Rethinking Time-Based ECU Controls With FuelTech USA

Aftermarket engine management systems have come a long way in the last five years, making even some of the latest and greatest OE ECUs look rudimentary. But one aspect that has always been an expensive and often headache filled project — for drag racers in particular — is installing and setting up auxiliary time-based controllers that communicate with the ECU for secondary engine components, such as nitrous, boost and traction controllers.

Fortunately for the consumer, the ongoing competition between manufacturers aiming to one-up each other with each new ECU iteration has finally led us to eliminate the need for multiple controllers. Gone are the days of having multiple units in your vehicle cabin to buy, maintain, and set up; along with all of the complications that come with it, thanks to FuelTech.

We sat down with Luis de Leon, Technical Director for FuelTech USA, to learn more about their latest engine management iteration, the FT600, and all of the unique features that come along with the Power FT system — one thing is for sure, their team is really rethinking time-based ECU controls.

The Time-Based Difference

Whether you have first hand experience working with aftermarket engine and chassis management systems, or are simply an enthusiast who has poked their head inside the cabin of more than a few drag cars while strolling the pits; in most cases it’s painfully obvious just how complicated many of these setups can be. FuelTech has set out to change the game with their latest iteration of the Power FT series, the FT600 ECU and dashboard system.

The Power FT series is a true all-in-one engine management system with everything from real time tuning, boost control, nitrous management, traction control, and high speed data logging all built-in! There’s no platform prejudice either, as the system is compatible with any sequential injection and ignition engine from 1 to 12 cylinders, or four rotors.

For a better look at the FT600 system and a basic overview of all of its features and updates over its predecessor, be sure to check out our previous coverage of the unit here.

“Other than the real time tuning and data logging capabilities, the biggest difference between our Power FT system and the competition is that all of the time-based features normally found in auxiliary controllers are instead fully built-in, without any external device to work with,” says de Leon. “This system will help drag racers shave time off of their e.t. through precise time-based control of traction, spark, boost, or nitrous, with all of these features found in both the FT600 and FT500 ECU.”

An example of a time-based 2-step AFR target table using the FT Manager desktop tuning software.

“While the Power FT line is designed to be used across many motorsports disciplines, the time-based functions built into these ECUs are tailored specifically with drag racing in mind — where you have a time slip to chase. From the moment your run begins, the ECU starts to count, at an incredibly precise level, each millisecond that passes along your trip to the trap,” explains de Leon. “You can precisely control things like fuel targets in 0.1-percent increments and ignition timing advance or retard down to 0.1-degrees, while also cross referencing your engine speed and or driveshaft RPM [wheel speed]. The best part is that it can all be done directly from the dash unit or from a desktop computer.”

During your run, the ECU will then decide how many degrees of ignition timing will need to be retarded from your target in order to prevent the engine speed or driveshaft RPM from straying away from that ‘ideal’ curve. -Luis de Leon, FuelTech USA

“To make the tuning process even simpler with the Power FT system, the user can plot the data from a previous ‘ideal’ pass as a benchmark, set a few basic parameters, and then simply let the ECU actively monitor the vehicle,” states de Leon. “During your run, the ECU will then decide how many degrees of ignition timing will need to be retarded from your target in order to prevent the engine speed or driveshaft RPM from straying away from that ‘ideal’ curve.”

“If you want to add power adders into the equation, the FT600 can also use time-based controls to dictate how much boost pressure your engine is exposed to; how much nitrous will be used during a pass, and when; or both! There’s even options to control your transmission shifts and activate converter lock-ups.” says de Leon, “Because there are so many variables in the real world, many of these features can also be controlled by more than just time-based inputs. If activated, the ECU is designed to reference the time-based controls as the primary trigger, but you can also set up secondary boost target references such as minimum boost, throttle position, or engine RPM and gear.”

The gear and time-based boost control (left) and speed control settings (right) in the FT600 dash unit.

“Another advantage to the FT500 and FT600 system is that they also feature an integrated full feature dashboard that is capable of data logging a large number of inputs at a very high sample rate. Both units are capable of logging literally every signal that comes in and out of the system,” de Leon exclaims. “For example, a data log can display the total amount of fuel that was used on that pass, and then break that down further to show how much fuel was used per cylinder. This is useful for high powered engines if you wanted to set up a fuel compensation table and need to know how much more fuel an individual cylinder required in comparison to the others. And depending on the specific sensors used with your application, the same idea is also applied when logging ignition timing; EGT [exhaust gas temperature] sensors; wideband and narrowband oxygen sensors; and pressure transducers.”

“Time-based features are, of course, recorded as well — showing not only the overall ignition timing curve, but also how much of that curve was controlled by time or another trigger,” says de Leon. “All of this makes it incredibly easy to visualize how exactly your tune is behaving as the vehicle makes its way down the track, and where you could make changes to further improve your performance on the next pass. Having all of this detailed data at your fingertips keeps your improvements moving forward, not by chance, but through real useful data analysis.”

“Our goal was to create a system that was as complete and feature-rich as possible, yet still maintained a user-friendly interface. Aside from the numerous ways to take advantage of custom outputs, most of the tables have titles and descriptions that make clear what that features intention’s are,” explains de Leon. “So if you wanted to setup some custom time-based outputs, our Pro-Nitrous system is a great example. It’s a time-based six-stage nitrous controller, and if a user doesn’t take advantage of a nitrous system they could easily use those outputs for something else while still maintaining the ability to control fuel and timing for each ‘stage.’ There’s no feature lock or extra cost for any of these controllers, the system comes with everything you will need right out of the box.”

A Well Designed User Interface Is Important

To give you a better idea of just how user-friendly the Power FT system and FT Manager tuning software are, de Leon was kind enough to walk us through the process of setting up the software side of both the boost and nitrous time-based controller.

“Since the boost controller is built directly into the FT600 itself, setting up the software for time-based boost control is pretty simple,” says de Leon. “On the main wastegate boost control setup page in FT Manager, you have a bunch of direct entries for various settings such as boost control type, maximum boost limit, boost targets during launch, and valve type, for example.”

The primary page within FT Manager responsible for setting the basic parameters and ceilings for various boost control features.

“Once you have the primary reference page set the way you want, you can move on to setting your actual time-based boost target,” states de Leon. “This table is very simple and just presents a graphical representation of your desired boost curve, with the elapsed time and target boost laid out on a two-dimensional table. From there it’s as easy as setting your data logging parameters and you’re good to go!”

The time-based boost control features found within the dash unit itself for fast and easy trackside calibration adjustments.

The 2D table within FT Manager used to set the desired boost of the time-based boost controller (left), and the subsequent data log after a successful pass (right).

“Setting up the time-based Pro-Nitrous controller within the software is just as easy, if not even easier, than setting up the boost controller,” says de Leon. “You start at the timers and delay page, where you select how many stages you want activated, from one up to six; how long after your launch you want to wait for each stage to activate; along with the associated fuel and ignition timing compensation delays. The stages will then be laid out on a graph for a better visualization of how each stage overlaps, then it’s as simple as ticking the correct boxes in the data logger.”

Time-based nitrous control settings as seen from the FT600 dash unit.

An example of the time-based Pro-Nitrous controller setup page in FT Manager (left), and data logging results (right).

Why It Matters

Whether you’re driving a lightly modded street car or a 3,000 horsepower drag car, FuelTech’s Power FT series is capable of handling any primary engine management challenge you throw at it. And having access to the numerous auxiliary controls (mentioned above) right out of the box really simplifies the entire process — from installation, to initial tune, and even trackside recalibrations.

Be sure to check out FuelTech’s website for a look at their full line of engine management systems, independent controllers, and ECU accessories!

Article Sources

About the author

Kyle Kitchen

Born and raised in Southern California, Kyle has been a gearhead ever since seeing his first Mitsubishi Evo VIII in 2003. He is almost entirely self taught mechanically, and as an inexperienced enthusiast always worked on his own vehicles, regardless of the difficulty, just to learn how to do it himself. Prior to becoming a freelance writer for the company, Kyle started his automotive performance career with Power Automedia as a shop technician, where he gleaned intimate knowledge of LS platforms and drag racing builds; then later joining the editorial team as the Staff Writer for EngineLabs And Turnology. Today, Kyle is an experienced EFI calibrator; hot rod builder; and motorsports technician living in the San Jose area. Kyle is a track junkie with lots of seat time. You can usually find him racing his Mitsubishi Evo X in local time attack and road race events.
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