A Story Untold

In the business of racing, there are times when real or perceived advantages are kept away from public awareness, particularly among competitors.  For example, I recall times when experimental parts were provided certain race teams for in-use evaluations.  If such products didn’t work out as anticipated, they were returned.  Sometimes, however, parts were sufficiently successful that they were not returned, any performance gains were disclaimed and a request for “more of the same” accompanied the so-called “failures.” 

Let’s take that a step further.  Suppose such parts provided a significant benefit but the recipient didn’t want competitors to know about them, subsequently denying any relationship to their origin or supplier.  Now, given that landscape, let’s examine a specific instance that occurred in the early 1970s.  Only the names are changed to protect anyone who was involved and may still have some measure of sensitivity about the events. 

I received a phone call from a young man who’d been working to explore more advanced ways of improving the combustion efficiency of spark-ignited engines than were in practice at the time.  He had been studying postulations dating back into the days of Harry Ricardo who pioneered many of the techniques upon which these type engines were designed and operated.  At the risk of oversimplification, he had discovered ways to produce a more controlled method of structuring air/fuel charge motion during a typical induction cycle and subsequent combustion process.  Initial indications of his success in seeking new methods of addressing mixture quality were reflected in changes to two typical yardsticks of measurement; e.g., brake specific fuel consumption and net power.   Notably, lower b.s.f.c. data and incremental gains in horsepower (as measured on an engine dynamometer) substantiated his claims.

Over a short period of repeated discussions, he decided to pay me a visit to discuss his findings further.  It turned out that his father was a prominent engineering executive in a large aerospace corporation, thus the young man had come from a technical and scientific background that was the basis for how he approached his work.  It was beginning to make sense, particularly since some of the work I was doing at the time paralleled his studies as well.