Optimal parameterization of an engine controller for drag racing

September 01, 2011 // By Andreas Patzer, Vector Informatik
Drag racing is not necessarily the everyday operating field for automotive electronics designers. However, this kind of activity requires significant expertise in engine control techniques including software. Optimizing software parameters helps to squeeze the maximum horsepower out of a combustion engine.

In calibrating engine controllers for production vehicles, electronic developers typically work with engine test stands and numerous test drives over different route scenarios. However, no such tools are available for special engine controllers used for drag racing. Using Vector's CANape measurement and calibration tool enables an engine controller to be calibrated for top performance without using a test stand while staying within a tight budget even under the continual risk of destroying the engine after just a few test runs.

Anyone who has been to a weekend race event and seen mid-class vehicles – with production engines with hundreds of horsepower – covering a distance of a quarter mile (402.34 m) with deafening noise and incredible accelerations, is very likely watching a drag race (Figure 1).

Because top engine performance is required very quickly in such acceleration races, a large share of development effort goes into calibrating the engine controller. The art of the race team's efforts is to achieve optimal results with a minimal budget. It is necessary to approach the stress limits of the engine so closely that it delivers maximum power without being destroyed. Not only the driving but also the process of calibrating the engine can best be described as “a ride on the razor's edge.”

Optimally calibrated engine controller enables maximum power

In a personal endeavor, it takes a great deal of passion and enthusiasm to spend the time and money it takes to build and maintain a vehicle for drag racing. The key item here is the engine. A production engine is purchased, which is then modified by mechanical rebuilding to prepare it for the demands of racing. While the rebuild represents one side of the coin, the other involves calibrating the engine controller. All sorts of challenges must be mastered here, since the parameters of the production engine controller hardly harmonize with the modified engine any longer.

Measuring and calibrating ECUs is a

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