10,000 bhp and counting
In the world of drag racing, September sits large in the calendar as a date for destiny. The FIA/FIM European Finals 2015. Possibly the biggest meet of the year with over 250 teams assemble from around Europe to descend on the strip of tarmac in Northamptonshire affectionately known as the Pod.
As another season of blood, sweat, tears and nitro winds towards a close, the talk as ever is about the hundredths and thousandths of a second that can promote you from zero to hero in the blink of an eye. In drag racing there is no substitute for horsepower. Sure the aero is important. Yes suspension set up too. But without that all important stampede of BHP to call on, you’re nowhere.
King of the hill in drag racing are the behemoths of the strip. Top Fuelers. Fire breathing dragons that sport 10,000 horsepower. Makes a F1 car sound distinctly underpowered. But 10,000 is what it takes to catapult a winning top fuel down the quarter mile in under 4 seconds, topping out at 500kph or thereabouts. Which makes an F1 car sound decidedly slow. As well as underpowered!
So how exactly do you extract 10,000 horsepower from a V8? With difficulty and a lot of cash is the short answer. Longevity you see isn’t really something you look for in an engine stressed to this degree. It is a fact of life that a large proportion of the components will be junked after a set amount of runs. But what you do want is reliability. Because if things fail unexpectedly the costs (and components) go through the roof. And beyond…
For example take the crankshaft, milled from billet steel. Typically that will be replaced every eight to ten runs. Or every 30 seconds run at full throttle. Which ever is sooner. Con rod bearings and lower main bearings are replaced every run. And so it goes on.
Which means a fully loaded 747 is more economical than a Top Fuel dragster!.
And it’s not only components that are consumed at a fearsome rate. Fuel burn is prodigious too. At full throttle, the engine consumes up to 1.2 gallons of nitro methane per second at a rough cost of £150 a gallon. Which means a fully loaded 747 is more economical than a Top Fuel dragster!.
Talking of jets, and not a lot of people know this, Top Fuel cars are not only driven via the rear wheels, but by ‘jet power’ too. Well to be more accurate it’s exhaust gas. Check out the exhaust pipes themselves (or headers as they call them), and you’ll see they are always angled up and slightly to the rear, reason being that the pressure of exhaust gases being thrust out is so great that, if they pointed straight down, they would be capable of lifting the car off the car ground. And that’s why that same force is harnessed by angling the pipes rearwards they add forward momentum. Every little bit helps…
Climb back inside the engine and at the heart of course you’ll find the spark plugs. Now NGKs are built to the most exacting standards, that’s why they are the No.1 choice in the world of drag racing. But even they are only capable of surviving one run in a top fuel dragster. For instance did you know that
the engine’s dual magnetos pump 44 amps to each spark plug which is the equivalent output of an arc welder in each cylinder…
So back to where we started. That 10,000 horsepower figure. Now we have to be honest, that number is actually an estimate for a very good reason and that is you can’t get these cars on a dyno! So some fancy maths have had to be used to arrive at 10,000 horsepower estimate. However having said that teams do fit a torque measuring device in the rear differential, and they have seen recorded spikes of up to 12,000 lb-ft of torque. That’s really torquing torque!
But at the end of the day words simply cannot do justice to these monsters. You have to see them and feel them to believe them. We’ve been just feet away when they blast off the line. Experienced first hand the air being punched out of your stomach as they rocket off the line pulling 5.5g. And heard the ear splitting roar of two cars that between them pack more power than a whole F1 grid of 20 cars.
Awesome doesn’t begin to describe it.
From Thursday 3rd to Sunday 6th September this orgy of power will be at Santa Pod for the European Finals. So pack the ear defenders, follow the signs and settle in for one of the most spectacular motorsport shows on tarmac!