Are There Benefits From Using Exotic Racing Fuel?
“Because racecar” is often the reason given on the internet for anything involving car mods, but it actually applies to alternative fuels. While it is cool to say you make 600 horsepower on pump gas, if you’re serious about big power you have to use other fuels. These are the pros and cons of common racing fuels.
This is the go to performance setup for a lot of people at the moment and it makes sense. Readily available in California and the Midwest, and not too expensive, it gets its name from a composition of 85% ethanol (alcohol) and 15% gasoline. E85 helps produce power by upping the octane rating to as much 105, which makes your engine less prone to detonation, so you can turn up the boost (if you have a turbo). But ethanol also has an ace up it’s sleeve: it has better cooling properties than straight gas. That’s right… this little magic mixture will lower the temperatures of your air fuel ratio, even in naturally aspirated cars. Lower temperatures mean more density which means more power! Score!
Used in the NHRA Top Fuel class, this stuff is typically a cocktail of 90% nitromethane (CH3NO2) with the rest being mostly methanol. When you want to make 8,000 horsepower this is your drink of choice. It not only cools the air fuel mixture like E85, but it carries its own oxygen with it, so you need much less air for combustion, or you can use more fuel with the same amount of air. How much more than gasoline? Almost 9 times! This stuff makes E85 look like Coors Light. Nitromethane is extremely volatile, which is what allows it to produce massive amounts of energy, but also much harder to store and toxic to breath. The other trade off is that it is extremely brutal on parts. This is why Top Fuel drag race engines are rebuilt every run. Do not breathe this stuff in! It is dangerous!
This stuff was the buzz word in Formula 1 back in the the 80s. So what is it? Basically a hydrocarbon that increases octane ratings, but also releases more energy during the combustion process. More energy means more power which is what enabled over 1,000 horsepower from 1.5 liter engines. By now you should be seeing a theme with racing fuels: increase octane rating to resist detonation and unlock more energy! But of course, all that extra octane won't get you anything in a normal stock motor, you have to build for it.
Methanol is largely used pure and undiluted. It only takes 4 parts of air per 1 part of fuel to burn on the power producing side of the “rich” scale, compared to 14 to 1 for gasoline. Methanol exists in the same alcohol family as the ethanol used in E85, but, unlike E85 it is a master at removing heat. Think of methanol as E85’s cooler bigger brother. Intakes can actually be cool to the touch on motors that run on this fuel. Indy cars ran methanol for many years, which was what was responsible for the invisible car fires you sometimes see highlights of; methanol fires are invisible to the naked eye. If you ever get in the pits with cars that chuck this fuel out the tail pipes take caution to not stand behind them. You can pass out from inhaling the fumes. Ask me how I know…
Modern F1 Fuels
According to Formula1.com the fuel isn’t much different than commercially available gasoline. If you believe that please call me so I can sell you more bull excrement. They say it is about 99% the same as what you and I put in our daily cars. According to scientists we are 96% the same as great apes. Oh what a difference a few percent can make. In a sport where thousandths of seconds mater I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they are running exotic compounds in F1 fuels that skirt detection methods…
What is Required For These Fuels?
Exotic racing fuels are pretty neat tricks for unlocking power in your engine, especially if you plan your build with the fuel in mind. Remember that if you choose to run one of these setups you will need an aftermarket computer tune to recalibrate everything, like ignition timing and fuel delivery, to take advantage of them. Different injectors, fuel rails and pumps will all need to be considered. It is not as simple as pouring something different into your gas tank, but the concept is nothing more than basic chemistry! Until next time…