|08-15-2008, 09:31 PM||#1|
RCC Senior Contributor
Nitro Engine tuning 101
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Nitro Engine Tuning
MAXIMIZE YOUR ENGINE'S POWER POTENTIAL
So now you can get your engine started on a regular basis, but youíre still struggling with the fine-tuning that will score you a win at the racetrack (or bragging rights at the parking lot). Properly tuning a nitro engine can make that difference without jeopardizing its health. It takes time to learn how to really tune your engine, however. Thereís a certain ďfeelĒ to how your car drives and a certain sound youíll come to know when your engine has been ideally tuned. Other cues that you feel and hear tell you what to adjust when your engine isnít running properly. When itís time to tune your engine, thereís no substitute for plain old experience. Reading about engine tuning is helpful, but you need to experiment with your engine to improve your tuning skills. The good news is that the following tips will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of fine-tuning and achieve tuning proficiency more quickly.
BASE-LINE MIXTURE SETTINGS
Engine manufacturers often include base-line settings for the mixture needles, so itís wise to start with these. If this information is not provided, then you must arrive at needle settings that will get the engine started. A universal starting point is usually about 1 turn open (counterclockwise) on the low-speed needle and somewhere in the 2- to 3-turn range on the high-speed needle. This varies among engines, but it gets you started running, and then you can make the necessary corrections. After the initial startup, follow the proper break-in procedure, then worry about performance tuning!
The proper sequence for adjusting the mixture needles is hotly debated. When you start to fine-tune the engine, itís generally best to start with the high-speed needle, then set the low-speed. First, however, get your engine running, and keep it running before you worry about race tuning.
During break-in, the engine typically idles a long time, so itís best to adjust the low-speed setting first so the engine runs slightly rich (loading up every 30 seconds or so). It requires an occasional ďblipĒ of the throttle to clear out any raw fuel that has accumulated in the engine. Once break-in is finished, then get the high-speed needle in the ballpark.
Place the car on the ground and accelerate smoothly to give the engine a chance to build some heat. With the high-speed needle in the proper range, the engine should be able to rev relatively well up to full speed once it has been running for a few minutes on the track or parking lot.
A word of caution first: thereís a fine line between the perfect tune and a blown or damaged engine. Nitro-engine fuel also contains engine lubricant, so as you get close to dialing in the mixture to where there is just enough fuel to burn and deliver maximum power, you also are close to having just enough oil to keep the engine lubricated. Anyone with experience in tuning 2-stroke engines can tell you that they run best right before they seize or blow up. Our engines are a little tougher and more capable of taking some abuse than bigger 2-strokes, but thereís no sense in pushing the mixture settings so lean that you risk damage to the engine. I canít say this too often: get the engine up to full running temperature by running the car exactly as you would on the track or parking lot. The high-speed needle setting depends on the type of driving you do. Iíll start with a racing setup.
Racers will tune the high-speed setting to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. (Performance also depends on a proper low-speed needle setting, but for now, letís concentrate on the high-speed setting.) The best place to race tune your engine is on the track where you run. I prefer to set the high-speed mixture so the car can leg out the trackís longest straight section in the shortest time. Estimate the time by ďfeelĒ and gut instinct, or use a stopwatch for more accuracy. The high-speed mixture should be set to maximize engine performance for that particular track configuration. A short, tight track may require a main mixture setting just a shade on the lean side to provide maximum power out of the corners. You neednít be concerned about high-rpm performance because the track is too small for the engine to ever reach peak rpm. A long, high-speed track may require a slightly rich main-needle setting. If an engine constantly revs at the upper limits of the rpm range, the fuel mixture should be richened to ensure proper lubrication across the entire rpm range. This slightly rich setting might reduce bottom-end acceleration to a degree, but longer tracks require a slightly richer mixture setting to let the engine rev to its limits without running dry of fuel and oil.
Why is it important to tune the engine to the track? A mixture needle can only provide optimum performance within a relatively narrow rpm range. Anywhere below this hypothetical rpm range, the engine runs slightly rich; anywhere above, it gets progressively leaner. Until we have fuel injection that constantly optimizes fuel mixture throughout the rpm range, there needs to be a degree of compromise with the mixture settings. So, ideally, set the mixture to provide the most power in an rpm range that is best suited to the track on which you run.
Running in parking lots, particularly larger ones with a lot of breathing room, requires unique mixture settings. Itís a common mistake to establish mixture settings for maximum punchóas though the car will be run within the confines of a tight racetrackóand then to go out and run at wide-open throttle (WOT) in a huge parking lot for 5 minutes. This type of running is incredibly unhealthy for an engine to begin with, and compounding the problem with an excessively lean main-needle setting is a recipe for disaster. If you still insist on torturing your engine, the high-speed mixture setting needs to be as much as 1/4 turn richer than typical to provide optimum fuel for the upper rpm range. The engine will be a little softer when accelerating from a standstill, but itís the only way to ensure there is an adequate supply of fuel and oil when running at the upper end of the rpm range. The inherent danger is that this type of running taxes the connecting rod and other engine components to their limits, but having the proper mixture setting will at least delay the inevitable.
|08-15-2008, 09:33 PM||#2|
RCC Senior Contributor
Re: Nitro Engine tuning 101
A glow plugís temperature range is critical to proper performance. Small-block engines generally use warm to hot glow plugs, while big-block engines use plugs in the colder range. If you choose a plug in the wrong temperature range, you could be chasing the tune of your engine till the sun goes down. Changes of the relative temperature of the glow plug can be beneficial, however.
A combination of compression, heat and a catalytic reaction between the platinum in the glow-plug coil and the methanol in the fuel creates combustion in a nitro engine. Altering the heat range of your glow plug can alter the timing of the combustion process. Nitro engines donít have an ignition system that can be used to advance or retard combustion timing, but a hotter plug that causes ignition a little earlier in the combustion process can have the same effect. ďAdvancingĒ the ignition timing can increase overall power output, especially at higher rpm. There are limits, however, and installing too hot a plug causes pre-ignition (detonation) and risks damaging your engine.
Itís a challenge to figure out a glow plugís temperature range. Manufacturers donít use a consistent and universal standard to rate the temperature ranges of their glow plugs. You will probably know the temperature of a plug relative to others within a given product line, but currently, no rating system allows comparisons among manufacturers. Here again, plain old experience with a variety of glow plugs will help you to know which are best for the effect you want.
ďReadingĒ the glow plug is a tuning technique advanced by Ron Paris. It suggests that looking at the glow plug tells you something about how your engine is running. The element in a glow plug will turn gray in an engine that is close to the optimum fuel mixture. This method requires a new glow plug, as the element will eventually turn gray regardless of the needle settings; the length of time it takes to turn gray is the issue. Plugs that turn gray in just a tank or two of fuel (running at race pace, not diddling around) indicate a fuel mixture close to idealóbut also close to trouble. If the plug stays wet and shiny for a few tanks of fuel, youíre in the safe zone; a little rich but safe. When the plug wire gets distorted or broken, however, youíre in real trouble. Itís a sure sign that the mixture is way too lean, or that there is too much compression and the engine is detonating.
Engines are essentially air pumps. The engine takes air in, mixes it with fuel, and then the mixture is compressed and ignited. The additional pressure created by the burning fuel increases by a factor directly related to the amount of compression: increasing compression increases power output. But there are limits to the compression an engine tolerates. Too much causes the fuel mixture to combust too quickly, and that returns us to the same detonation scenario of an excessively hot glow plug.
The amount of compression is determined by the number and thickness of the shims (gaskets) between the cylinder head and the top of the piston sleeve. Well, itís determined by many other factors, but the only one easily changed is the head clearance via head shims. More shims = less compression; less shims = more compression. Removing or replacing shims with thinner ones increases compression. Some engines have only one shim, so it isnít advisable to run without a shim at all. Moderation is the key. Go slowly, and make small, not drastic, changes that will minimize the risk of damage to your engine. First and foremost, be sure the piston wonít hit the cylinder head if you remove a shim (or shims).
You can also change compression with glow plugs. Some manufacturers make a longer glow plug that protrudes slightly into the combustion chamber, effectively reducing the area in which the fuel mixture is compressed. This area is already small, and the little extra space occupied by a longer glow plug will raise compression. This is not the most desirable method, but it can be used on engines that have only one thin head shim. Itís unlikely that the longer plug will even come into contact with the piston, but just to be safe, check the head clearance before you install a long plug.
Itís a simple fact: for optimum performance, you must retune your nitro engine every time you run it. Anyone who assumes that the needles can be left alone once they have been set is sadly mistaken. An overnight change in weather conditions may prevent an engine from running or may put it at risk of some damage if adjustments arenít made to the fuel-mixture settings. Ignoring an engineís tuning needs compromises its ability to make horsepower. In response to certain changes in weather, equipment and other variables, nitro engines must be regularly retuned.
Temperature. Hot weather requires a leaner mixture setting; cold weather requires a richer setting. Most people assume the opposite because they treat the mixture needle like a thermostat. It is wrong to assume that colder weather requires a leaner setting to keep heat in the engine and vice versa. Cold air is denser than hot air. The denser, colder air packs more oxygen into the engine, so going from hot weather to cold needs a commensurate increase of fuel to balance ratio of fuel-burning oxygen and the fuel itself. The opposite is true in hotter weather. Going from cold to hot weather requires a leaner mixture setting.
Humidity. Humidity is the amount of moisture (water vapor) in the air. Moisture in the air takes up volume that would otherwise be occupied by fuel-burning oxygen. Less oxygen means less fuel is required to maintain a proper ratio of air and fuel. High humidity requires a leaner mixture setting than dry conditions.
Barometric pressure. A barometer measures the atmospheric pressure (generally listed in the local newspaper or on the local weather forecast on TV). Higher barometric pressure readings mean more air is getting into the engine, requiring a richer mixture setting to balance the air/fuel ratio.
Altitude. Altitude is an important factor that most of us ignore, yet it affects the engineís performance possibly more than any other element. The general formula for power loss with increases in altitude is 3 percent for every 1,000 feet above sea level. If you race in Colorado at 5,000 feet instead of in California at sea level, you can expect to lose about 15 percent of the engineís potential power output, if the engine is tuned properly.
Air is thinner at higher altitudes, which means thereís less fuel-burning oxygen than at sea level. You might sense a common theme here: less air (oxygen) means less fuel to maintain the proper air/fuel ratio. So, running at higher altitudes requires a leaner mixture setting than running at sea level.
This chart indicates the direction in which you should adjust the fuel mixture when faced with changing weather and other conditions. It assumes the engine is currently well tuned. You could face any combination of conditions listed in the chart; knowing which way to go with the mixture adjustments is half the battle.
Higher air temperature Lean
Lower air temperature Rich
Higher humidity Lean
Lower humidity Rich
Higher barometric pressure Rich
Lower barometric pressure Lean
Higher altitude Lean
Lower altitude Rich
Higher nitro content Rich
Lower nitro content Lean
Higher oil content Lean
Lower oil content Rich
Hotter glow plug Rich
Colder glow plug Lean
TUNED PIPE AND HEADER
Anyone who has been around 2-strokes knows that the exhaust system plays a major role in engine performance. Pipes and how they affect performance is a complete article in itself. I donít want to get into the science of tuned pipes here, Iíll simply suggest that volume (assuming the pipe doesnít stray too far from convention) determines where the pipe will go to make the best power. Smaller pipes with lower overall volume make the best top-end power, while the fatter, longer pipes with greater volume provide the best bottom-end punch. Selecting the proper tuned pipe can have a very noticeable impact on your application.
Headers can be modified by almost any enthusiast. The length of the header is important to squeezing more power out of your engine. Longer headers deliver better bottom-end power, while shorter headers make better top end. Shorten a header by cutting it with a hacksaw or a Dremel tool. Cut it in 1/8-inch increments, and measure the performance to determine whether any improvement has occurred. Continue cutting until performance levels off. If you need to add back on to the length of the header because youíve cut too much and performance is suffering, simply increase the gap between the header and pipe, but donít expose more than 1/4 inch of coupler. If the header is too short by greater than 1/4 inch, just get a new one.
Iíve spent lots of time trying to chase away a nasty bog in the engine as it came off the line or out of a corner, only to find later that the problem was the clutch. Some clutches are built properly at the factory, but in my experience, most engage too early, which hobbles the engine coming out of every corner. Tuning the clutch to engage at the proper rpm puts more power to the ground than most could imagine.
|08-15-2008, 09:35 PM||#3|
RCC Senior Contributor
Re: Nitro Engine tuning 101
Youíll notice that I have not once mentioned a temperature gauge. The worst thing you can do is to tune an engine to run at a specific temperature. Engine temperature is affected by a number of factors, only one of which is fuel mixture. Weather and many other factors play a role in engine temperature, so tuning to run at the same temperature every time shortchanges the engineís potential to make power. Yes, most engines run in the 200- to 300-degree range, so checking that the engine stays within this range is valuable to a certain extent. As a result of different weather conditions and other variables, however, the same engineówhen tuned for peak power outputócan vary as much as 50 degrees. A temp gauge is a reference tool that you should use only to build a data bank of tuning information. A temp gauge should not be used as a tuning tool. Donít tune an engine to run at 230 degrees all the time. Prevailing conditions may require a mixture setting that causes the engine to make maximum power while running at 270 degrees. Youíll never know that if you always target the same temperature.
Engine tuning is not a black art; it just takes time to learn the particulars so you can maximize your power plant's performance. Take the time to read and learn, and you will avoid the mistakes most of us made in learning the ropes. I thought I had it licked 10 years ago, but Iím still learning. We never really stop learning; sometimes, we just get too smart for our own good. Experiment a little with some of the tips, and youíll find thereís more power to be made with less effort than you thought. Some of the modifications involve a bit of risk; just take it slowly, and use your ďnoodle.Ē Itís hard to make a mistake you canít correct.
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