heads on.

      The fact that people have done what manufacturers think is impossible is a cause for some small celebration in my eyes, and allows the little guys to stick a finger in the air to those who would have them only use franchised dealers with the necessary hardware to talk to the ECUs...

      • Just get a K&N filter (or a shiny CAI if you wanna show youir enjun to the chickies), a good set of headers and an exhause (Apexi makes really nice ones, specially if you can kluge an N1 Dual to fit) and throw in a chip - you'll be around 280-300, with very close to stock reliability; a kid i know did this to a very early US WRX, one of the first 500 in i think, and it's still running smooth as silk 70,000 miles later. Embarasses Z06s and Vipers, all for about $3000. then you have that much more to dump into the suspension; a well-done WRX with good coilovers, full tie/strut bars, and really hard bushings handles soooo well...
    • Oh really? That's a bit broad of a statement don't you think? Miata with turbos are making 1/3rd more power witha turbo on stock guts - no problem. Mustang Cobras are making about 50% more pwoer on stock guts. Toyota Supra make about 100% more power on stock guts if not more. you don't always have to jump into the engine and swap things liek cams , pistons, and rods! Tune it RIGHT and you're fine.

      Also realize that auto manufacturers often do things in the tuning to compromise performance for political and warranty reasons. Look at the 93-95 ford Cobra fro instance. GT40 heads, intake, 65mm throttle body, 1.7 rockers, and revised cam got them what - 35HP more? Gimme' a break! The Cobra ECU had a crapy timing map in it because Ford knew that those parts would make mincemeat out of the glass T5. They even retarded timing WAY back on shifts and speeds over 85mph. The Miata has a funky tip-in timing issue too but for no known good reason. Manufacturers aren't perfect in their programming either - they actually make mistakes occasionally. Ask any FD3 RX7 owner if they've ever experienced a hiccup around 3K at part throttle. The inejctors actually will shut off under the right circumstances at that RPM - it's a BUG. These are the kinds of things that reprogramming will fix...
  • Ah, Gran Tourismo. I love that game :). Is there anything equivalent out there for the PC? For those of you who actually race, how accurate is the game?

    Anyway, I think for most drivers, there really isn't much more then getting a "racing chip". I'm not saying geeks could reverse engineer their cars, but there are so many different kinds of car computers out there, it would be hard to 'share the wealth' so to speak, the way you can with Linux programming.

    Plus you run the risk of completely fucking up your engine. I'm not sure if I'd really trust my own code when one screw up could cost me thousands of dollars per incident.
  • by Barbar Kenan ( 222696 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:26AM (#5053770)
    Intensive electronic engine control is a very common thing in racing for 20 years now. What was seen in Fast and Furious is major BS. If you wanna see serious electronic action look into Formula 1. They have all kinds of goodies for decades now. Dynamic fuel mapping, traction control, launch control, braking assistance (this particular one is very cool, the system monitors the dynamic conditions of the car and slows any one of the four wheels without even asking the driver) etc...
    Another interesting bit is Mitsubishi Carisma Evo 7.
    As far as dragsters go, they are way behind. Nothing special nor innovative.
    One last note in the last few years prices of engine management systems went down a lot. You can buy a very good one for couple thousand but as long as you dont have the right tools, you cant tune the car perfectly. and never forget the intake and exhaust systems in your street cars are build to the specs written by suits hence very performance limiting.
    Any geek out there who wants to make there car go fast follow the common wisdom:
    1. Buy a fast car.
    2. Cant afford it and stuck with that peoples carier? First make it corner faster (get good springs and dampers) Fast and Furious style car dragging on the asphalt dont qualify.
    3. If you want it to go fast make it lighter (look: Collin Bruce Chapman)
    4. Make it stop fast (you might need them)
    5. You exhaust system is design to be on the very safe side of noise regulations and fuel economy fix it.
    6. You intake design sucks too (dont forget the cylinder head lots of power in there)
    7. By now you spent as much as you spent on the original car.
    8. Not satisfied get real engine management system. Remember eletromotive, haltec, motec.

    Or the alternative and more appropriate road for the ones with tools, garage and time: Locost, some sort of open source sportscar project [locost7.info] and it can go very fast.

    • I remember a collegue of mine, who owned a modded Honda CRX (late 90's model), and I do not mean tasteless sideskirt stuff and that kind of things. He managed to get about 250 HP from an 1.6 liter engine. Performance was best between 5000 and 8000 RPM, that's where the engine of a regular car blows - I guess. The little red japanese sucker made a very rude sound though. Something like a F1 motercycle. Totally useless as a family car, but big fun to drive.

      I own the complete opposite, a stoopid Ford Courier 1.7D, very convienient - damn. Well, both a two seaters, and mine has crousecontrol too.

  • by ottawanker ( 597020 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:30AM (#5053779) Homepage
    But Mr. Rascon is sure he does not want a Lexus or a Nissan 350Z. "You get a Lexus or 350Z, and, sure, people will look at you, but that's now what this is about," he said. "This is about getting into something I built and whipping a 350Z. That's the best feeling in the world."

    Why wouldn't you want a Nissan 350Z? Seems to me that if you can make a Civic fast, you could make a 350Z faster.. Or is there some sort of weird pride involved in having a Civic that is faster than a stock 350Z (but slower than a modified one)? If I had the money, I'd just buy the car with the most potential, which (I'm pretty sure) isn't a Civic.
    • ...is there some sort of weird pride involved in having a Civic that is faster than a stock 350Z (but slower than a modified one)?


      I can understand this person's point of view perfectly. It's much more fun achieving something using kit that's not supposed to be able to achieve it. He's chancing his customisation skills against your superior stock performance. If he wins, he's beaten your machine and your skills combined meaning he's thrashed you by quite some margin. If he wins just using a modded powerful car, then he's really not going to get the some satisfaction.

      I'm not into modding cars much, but I am into driving them. In the past I've had an original 1977 Mini, an original 1989 Mini, a Jaguar XJ6 Sovereign (XJ40 rev), and currently have a Jaguar XJR (X300 rev), new-style Mini Cooper and my girlfriend's Mazda Eunos Roadster (Miata in the US). Of them all, the XJR is head and shoulders the fastest. Despite that, the ones I've had most fun out of driving quickly are the 1977 Mini and the Eunos - the least powerful cars there. I'm also enjoying the new Mini an awful lot, and that's not powerful compared to the Jags either.

      It's just more fun to be the underdog and still win out.


    • If I had the money, I'd just buy the car with the most potential, which (I'm pretty sure) isn't a Civic.

      What do you think a 350Z looks like from behind a radar gun?

      Cops don't even see my little, dark blue nondescript-mobile even though I'm passing people. How much top end speed is realistic, anyway? Is a 180 mph car actually faster than a 120 mph one? Performance below 100 is what matters. Taking corners, accelerating out of them and accomplishing passes don't happen over 100. I'll let you drive the radar magnet, pal.

  • Now, if you could connect everything upto a fastish laptop you could use Neural nets to reprogramme the control systems on the fly. Say for more power, speed or fuel efficiency.

    It shouldn't be 'too' hard to do and could adjust to the wear of the engine &co. over it's lifetime.

    It could even have a special emmissions test mode.
    • Re:AI (Score:5, Interesting)

      by chiark ( 36404 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:41AM (#5053807) Homepage Journal
      It could even have a special emmissions test mode

      Some cars already have this built in. Sorry to harp on about the Subaru Impreza turbo, but it's what I know about ;-)

      Hold 3000 rpm in second gear for 5 seconds, then floor the accelerator. You'll find boost is capped at around 11PSI as opposed to the normal 15PSI.

      Reason? The car thinks that it might be being subjected to an emissions test, and opens the wastegate at lower boost. Lower boost = less air = less fuel = better emissions (verrrry simply put)

    • by martin ( 1336 )
      don't neural nets for this - they do this already in F1...
  • If you've never experienced the scent of nitro and flashing flames of a Thunderbird overclocked to 3200 MHz starting Quake III Arena in 4 seconds, you're missing world-class performance art!
  • Camaro hacking (Score:2, Interesting)

    by frozenray ( 308282 )
    Carsten "Russ" Meyer, editor at German c't magazine, has a few pages (in English) on hacking his Chevy Camaro Z28 [uu.net]:

    Tuning the PROM [uu.net]
    Diagnosing the ALDL [uu.net]


    I'm not planning to go that far, but I'll be buying an Auterra [auterraweb.com] OBD II Scan Tool interface for my Palm. Lots of interesting information [auterraweb.com] about what's going on under the hood.
  • by DG ( 989 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @07:41AM (#5053806) Homepage Journal
    Mind you, it's far more effective to use an aftermarket ECU.

    Check out http://farnorthracing.com to see the team website, and http://www.gems.co.uk to download the software I use.

    • > Mind you, it's far more effective to use an aftermarket ECU.

      That's debateable. How's it going DG? ;-)

      Check out http://www.dsmlink.com. That software and ECU work was done exclusively by my partner and me. As the NYTimes article states, it takes thousands of hours to decode the ECU programming. But man, what a bunch of fun it was. I remember taking the source code with me on vacation to the Bahamas because I was into it so much at the time.

      It's a true hacker's delite to dig into raw machine code and reverse engineer the concepts that went into its writing. To be able to apply that then to make your CAR faster is pure icing on the cake. Some folks may just want to buy an aftermarket ECU and slap it on, but others truly enjoy the challenge and rewards of digging into the ECU themselvse. That's the type of person this article is describing.

      Thomas Dorris
  • Unless you an engineer of some sort, you will not be able to 'modify' your engine controllers behavior. You are left with the buying a chip option.

    The only thing these chips will do is sacrifice fuel efficience for short term performance. Hopefully one can turn on and turn off the effect, but likely thats not possible.
    • "he only thing these chips will do is sacrifice fuel efficience for short term performance"

      Not true. By all accounts, chipping a Passat for an extra 40HP *improves* fuel economy. This assumes you drive as you did before. Of course, I'm sure people get worse economy as they will be flooring it a lot more to feel the extra torque.

      Why is this? Because VW detuned the engine so that it wouldn't compete with higher cost Audis that use the same engine. Reprogramming it improves the air/fuel, mix extra (as well other things like allowing the turbo to spin up further).
  • There is actually a reason why the control computers have the profiles that they do (as some people are pointing out in general terms.)

    It isn't just about brakes. It's the maximum torque loading allowed by your gearbox, maximum heat buildup that can be allowed in the slushbox, strength of the universal or CV joints, side loading the suspension can take, aerodynamics, you name it. It takes several hundred people to design a car, and tens of expensive highly qualified engineers to do a proper job of uprating. If even companies like Mercedes occasionally get it wrong (A-Class)it should be obvious that it isn't easy.

    I realise that this won't have the least effect on the idiots who think they are God's gift to automotive engineering because they can actually undo the bolts, replace the silencer with a noisenhancer, and do the bolts up...but why is it that the people who do these mods drive so incredibly badly? If the ones around here tried it on a real racetrack, the marshals would have them off before the end of the first lap, assuming they got that far without hitting something. Which is presumably why they do it on public roads, since there are fewer police on the roads than marshals on a racetrack.

    The great thing about drag racing is that the thing only needs to stay together for a quarter mile.

    • It isn't just about brakes. It's the maximum torque loading allowed by your gearbox, maximum heat buildup that can be allowed in the slushbox, strength of the universal or CV joints, side loading the suspension can take, aerodynamics, you name it. It takes several hundred people to design a car, and tens of expensive highly qualified engineers to do a proper job of uprating. If even companies like Mercedes occasionally get it wrong (A-Class)it should be obvious that it isn't easy.

      Manufacturers don't tune their cars for maximum performance, they tune to a safety margin. A lot of budget hot-rodders just try to push their cars closer to the maximum tolerances without going over to get as much bang for the buck as possible. This is acceptable practice and doesn't require egotistical aftermarket engineering skills. The difference is that the manufacturer has to warranty the car somehow to stay competitive in the market place, the hot-rodders place their own personal warranty on the car (if it breaks, they fix it themselves).

      The great thing about drag racing is that the thing only needs to stay together for a quarter mile.

      Most of the hobbyist drag racers I've known have also had to use their cars as a daily driver, so winning a race at any cost wasn't acceptable. They have to win the race and then drive the race car to work the next day. This adds an interesting variable to the race, actually.

      Another thing to keep in mind, when you've pushed one component far enough that it will exceed the tolerances on another component (axleshafts break pretty easily), then you either replace the component before it breaks, or you replace it after it breaks. Or you just don't actually push it until you can replace the weak part. Over time, I've seen budget hobbying hot-rodders build shitty cars into pretty high-performance cars without ever having to catch a taxi to work. That takes a LOT of skill and brains.

  • stuf (Score:5, Informative)

    by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @08:18AM (#5053874)
    Kenny Bernstein was one of the leaders in pushing for pit lane analysis via computer...many, many years ago. I believe he's turned that into a side business since then.

    It is really impressive what parameters are monitored and what kind of telemetry they employ. F-1 is the same way...tons of analysis done real time. The Japanese (Honda), again, years ago, would transmit telemetry from the car, on the race track, from one of the many tracks worldwide...all the way to their labs in Japan.

    For those with a bit more esoteric interest, note that originally, physics types deemed it impossible to obtain trap speeds in the 300mph range...that was before the spinning tire effect was carefully considered.
    • Nah, Kenny's still racing, I think he still has the fastest Top Fuel run (330.88, 4.477 sec) - that's just mindbendind, makes the 10.28/120 Civic look downright ricey.
  • Well, to be honest, I don't really enjoy spending my free time "experiencing the scent" of nitrous oxide.
  • by jeff_bond ( 135948 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @08:28AM (#5053897) Homepage
    As the founder of Lotus cars, Colin Chapman once said, "add lightness"


  • I feel gypped (Score:4, Insightful)

    by caveat ( 26803 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @08:40AM (#5053927)
    While 330.88 MPH, 4.477sec [about.com], 8,000+hp fire-breathing nitromethane-burning supercharged fire-breathing Top Fuel dragsters are indeed performance art, and I'd love to see how they manage the engines on those beasts...this article was about a bunch of Civic prettyboys and their 220-300hp engines...sort of like talking about ASCI White, and then pulling out an Ars Tech God Box - nice piece of machinery, but nothing at all like what was mentioned.
    It doesn't even really talk about the engine management packages or technology that much (the shining example is a fscking Palm program that adjusts your nitro boost on the fly); mostly just about how these kids are making their cars run in the mid-10s, at a piddling 120mph, with the likes of Real sports cars - the closing line is "This is about getting into something I built and whipping a 350Z. That's the best feeling in the world." Admirable perhaps, but not really a hugely tech-involved story.
    I've been looking at MoTec ECUs for my 240SX, now there's some high-tech car stuff - the features and what it can do would make a car-savvy geek twitch and drool..basically full control over every electronic feature in the engine, with optional realtime telemetry. Notice the record-setting Civic uses MoTec, but they don't even mention it in the article; I guess Viper's ultra-l33t nitro Palm app ("Instead of using your PC, now you can sit in your car and change your whole system. The Palm Pilot has all your engine configurations. You can set it to full race mode in seconds.") is more technologically interesting than Ferrari's F1 engine management systems (and the ECU for virtually every other racewinning car out there).
    • Is your name Micah? You talk just like a guy I used to know named that...

  • by dbowden ( 249149 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @08:42AM (#5053932)
    Interesting timing for this article. I just got an assignment to reverse-engineer some of the "superchip" style performance enhancers for the vehicle line I program. (Yeah - I'm one of the quys who writes the software that the people in this article are hacking)

    The manufacturer I work for wants to know what the aftermarket shops are doing to change the performance of the engine. -- And before you ask, no it isn't so the manufacturer can copy their techniques. Believe it or not, we know what we're doing when we design these things! We want to know how the modifications will affect the drivability and warranty rates on these vehicles.

    Fair warning -- watch for manufacturers to increase pressure on dealerships to detect people using aftermarket computer chips, so that they can start denying warranty claims for people who do foolish things like burning up their turbochargers by requesting too much boost.

    Some of the technologies we've already implemented will be able to supply information to dealerships about whether any of the data on the computer has been changed, and when the computer was last re-programmed. That will allow the dealerships to catch the people who re-program their PCM (Powertrain Control Module), and then return it to the original program before bringing it back to the dealership for any repairs.

  • For how long... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by olethrosdc ( 584207 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @08:49AM (#5053950) Homepage Journal
    do those things last? :)

    A lot of people here say "Oh, great, the dudes do it better than the automotive industry themselves" or "wow, I got a 5% increase in HP! Damn!" - Engine longevity is important, however and I think those people that set up the system envelope for the engine electronics take that into account very seriously. You'd normally want your car to work for 5 years faultlessly with perhaps a minor repair before the 10 years. Using modded engines means extra wear and tear, also on the supporting components. How long can it last for? Perhaps a year?
    • An astute point. There are engine mods you can do that make the engine's job easier such as freeing up the exhaust or opening up the intake (among many many others). Or you can make the engine's job harder by forced induction or chipping it.

      The first could conceivably lengthen the life of your engine, assuming you're not out abusing the hell out of it from every stop light -- though I imagine that is the precise reason some people mod it in the first place. But the chip mods and such are going to be putting stresses on the engine that it wasn't explicitly designed for, otherwise they would have put the higher performance mod chip in there in the first place (assuming the mod chip affects more than just fuel efficiency -- i.e. torque, hp, rpm-limit). That's why I don't think I'd ever chip mod my daily driver.

  • Well,I got as far as the second sentence where it mentions racing a Honda Civic and I can't read anymore. My brain has activited it's "Fast and the Furious" automatic defense system. I'll try again when I'm drunk enough.
  • Another example (Score:3, Interesting)

    by twdorris ( 29395 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @09:03AM (#5053995)
    The article talks about Hondata which works on Hondas. An example of almost the exact same thing in the Mitsubishi world can be found here:


    That software was derived entirely by brute force decryption of the '95 Mitsu Eclipse turbo ECU code. We actually wrote the thing before we knew anything about Hondata. Once it was released and I started looking around a bit more, I realized the Hondata guys had done something almost identical with the Hondas.

    Thomas Dorris
  • Reverse engineering the control modules.. smells like a lawsuit from the Big 3.

    While i think it silly, this year has already started out being the year of the 'DMCA lawsuit'.

  • If you've never experienced the scent of nitro

    I suspect Les Gasser really meant Nitrous, as in Nitrous Oxide.

    Here [holley.com] I found the following:

    The use of nitrous oxide (N20) as a performance enhancement has been traced back to World War II, where it was employed to give Allied aircraft "emergency" boosts in both airspeed and altitude capabilities.

  • My wife owns a Honda Civic, it's the bog standard 4 cylinder DX model. It's fuel effecient, it keeps my family safe and it gets my lovely wife where she needs to go. 22K miles so far and it's not had any major problems. So far as I'm concerned it's just a nice family car.

    Every single day we will be driving and see some other moron in a Civic with those ludicrous big mufflers and a silly looking spoiler. Pet hate of mine. Yes.

    So, what's the deal with Civics? Really easy to modify or just fashionable amongst the kid racers of the world?

    Kids with big mufflers pretending to be drag racers aside (they usually Darwinize themselves within a few months, or simply grow out of it) I've seen some really impressive Civic mods, like the one in the article. I'd be interested to hear comments from those mature Civic owners.

    Kids with big mufflers and silly spoilers need not reply.

  • Vaguely related... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sbryant ( 93075 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @09:27AM (#5054107)

    So, I was looking out of the window at the traffic down below, and I've come to the following conclusion: tune your car all you want. They all wait at the lights at the same speed!

    OK, I know... racing tracks, Autobahn etc. I've noticed that most cars seem to be capped at 250-270 km/h (155-170 mph). Mine certainly is, but that's actually fast enough for me. I don't drag race - if anything, I end up sitting in a jam on the Autobahn, at the same speed as everyone else - zero (see first paragraph). So much for having no speed limits. :-(

    Now for something completely different: Audi is taking the record industry to court.

    It seems that customers have complained that certain CDs won't play in their cars, and Audi wants the record companies to pay to have the car CD players fixed/changed, as they are producing non-standard CDs.

    I heard that two days ago from an employee of said company. It must have been an internal announcement; haven't found anything on the web about it yet...

    -- Steve

  • by dimer0 ( 461593 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @09:29AM (#5054118)
    .. Mostly if you have a turbo. Or, in my case, two.

    My S4 has gone from about 250hp to 330hp. And I can feel it all. Before and after - the change was amazing.

    Sure, I need to be a bit more careful warming up and cooling down the car. I can live with that. And actually, ever since I've gotten the increase in performance, I put the pedal down LESS. That's weird.

    There's also some other very cool tuning.. I have a Vag-Tool which allows me to hook my laptop up to the car and monitor (and change) settings/data in realtime.

    Since I've had that, I've made the following changes:

    - Holding down lock on my keyfob for about 3 seconds will roll up all windows, close the moonroof, *and* lock the car

    - The other way around - holding down unlock for a while opens up all the windows, etc.

    - My tiptronic transmission now will not automatically shift out of first gear. (VERY NICE)

    - My tiptronic transmission now lives in a non-stop "sports mode"

    Now, only if this company that makes the interface/tool would provide hooks into the data collection portion of their app - I could write some realtime graphing utilities..

  • Has Linus seen The Fast and the Furious yet?

    Kernel 2.6 really needs to incorporate some NOS flow control, otherwise we'll top out at 140Mph!
  • by AssFace ( 118098 )
    These people are obviously mildly retarded.

    Everyone knows that the engine has very little to do with racing performance.

    It all boils down to the simple concept that if you want to be faster, you are going to need a Type-R sticker, some huge chromed wheels on the rear wheels (regardless of FWD or RWD) - or at the very least some chromed hubcaps that look like alloy wheels (the other racers won't know the difference).
    you need a monster spoiler, some racing decals, and a coffee can sized exhaust tip.
    If you want the power of nitrous, but don't want the hassle and/or cost of an installation, you can just clip a small fire extinguisher to the A frame of your car and other racers will know that you are faster.

    All of this talk of "engines" and "chips" just shows a general ignorance about cars that I personally find appalling.
  • I remember reading (about a decade ago now on comp.risks I beleive) the following:

    BMW released their new micro-processor (ooooh!) controlled ABS braking system when odd transient failures were reported by some customers - those that survived anyway.

    It turns out that in certain excessively high RF environments the processor locked up. One such environment was while driving past one of those huge "Golf Ball" early warning radar stations so "popular" at the time.

    I remember this because of the interesting discussion of what the fail-safe behaviour of a braking system ought to be:

    void brakesPressed(BrakeEvent e)


    setBrakesLevel (e.getFootPressure ());
    catch (GoneHorriblyWrongException oops)
    // setBrakesLevel (0.0); // killed the test team

    // setBrakesLevel (1.0); // got rear ended by a truck
    setBrakesLevel (0.3); // lets see what happens...
  • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @10:28AM (#5054439)
    Mucking around with your engine may seem cool, but it is something that should be left to the professionals, IMO. Sure, you have the ability to do it, but do you have the know-how? Literally, one mistake and your engine can be f'd up.

    On the BMW mailing lists a few years ago, there was a guy who posted often about such issues. His name is Jim Conforti, and he makes one of (if not the) top aftermarket engine chips for BMWs. We are talking uber-geek here. He is one of the most knowledgable on the subject, and had to "defend" himself several times on the list to know-nothings who were spouting off. He was a nice guy, but if you riled him he could absolutely bury you with his depth of technical knowledge. Just seeing the information that he posted to the list, and knowing that he had 1000x more in his head, I realized that engine management isn't something you should just play around with. Maybe this is just from the BMW perspective, but I'll bet it applies to any engine.

    One last thing - all the high-tech tuning won't do you much good unless you have a well engineered engine to start with. I have a 1988 BMW M3. 2.3 litre 4cyl naturally aspirated, with 198 BHP. (chipped to 210) This was made in 1987 folks, and there are few cars out there today that are engineered this well. In competition the engine put out well over 300 HP, and that was without any type of forced induction. But engineering something like this isn't cheap. But I have never driven a more fun car. On the track it is simply amazing.

  • by CaseyB ( 1105 ) on Friday January 10, 2003 @10:47AM (#5054578)
    Here's an Asiatech F1 V10 racing engine, with a computer controlled throttle. Playing music.

    http://astro.temple.edu/~kmr/Chauffe2.mp3 [temple.edu]

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