This is the first part in a series I like to call “What’s wrong with the Locost?” or WWWTL for short. I promised myself I would do a Trackday this year and as things are starting to slow down for the summer I now have time to prepare the car.
Firstly, the Locost is not perfect; I can easily stand and point my finger at a million things “wrong” with it and there are a few things I can’t really live with that I feel I need to amend before it starts turning laps.
You see, as you fix the fundamental setup issues on your home built race car, and attach a set of half decent sticky tyres, you’ll start to go around corners much faster. This has a big effect on the longevity of the car, increasing the loads through the suspension and engine, and you will definitely find some design flaws if you are lucky enough to have any. If you applied good engineering when designing/building said race car you will hopefully have no issues. You would have considered all loading conditions, and you will suffer no tears/breakdowns/failures.
Something I feel I did not consider enough many moons ago, and potentially completely overlooked, was oil starvation.
The Oiling System
I’ll do a short run through of the oil system in a combustion engine to give you a basic idea of what we are dealing with.
Firstly, oil lives in the sump pan. This is essentially a bucket of oil at the bottom of the engine which stores a supply of oil for the engine; this is directly under the rotating crank. Oil is sucked out of the sump by a crack driven pump and forced through an oil filter, which removes all the small particulates which might potentially cause damage upstream.
From the oil filter it feeds the main oil gallery which gives oil to the main bearings and crank, ensuring there is adequate lubrication and load support for the connecting rods. The main gallery also has a vertical feed going vertically towards the head. This lubricates the cam bearing surfaces and pressurizes the hydraulic lifters.
Oil slowly leaks out of the bearing surfaces, and flows back to the sump thanks to gravity. The restriction between the pump and atmosphere (the effective hole size in which the oil leaks out of) leads to a pressure build up in the oiling system. Once a given oil pressure is reached a blow-off valve allows oil to flow straight back into the sump, restricting how much oil pressure will be achieved. Therefore the less wear on an engine, the greater the restriction and the greater the running oil pressure (until the blow-off valve pressure, which is usually 60-70psi).
As an aside, when an engine is cold the oil is thick and viscous, and therefore the oil pressure is higher.
So, if for some reason the engine is starved of oil it will pump air and the oil density will drop, flowing easily through the gap in the bearings and reducing the oil pressure. Air does not lubricate or bear load very well, leading to excess wear and potential engine failure.
In short, oil pressure is an effective measure of engine health.
So how does oil starvation occur? Well usually its one of three things, a lack of oil in the sump (check your dip-stick!), aerated oil or oil slosh away from the pickup. Keeping the sump full is easy, and really there is no excuse for having a low oil level, however the other two are not so obvious.
Oil aeration occurs when the crank stirs up the oil in the pan and fully/partially turns it into foam. This can be designed out with use of a Windage Tray; more on that later.
Oil slosh occurs due to the accelerations that are applied to the oil volume. If you achieve a lateral acceleration of 1g (at the apex of a corner for example), there will be a force pushing the oil against the side of the sump equal to gravity and it will set in triangular shape; as illustrated below:
In this case the pick-up is partially open to the air and pumps that as opposed to oil. This leads to bearing on bearing interaction, friction, wear and potential engine failure. The secret to good sump design is to reduce the chance of the pick-up being exposed to free air.
You can do this by using a tall deep sump, or by baffling and gating the sump. As the Locost is a small tightly packaged race car its nearly impossible to package a tall sump without running an impractically high ride height, so the sump needed to be baffled and gated, with an inbuilt windage tray.
Old/Poor Sump Design
My old sump was built from the flange of a standard front wheel drive sump, with custom sheet metal work underneath. The pickup was at the front and approximately central. It had longitudinal and lateral baffles with liberal drainage holes between each (making them almost useless) and a bolt in windage tray. It looked a whole lot like this:
With the windage tray removed the baffles were accessible:
In hard right hand corners I think it was possible for the oil to slosh to the left hand side of the sump and expose the pick-up; as you can see there is no baffle in the central section where the pickup was located. The only saving grace of this design was its large capacity, giving minimal oil depth change when oil is trapped in the top end of the engine. Fortunately when I put slicks on the car it had terminal understeer and I don’t think I did any serious damage.
Given that the sump was off the engine, it was a great opportunity to inspect the oil/sump for particulates. The oil was clear of shiny aluminium bearing material, but there were some small bits of the cork gasket in the bottom; nothing scary but also suboptimal.
I was happy to move on from this design…
New Sump Design
The new design was going to be wider and shorter than the original, positioning the pickup in the middle of four separate oil chambers, each giving the pickup instantaneous oil in the case of hard cornering. Also, the windage tray would bias towards the pickups central volume, to flood it and reduce the chance of oil starvation.
Fabrication started by cutting out the main flange to mount to the block. This was bolted to an old
junk fitment engine I had lying around (I use this for making engine mounts, brackets etc).
Then the windage tray was cut to match the sump and measurements taken from the chassis.
The sides of the sump were then cut and tacked to the windage tray. The central chamber around the pickup was mocked in place.
Then the baffles were put in place to create the four separate chambers. Four gates were added to the central chamber to avoid oil moving away from the central chamber in hard cornering; these were made from steel door hinges! Note that they have limiting tabs to stop the gates going over-centre
and killing the engine. The baffles were welded into the bottom plate to stiffen the sump and ensure oil does not escape the central chamber.
I almost forgot to add a sump drain plug (uh oh!), so I welded in an M12 nut. It turns out M12 course thread is not a standard sump plug size (arg!) so I had to use an M12 bolt with a magnet epoxied too it; could be worse.
Once the whole thing was welded together it was tested for leaks using some old oil and left to sit for a few evenings.
After this it got a snazzy coat of Racing Red!
The sump is now bolted onto the car and we will see if it causes me any issues. On paper it should be a great improvement over my previous sump and I’m hoping it will give the confidence and peace of mind its designed too.
Before Christmas I will have gathered some track data, covering a large span of lateral/longitudinal accelerations and engine oil pressures. In a perfect world there would be no drop off in pressure over the full span of achieved accelerations; but realistically I’ll be happy with just very low drop off and a healthy engine.
There is still plenty to do before hitting the track- front wheel arches, rear lights, blah, blah blah… I will get there eventually!