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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Why Aren't European Top Fuel Cars
as Fast
as American Top Fuel Cars?

By Eddie Corr

Recently, on the Dragster World forum (www.dragsterworld.com), a British Top Fuel fan asked why American teams go faster than European teams. It's a good question. The answer is that there are many reasons, all stemming from them having better tracks and more money. Every run costs money; the Americans bandy around figures such as $15,000 per run for Top Fuel. So you take how much money you have per season, and divide it by that, that's how many runs you can make. If you want to make more runs with the same amount of money, you have to lower that figure of $15,000 per run. You have to use the car up less / break less parts and that may mean running slower. The money in European drag racing is so small compared to the States that we have substantially less per run that $15,000. We can't afford to set the cars up as hard as the Americans do.

Now consider the tracks themselves. Santa Pod is a very good track and will probably hold much lower ETs than we have seen so far. However the other European tracks aren't always as good as it, and therefore in one European season we will get only two or three meetings at a 'good' track. There is very changeable weather at these meetings, and that brings different ambient conditions to the motor and different temperatures to the track surfaces. We visit tracks in four or five different countries with four or five different motorsport bodies preparing them. Can you see a problem? We are never able to tune for increased performance, only for consistency. The Americans also have to deal with a variety of traction available through the season but the variation between tracks on the NHRA series is less than the variation between tracks in the FIA series.

Also, the top American teams are putting in 22 meetings per year plus test sessions, against our five meetings. They are getting a lot more run data and experience. They have four qualifiers per meeting, and five at Indy, whereas we have three. It is often said that the Americans click off 4s at over 300 on every run. They don't; read the qualifying and elimination rounds on NHRA online. Obviously, the Americans outright ETs are much faster than the Europeans, but the average ET. of some European cars, which is a measure of consistency, is as good as many US Cars. Andy Carter had an average ET of 5.27 in all elimination rounds of 2001, including one breakage. His average ET. was 5.11 not including the breakage. He ran within a tenth of the track record on every track he visited. I am compelled to add though that the performance from both Bernstein's and Dixon's cars in their 2001 NHRA campaign was just spectacular in terms of both outright ET and average ET.

Danielle De Porter reported to us when driving Knut's car in Germany in 1999 that she really had to "drive" on the European tracks. She said it was a handful compared to just sitting there and letting the car run down the groove like in the States. That illustrates the poorer traction we suffer from, which makes it harder for the driver to steer the car and keep the throttle wide open to keep the fuel and clutch management working properly. To keep the throttle open against an average of about 3 Gs longitudinal acceleration with the car shaking and moving so much that the driver sometimes can't see is not straightforward! It's harder also for the tuner to prevent the car from smoking the tires because the tire smoke threshold for a poor track is so low, and therefore the performance limit is also low.

To illustrate how different European tracks are from each other, Andy Carter reported that our car was completely different in Alastaro, Finland, in June 2001 to what it was in Santa Pod, England, two weeks prior to that, even with a very similar tune up in the car. The last 300 feet in Finland were so loose that he was off the throttle because he couldn't see where he was going. Believe me, if Andy says he had to get off it, then he had to get off it. When the traction is good here we can use it. Andy has ran an 0.854 sixty foot time and Peter Lantz has run an 0.838, but if the track isn't there after 60 feet, no amount of pedaling or mag retarders will capitalize on those 60 feet times to yield what they should (4.70 or better).

On the subject of budget, most Europeans have less than 10% of what American teams run on. I have heard some established Americans laughing at others trying to start teams with 0.7 million US dollars. The Americans are the greatest at drag racing but there are a few Europeans who, if given American budgets, tracks, track time for the driver, and number of runs to tune from, could give them a run for their money. As far as tuning goes, many Europeans have tuned fuel cars without data loggers, and I am one of them at present. Servicing the car is harder for us because we don't carry the number of spares the Americans do, like several sets of fresh heads, etc. Americans really just swap parts and sometimes swap whole motors, whereas we really have to service our parts, although a few European teams are now going the way of burning a lot of stuff up.

European tuners and drivers have been to the States but the American record is held by an American driver and an American tuner. Similarly American tuners and drivers have been to Europe but the European record is held by a European driver and a European tuner. In short, Top Fuel is different in Europe to what it is in America.

Eddie Corr
Crew Chief, Andy Carter Motorsports
Development Engineer, Lotus Powertrain
ECorr@lotuscars.co.uk

 

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