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Inside Prototype Challenge’s Electronics Upgrade

Inside the electronics updates to Prototype Challenge cars for Sebring…

Photo: IMSA

Photo: IMSA

When CORE autosport’s Oreca FLM09 took to the track in IMSA’s official test at Sebring last week, it didn’t have any apparent visible changes to the car that’s been a staple of U.S. sports car racing for the last six years.

But underneath the bodywork, the Prototype Challenge car debuted a crucial new electronics package and engine update, all aimed to give the spec prototype an extended life through the 2017 season in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The five-time and defending class champions, along with recent Rolex 24 at Daytona class winners JDC-Miller Motorsports debuted the package at the two-day test, prior to all PC teams running the new electronics and revised Katech-built engine in this month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

“We spent two solid days doing nothing but electronic calibration of the mapping, pit speed limiter, the TC, the shift strategy, all of that. We literally made one minor setup change and that was it,” CORE autosport race engineer Jeff Braun told Sportscar365.

While there has been noteworthy updates made to the Chevy LS3-based powerplant, which has been made lighter by 25 pounds, the biggest overhaul has come with an all-new Motec electronics package, which has replaced the Magneti Marelli systems that had shipped with the cars since 2010.

CORE, which has been tasked as the development team for the new package, began work with Motec in January, initially measuring the car for the new wiring harness prior to taking the team’s second Oreca FLM09 chassis to the dyno for testing.

Braun credits the team’s new data engineer, Colin Mason, for being instrumental in the transition to the Motec system.

Mason, who worked with him at Level 5 Motorsports, converted the Level 5 PC cars to use Motec systems in 2010 prior to the ALMS outlawing the system the following season.

“He’s a really, really sharp guy and knows all of the Motec guys really well,” Braun said. “This was another synergistic thing that made us leading this [development] program be a no-brainer for the series.”

The biggest gains with Motec, Braun says, has come not necessary with performance but instead drivability and technology.

The system adds traction control and on-board telemetry for the first time, along with predictive lap times, which all other classes in the WeatherTech Championship have been equipped with in recent years.

“Our drivers are saying, ‘Well, it’s nice to be in the 21st century with our electronics,'” Braun said. “To our way of thinking, if anything, it’s an advantage for a Pro-Am class to have something like traction control.

“It will be good for the pros because they’ll dial it up and down. I think it will bring a new element to the PC class. And it has certainly brought the cars up to the modern era. That’s really what it’s done.”

According to Jeff’s son, Colin Braun, who along with Mark Wilkins and team owner Jon Bennett tested the upgraded package last week, the updates, particularly the traction control, comes as a welcome addition.

“We’re still early in the development phases but having the traction control is a big confidence-gainer for me as a pro driver,” Colin Braun told Sportscar365.

“I can’t imagine the amount of confidence that will be gained for the Am drivers, the Silver drivers, the guys that don’t have as much experience in these cars.

“It was very, very confidence inspiring on cold tires. I think it’s going to help everyone in the class. These cars make a lot of horsepower and have a lot of torque and were always quite a handful on cold tires.

“Now with the TC being part of it and having things like predictable lap time in the race car, you can start to gauge more of your own driving and what works and what doesn’t work. I think it will be really good.”

In terms of performance, Jeff Braun isn’t anticipating any major changes, despite the significant decrease in lap times at the test, which he attributed to track conditions.

Instead, he expects cars to be up to three or four tenths quicker per lap, with the traction control potentially also helping combat tire degradation later in a run.

While CORE and JDC have done most of the grunt work in getting the new electronics package integrated with the rest of the components last week, IMSA has allowed all PC teams additional track time during the Tuesday Promoter Test Day during race week to come to grips with the package.

“What we hope at CORE, and I know the JDC guys worked on it too, we hope that between the two of us we’ve eliminated the big things so that the other teams can get them, bolt them in and they work 90 percent efficient right away,” Jeff Braun said.

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

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