Browse Learn C0602

Race Engine Calibration for Optimal Performance C0602

The engine control module (ECM, or on-board computer) is the tool used to control the fuel injection rate, fuel injection timing, ignition timing, rate of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), and other functions. The task of "programming" the ECM is much easier for a race engine than for a production engine because the calibration engineer does not need to be concerned about emissions: EGR, keeping the exhaust catalyst "happy", etc.

This course provides a practical introduction to ECMs, including the uses for the various sensors. It also covers the specific methods used to incorporate the various sensor signals into the ECM's control systems for the fuel injection rate, fuel injection timing, and ignition timing. Background information will include an understanding of the desired air/fuel ratio and optimum ignition timing. While examples are tailored around the application of the ECM to Formula SAE race engines, this course is useful for improving any engineer's understanding of the functions of the ECM for other types of race engines as well as production engines.

Learning Objectives
By attending this seminar, you will be able to:
  • Describe the functions of the crank position sensor, cam position sensor, intake air temperature sensor, manifold air pressure sensor, mass air flow sensor, exhaust "oxygen" or lambda sensor, throttle position sensor, engine coolant temperature sensor, and knock sensor
  • Explain how the ECM controls the fuel injection rate, fuel injection timing, and ignition timing
  • Interpret base look-up tables, multipliers, and adders
  • Develop base look-up tables, multipliers, and adders

Who Should Attend
Anyone interested in engine calibration/programming the on-board computer, especially for race engines. At a minimum, classification as at least a junior in a curriculum leading to a BS degree in engineering or experience in engine development is necessary background for taking this course.


Online Bonus Segments
Attendees will have the opportunity to access online bonus segments after the seminar. Segments will contain presentations by representatives of Ricardo and Performance Electronics, Ltd.



Online Segment by Ricardo in Brief:
Throughout this seminar, Prof. Matthews discusses how an accurate engine modeling code can be used to simplify the effort required to generate the base look-up tables. In this segment, Steve Rawnsley of Ricardo discusses their WAVE engine modeling code, an example of a state-of-the-art engine modeling program that can be used to simplify engine calibration. Seminar attendees will be given information to contact Ricardo Software if they desire a WAVE product evaluation.


Online Segment by Performance Electronics, Ltd. in Brief:
The seminar is focused on learning how to program an aftermarket Engine Control Module (ECM) to obtain optimal performance from a race engine. In this segment, Brian Lewis of Performance Electronics, Ltd., discusses their aftermarket ECM. He discusses how various aspects of their ECM are to be used given the background from Prof. Matthews' discussion.

  • Basic engine theory
    • Relationships between torque, brake specific fuel consumption, engine design parameters, engine operating conditions, and four fundamental efficiencies (volumetric, combustion, indicated thermal, and mechanical)
    • Effects of fuel/air equivalence ratio
    • Effects of load
    • Effects of engine speed
    • MBT and LBT
    • Goals for race engines
    • Goals for production engines
    • Correction factors
  • Engine sensors--the need for and use of:
    • Crank position sensor
    • Cam position sensor
    • Intake air temperature sensor
    • Manifold air pressure sensor
    • Mass air flow sensor (if used)
    • Exhaust "oxygen" or lambda sensor
    • Throttle position sensor
    • Engine coolant temperature sensor
    • Knock sensor
  • Air/fuel ratio control
    • Base pulse width look-up table for speed-density systems
    • Benefits of MAF systems
    • Multipliers
  • Ignition timing control
    • Base ignition timing look-up table
    • Adders
  • The Calibration Process
    • Explain why the calibration process must be an iterative procedure to obtain the proper ignition timing and fuel injection pulse width for every "cell" in the two base tables
    • Explain that generating the base pulse width table requires few experiments
    • Explain how to embed the "load" multiplier for pulse width
    • Generate the "start" multiplier, or the "crank" and "warmup" multipliers if your ECM has this option
    • Calculate the intake air temperature multiplier
    • Discuss how to experimentally generate the battery voltage multiplier using an injector test stand
    • Explain why the auto companies take thousands of data points to get MBT timing as accurate as possible in the base table, and why your race team will benefit from an equal effort
    • Discuss the issues or dangers (from the engine durability perspective) involved in generating MBT accurately
    • Discuss the problem that is encountered when trying to find MBT at low load and two techniques that can be used to overcome this problem
    • Explain how to safely identify the Knock Limited Spark Advance regime of engine operation
    • Recognize how to determine the values for the ignition timing adders
  • Conclusions
    • List things you should look for in an after-market ECM
    • Concisely review how to generate the base pulse width look-up table, the pulse width multipliers, the ignition timing look-up table, and the ignition timing adders
Ronald D. Matthews

Professor Ron Matthews, currently serving as a member of the SAE International Board of Directors, is Head of the General Motors Foundation Engines Research Laboratory on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. He has been actively involved in engines research since 1983, including engine control systems since the initial introduction of on-board computers. Dr. Matthews, a Fellow of SAE International, founded the Formula SAE competition in 1981 and has been the Faculty Advisor for a Formula SAE team each year since. He has been author or co-author on over 200 technical papers and reports, mostly in the field of engines.

Hotel & Travel Information

Fees: $810.00
SAE Members: $648.00 - $729.00

.7 CEUs
You must complete all course contact hours and successfully pass the learning assessment to obtain CEUs.

"This is a great class that teaches the basics of optimizing engine performance."
Jeff Niswander
Mechanical Engineer
NIU Motorsports


"This seminar was very useful in increasing my knowledge in regards to modern F.I."
Glenn Feiste
Education Manager
Nascar Technical Institute

"A great start for race car tuning engineers or production engine engineers."
Craig Pike
Sr. Project Engineer
Nissan Technical Center North America

"The dynamics of the program and the competence of the presentation were a tribute to the core values of SAE and the engineering community commitment."
Rodger Marx
Principal Advisor Fuel Management
Rio Tinto

"Excellent instructor and study material."
Robert Steeneck
Engine Calibration Engineer (Retired)
Ford Motor Co. Truck Engine Engineering


Also available as an SAE On Demand Course
Race Engine Calibration for Optimal Performance e-Seminar


For additional information, contact SAE Customer Service 1-877-606-7323 (724-776-4970 outside the U.S. and Canada) or at

Duration: 1 Day
Upcoming open enrollment dates being scheduled. Please check back.