McLaren Applied

Discover the ECU tech at the heart of the biggest date in the motorsport calendar


Discover the ECU tech at the heart of the biggest date in the motorsport calendar

The Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600. McLaren Applied is racing at all three premier races on 26 May.

The biggest date in the 2019 motorsport calendar; it has been marked in the diary of fans ever since the stars aligned.

For those lucky enough to attend one of the races, a phenomenal spectacle awaits. While millions at home face the prospect of spending many hours with their eyeballs glued to a screen. If square eyes are such a thing, expect to find out on Monday morning.

The race around the streets of the Principality will be about two hours long, the Indy 500 could reach a gruelling five hours in duration, and the Coca-Cola 600 the best part of four hours. That’s 11 hours of heart-thumping action.

While Fernando Alonso's Triple Crown consists of victory at Monaco, Le Mans and what he hopes will be a win at Indy at some point, for fans Sunday 26 May is their Triple Crown.

Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR teams rely on a range of high-performance products from McLaren Applied , from sensors and digital dashboard displays to data analysis software. Central to so many of those components used in the race cars is the electronic control unit (ECU). Every single car you see race at Monaco, Indy or Charlotte on 26 May will be using one from McLaren Applied .

McLaren Applied ECUs: extraordinary processing power and relentless reliability

But just what sets these ECUs apart, why are they so critical, and why are we the trusted supplier of the ECUs to three of the planet's most prestigious motorsport series?

"Monaco baby, yeah!"

Monaco. The jewel in the crown of the sport's globe-trotting calendar. It embodies the glamour, speed and style intrinsic to Formula 1 and has become part of its DNA. The ECU has become just as critical, albeit in the technical realm of the sport.

A fundamental part of Formula 1's electronic ecosystem, it controls the engine, gearbox, differential, throttle, clutch, energy recovery system (ERS) and the drag reduction system (DRS). And if that wasn’t enough, it processes and transmits vast quantities of data – via telemetry – from the race car to the team. It allows teams to visualise the capability and performance of their cars in real-time, including engine health, tyre degradation and fuel consumption, via ATLAS – our Advanced Telemetry Linked Acquisition System.

McLaren Applied has been the sole supplier of ECUs to Formula 1 since 2007, and since then we have re-engineered them to ensure compatibility with the turbocharged parallel hybrid engines that power Formula 1 cars today. The latest incarnation, the TAG-320B, was introduced for the 2019 season and while on the outside it may look identical to its predecessor, it's faster and has a sizeable extra helping of memory.

Quicker processing means better control over the entire car, which enables teams to eke out every last drop of performance. Meanwhile, more memory means that the amount of possible data logging has been upped to 1,500 parameters, compared with the previous 1,250.

Looks can be deceiving – the latest version of the Formula 1 ECU is very different under the skin

The high-speed ovals that dominate the IndyCar and NASCAR calendars place a different set of stresses on ECUs compared to what a Formula 1 ECU will experience, particularly at a circuit like Monaco where the TAG-320B will be subjected to constant changes in acceleration and deceleration.  

In addition to this, the ECUs are mind-bogglingly complex because of the demands imposed by high-revving engines, seamless-shift gearboxes and various drive-by-wire controls. This complexity is only heightened when you consider that providing the TAG-320B for every car on the grid means controlling several different engines, with several different gearboxes, using a single hardware and embedded software platform.

Milking it

While we cannot predict whether Fernando Alonso will win the Indy 500, we know that McLaren Applied will take the chequered flag first at the Brickyard. Just don’t expect us to shower the ECU from the winning car in milk – as is tradition for the victorious driver during the post-race celebrations.  

Nevertheless, the TAG-400i – along with our complete range of ECUs – is adept at withstanding extremes. Its extraordinary processing power is coupled with relentless reliability.

At the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the ECU will be thoroughly put to the test due to the stresses of a duty-cycle requiring constant high rpm. It must maintain highly accurate ignition and injection control for prolonged periods around the high-speed oval circuit. The application code and processing on the unit needs to be robust enough to ensure there aren't any missed triggers, sparks or ignition occasions.

The TAG-400i processes about 600 million instructions every second to ensure snarling IndyCar engines that output as much as 800 horsepower run optimally. This immense processing capability allows the ECU to maintain control over all aspects of the engine, including the ignition, the throttle, the injection and the turbos, as well as interacting with many other different parts of the car.  

The TAG-400i is ready to take on the Brickyard

McLaren Applied's ECUs and IndyCar have a relationship dating back to 2007, when the championship's sole engine supplier Honda Performance Development (HPD) chose us as its preferred ECU supplier, using our TAG-400.

In 2012, IndyCar’s technical landscape changed. Chevrolet joined the party to provide an alternative engine supply as the series introduced 2.2-litre twin-turbo V6 power units, a new chassis – the Dallara IR12 – and specified a standard ECU, selecting McLaren to supply every team with the TAG-400i.

An evolution of the TAG-400, the compact physical unit can be found on the left-hand side of the cars – near the cockpit. It boasts extended functionality and six times the application processing power of its predecessor, providing a powerful and flexible platform from which to extract the optimum performance from an engine.

"Boogity, boogity, boogity – let’s go racing!"

Our dedicated North American service headquarters in Huntersville, North Carolina, are home to both our IndyCar and NASCAR operations. It's a mere 20-minute drive up the road from Charlotte Motor Speedway. The circuit the stage for the final part of the incredible motorsport story to be told on 26 May, as it hosts NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600.

Stock car racing can be traced back to Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, and some of the series' most high-profile names come from the state, including Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and Rick Hendrick. Nearly all of the teams are based near Charlotte, while many of the drivers live in houses that wouldn't look out of place on an episode of MTV Cribs, at nearby Lake Norman.

Similarly to IndyCar, McLaren Applied played a pivotal part in a seismic shift for the NASCAR Cup Series as it underwent its biggest regulatory change in over 60 years. It switched from carburettors to electronic fuel injection using our TAG-400N ECU which controls the thunderous V8 pushrod engines synonymous with the series, namely the ignition and firing of injectors.

The TAG-400N has been a game-changer for NASCAR

At a rate of 1,000 times per second, the ECU gathers data from a range of sensors on the car to determine the precise amount of fuel to be delivered to the engine and when to fire the spark plugs to achieve the most horsepower with the least amount of fuel.

The switch triggered a step change in efficiency, with NASCAR Cup stock cars achieving 25% better fuel mileage than they did a decade ago. The series has remained fast, powerful, and loud, while enjoying improved drivability, more consistency, greater transparency of operation and an enhanced spectacle with more road relevance.

Unsurprisingly, reliability is just as important in NASCAR as it is in Formula 1 and IndyCar. As the saying goes, 'to finish first, first you must finish'. And when it comes to the TAG-400N, its reliability is about as bulletproof as Marvel’s Colossus. Since it was introduced in 2012, there hasn't been a single ECU failure on track. That amounts to well over three million miles of racing.

Coupled with its reliability – like the rest of the McLaren Applied ECU range – the TAG-400N is highly secure. Any modification or tampering is traceable and detectable. Whether it’s the FIA, NASCAR, INDYCAR, or the sanctioning body of any other series, they are supplied with all the data from the ECU and from there can determine who sees what. On the other hand, teams can see the specific data from their own cars, but not beyond what the sanctioning body allows.

Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up with the latest news and exciting developments at McLaren Applied. 

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