At the recent NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, North Carolina, decorated doorslammer ace Jose Gonzalez drove to his first career NHRA Pro Modified victory — in doing so, he also established a new factoid for the class as his car is believed to be the first and only car to win an NHRA Pro Mod event with distributor-less, coil-on-plug ignition.
Gonzalez’s twin-turbocharged Chevrolet Camaro, powered by a Pro Line Racing Hemi, is directed by a FuelTech FT600 ECU that’s paired with the new FTSPARK CDI (high energy capacitive discharge system) module, with eight individual coils firing each cylinder.
Coil-on-plug systems are far from new in the racing industry, but they’re only now proving their value in big-time doorslammer racing, thanks to the efforts of Anderson Dick and his team at FuelTech. For those unfamiliar with such systems, the individual coil packs replace the need for a cam-driven distributor; instead the battery voltage, traveling through the primary windings of the coil creates an electromagnet from the iron core. Lines of magnetic force contract and rush toward the core, in the process pushing electrons along in the secondary winding, in effect creating a high voltage surge. This causes the voltage to pass from the coil to the spark plug, ultimately creating the spark that lights the air/fuel mixture.
The benefits of coil-on-plug are well-known: having separate coils for each plug allows for additional recharge time between cylinder firings. Distributor systems with a single coil require the coil to fire four times with every revolution of the crankshaft, but with individuals coils, a given coil only has to fire once every other crankshaft revolution. The result: hotter spark, particularly at high-rpm, meaning improved combustion and more horsepower.
Anderson notes other benefits of the setup, as well.
“To convert an NHRA Pro Mod-style car to coil-on-plug was one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced, because even being proven in other applications, the NHRA Pro Mod guys really tend to stick with what works unless they’re sure it’s a benefit. So we had to do a lot of back-to-back testing early this year, with Sidnei Frigo’s Corvette. He had the magneto on the car that he ran last year, and they ran it and the FTSPARK back-to-back in the same conditions, same tuning, to see how it was behaving. They saw benefits and results right away, in regards to tuning and how it made a cleaner combustion process,” Anderson notes.
The diagnostics are also valuable, as the tuner can view the discharge time for each cylinder, coil voltage, battery voltage, and other real-time factors after a run.
Many of FuelTech’s leading customers have already converted to the FTSPARK and coil-on-plug, including the aforementioned Gonzalez and Frigo, Michael Biehle, and Radial vs The World runner DeWayne Mills.
“DeWayne’s team is super-happy with the results since switching. The car is behaving so much better — the individual cylinders are more consistent … before he had to have more fuel in some cylinders and less in others, had to pull and add timing in some cylinders, and now it’s more even across the board. The car is running better, safer, and making at least the same, if not more, horsepower,” Anderson says.
Biehle’s NHRA Pro Mod team was one of FuelTech’s first customers to switch to coil-on-plug, but did so using another manufacturers’s ignition module, as it pre-dated the release of the FTSPARK. Since that time, a host of others have cast side conventional wisdom to try the latest and greatest.
“The magneto has been out for half a century, and it has been the standard for any high-end racing machine, but the magneto was originally developed to fire a nitromethane engine. Nitro requires a completely different ignition characteristic — it demands a very long duration spark. Instead of duplicating a magneto’s results, we went through the reasons why an alcohol engine is different from a nitro engine, and the main difference is alcohol requires a very short and concentrated spark. We designed our product to be the best for methanol, and not for a nitro engine. That’s changed the mindset of everyone, because the magneto is considered to be the best route, but it’s not perfect for this application. So we feel confident saying this is the first extreme high-energy ignition product that was specially developed for an alcohol engine,” Anderson says.
According to Anderson, the FTSPARK has about 10 degrees of spark duration, whereas a magneto is in the area of 70 degrees at high-rpm.
“We have all of the energy on those 10 degrees,” he adds. You want all of that energy as quick as possible to fire and burn that alcohol and air mixture.”
He goes on to share, “it’s been a challenge to convince racers and tuners that we could have something better than existing technology,” he continues. “Racers with magnetos are used to keeping a lot of spares in the trailer and have just accepted the fact that the magneto will go bad and they just keep replacing them for many years. They think the product will just go bad over time, but it’s not supposed to be that way. So I think the reliability of our product has already proven to be superior.”
Anderson notes that replacing a magneto with a setup like that on Gonzalez’s Camaro reduces 19 pounds of weight from the top of the engine — a highly undesirable place to carry extra ballast — allowing the teams to shift the weight around in the car as they see fit.
For Gonzalez, tuner Steve Petty, and the El General team, that — and the many other benefits of the FTSPARK — all clearly played into their favor on that Sunday afternoon in North Carolina.