The process of spark ignition of fuel sprays in a rapid compression machine was analyzed using high-speed schlieren photography and pressure-time data. The combustion chamber studied simulates in a two-dimensional sense the three-dimensional arrangement of the piston bowl, injector and spark plug in a typical direct-injection stratified-charge (DISC) engine. The test hardware included a flat-seat straight-hole injector, a high-energy ignition system and an extended-electrode spark plug. The influence of amount of fuel injected, ignition dwell period (time between start of injection and start of ignition), swirl rate and direction, and spark-plug electrode-tip location on the ignition process was examined.For the test conditions studied, excessive spray penetration and fuel impingement on the walls was observed. The ignition process was observed to be governed by the delayed formation, growth and transport of a flame kernel which spreads to complete the major portion of the burn only after the injection process has been completed. The factors found to influence the evolution of the flame kernel could be possible mechanisms for the high cyclic variability and high hydrocarbon emissions observed for DISC engines of the type simulated.