FuelTech’s FT600 Engine Management System In Action

We’ve done a couple articles over the years on FuelTech and its line of engine management systems. Now, thanks to our sister-publication’s project car, BlownZ06, we’re here to talk about the top-of-the-line FT600 system as used in an actual high-end application.

Project BlownZ06 is a 2017 Chevrolet Corvette, powered by a Proline Racing 548 cubic-inch Hemi engine with a ProCharger F-3R-136 centrifugal supercharger, running on methanol. Built specifically for Outlaw/Limited Drag Radial, Pro275, and NMCA heads-up competition, BlownZ06 is positioned to run at the apex of heads-up sportsman drag racing, and is an absolutely perfect platform to showcase what the FT600 engine management system is capable of.

The Hardware

First, let’s take a look at the FuelTech equipment being used on this particular application. While the FT600 is an all-in-one system, it does feature dual FTCAN 2.0 (FuelTech’s CAN bus system) inputs and a multitude of available external component modules. These allow you to tailor your system to your specific application and reduce or eliminate the cost and complexity of superfluous abilities. Why pay for hardware you won’t use, right? The modularity of the system ensures all the meat with no gristle.

The FT600 system with a bulk of its components as installed on BlownZ06. By being modular, it allows the end-user to tailor the system exactly to their needs without having to spend the money for functionality that won’t be used. 

“The FT600 has 32 outputs, configurable to whatever you want and the unit is capable of, like injectors, coils, solenoids, and so on,” says Luis De Leon, Tech Director of FuelTech. “It also has 20 analog inputs, to be used on any sensor available, like pressure, height, travel, and temperature.”

Those 20 inputs are in addition to, and outside of, all those available through the FTCAN 2.0. In addition to the FT600 ECU itself, BlownZ06 utilizes a PRO600 harness that has most of the sensors pre-wired for an 8-injector, supercharged alcohol combination into it. As BlownZ06 is running 16 injectors, it also utilizes FuelTech’s secondary injector harness, which provides the second set of eight injectors with a plug and play connection. The PRO600 harness has provisions for dual wideband-oxygen sensors and an input connector allowing for 13 additional channels not already covered by the harness, and three additional output connectors to wire in custom controls like boost-control solenoids, CO2 control, and other specialized items.

To provide and control the spark on such an intense application, previously a magneto setup was the fix, however, the FTSPARK system provides ample spark energy for such a severe-duty application, while integrating seamlessly into the FTCAN 2.0 network. A CDI system, the FTSPARK-8 provides a spark energy that is five-times greater than a regular ignition system, with ten-times the current, making spark blowout in a high-cylinder-pressure, methanol application (which is far richer than gasoline) a non-issue.

It takes a lot more than a standard ignition to keep the fire lit in a 3,000-plus horsepower supercharged methanol application. The FTSPARK is FuelTech’s capacitive discharge ignition box, but is unlike a standard CDI box. The FTSPARK provides five-times the spark energy at ten-times the current of a regular ignition system, putting it into the realm of a magneto system, energy-wise.

In order to use the methanol fuel, a special configuration is required for the oxygen sensors, but FuelTech not only has it covered, but has a system that—at the risk of sounding repetitive—incorporates to the system seamlessly. The FuelTech dual-channel alcohol oxygen sensor signal conditioner not only allows both a proper signal to be obtained from the low AFRs seen with alcohol as a standalone item with an analog output, but also integrates CAN communications for the FT500 and FT600 ECUs.

“We chose to not have an embedded wideband controller on the ECU because there are so many options for the end-user,” De Leon says. “From a single sensor to 12 sensors; regular or lab grade sensors; gasoline and E-85 or alcohol as fuel. The system can adjust to them all.”

FuelTech has adapter harnesses available for lab-grade NTK alcohol sensors, which is what BlownZ06 is using, but the main harness is terminated for the popular Bosch wideband alcohol oxygen sensors.

While the three bundles of wires included in the PRO600 harness might seem intimidating at first, as you can see they are all clearly labeled from the factory, and terminated with all the proper connectors.

The Software

Now that we know the hardware BlownZ06 is running, let’s look at the software, as that’s really where the FT600 shines. The FT600 is capable of an insane amount of control over the engine, so we’ll look at several of its most impressive features individually.

First, and arguably foremost, is the overall level of control over each table within the software, be it ignition timing, or fuel maps. Each table offers 32 cells per axis, for a total of 1,024 points of adjustment.

“It has up to 1,024 cells available if you want, but you can also shrink it to the number that best fits your application, at any given moment,” says De Leon. “With any particular value, you can, increase resolution on areas that require it–say RPM or boost-wise–and decrease the resolution where you don’t need to waste any time on making very fine adjustments.”

The tables’ resolution isn’t a “fixed width” option. Rather than having fixed spacing based on data range divided by number of cells, the steps are user definable.

“If you were setting a table based on RPM, your cells could be at 800, 900, 1,000, 1,100, 1,200 and set the next cell 2,000rpm, if you like.” De Leon says. “You can also change those values down the road and not have to re-create the whole tune if you want to change a set point.”

The FT600 includes an incredibly powerful datalogger capable of logging 256 channels at 200 samples per second. The free FuelTech software is able to display the logs in whatever format is easiest for the user to interpret. They say there is no such thing as too much data, but being able to turn down some sample rates, and turn channels on and off, can make absorbing all that information a lot easier for the end-user.

The unit supports on-the-fly tuning changes, as well as built-in remote tuning capabilities, for those times your tuner can’t be at the track with you.

“You can tune the car after a pass or even in real time, it’s all available in the ECU’s software,” says De Leon. “If you need some outside help, this software has a built-in remote tuning feature, where you allow another user to take over control of your software. As long as you have internet connection available, it’s available, without the need for any third-party software on your computer.”

One of the cool things about the FT600 is that the digital dashboard isn’t just a display, but also a handheld programmer and the ECU itself, all in one. That allows you to make changes, and switch between the five tuneups that can be stored, right from the driver’s seat, with gloves on, if need be.Additionally, the ECU can store five separate tuneups in its memory banks. That is made even more convenient by the fact that you can switch between tuneups without the need for a laptop.

“The driver is not only able to change between the tunes in the ECU with his gloves still on, but he can do it without shutting off the engine,” De Leon says.

So if you happen to have a car oil down the lane in front of you, you can switch to a lower-power tune on the fly, to account for the potential of reduced traction after the cleanup. While that may sound complicated, De Leon stresses that the FT600 is not only extremely powerful, but very user-friendly as well.

“Besides being a really powerful system, we always think from the user’s point of view. Being user-friendly, and having everything clear, colored, and explained, is our main goal,” says De Leon.

Check Out The Video Below For More On the FT600

Another aspect of user-friendliness that sometimes is forgotten along the way, is that an experienced user may only be familiar with a specific system. Only knowing the ins and outs of a single ECU’s tuning method can chain a user to that system, or force them to learn another language, essentially. However, FuelTech has thought of that—and accounted for it—in the software design process.

“We tried to make it easy on users coming from other systems, too. Our software is versatile enough that you can tune in injector pulse width, injector duty cycle, volumetric efficiency, and fuel flow in pounds/hour, CCs/minute, or gallons/minute.” De Leon says. “That’s all available to the user. You just need to press the F6 key to switch between those options while you are in the software.”

This screen is a perfect example of the scalability of the FT600’s tuning software. While capable of 32×32 resolution, this particular table—Throttle Position vs. RPM fuel table—is set up in a 12×20 configuration. Also notice that the RPM columns aren’t just equidistant steps. Each step is user-defined, and in this case, range from 250 to 750 rpm.

Drag Racing Features

Since BlownZ06 is an extremely high-end drag car, it only stands to reason that it would make great use out of the multitude of drag-oriented features FuelTech has incorporated into the ECU. Even something as simple as a line-lock has been incorporated and is now controlled by the ECU, with the improvement of always providing the exact same level of brake pressure in the line-lock.

“It’s a simple pressure sensor on the brake line and one solid state relay hooked to one of the ECU’s outputs–that’s it,” says De Leon. “Once you press your transbrake and/or two-step, the unit will bleed the brake level to your target. The driver doesn’t have to worry about being spot-on, just give it as much as you want and when the driver releases their foot from the brake, the ECU will keep that target pressure.”

Also built into the ECU is FuelTech’s staging control, which allows you very precise control over your staging routine, in whatever manner you prefer.

“It does what you want; it can move the car really fast and you just tap the button, or it can allow the car to move really slowly, like creeping, while you hold your staging button,” says De Leon. “It only requires a simple button and a solid state relay to control your transbrake solenoid, and the ECU does the rest.”

Traction control is a staple in any class where it’s allowed and there are several options for traction control with the FT600. First is the built-in time-based offering.

“It can reference your engine speed, wheel speed, or driveshaft speed. Using those two elements, the unit will follow that maximum-rpm over time, or speed, and remove, or add, timing as you go down the track,” explains De Leon. “It can also make ignition cuts if more power has to be taken out. It is amazingly fast, moving timing and cutting ignition cylinder per cylinder. That has the smoothest effect on the tire.”

In addition to the built in traction control, there is a Davis Technologies Profiler wheel speed management system module that is specific to the FuelTech FTCAN 2.0 system.

The built-in wheelie control can be referenced by suspension height and pitch rate. As you can see, the amount of timing retard is completely adjustable based on time and suspension height data points. You can also program secondary ignition cut if the timing adjustment alone doesn’t do the trick.

Another fantastic control that is built in to the FT600 ECU is its ability to modulate wheelies—keeping the nose of the car down helps it to keep the rear tires planted and get down the track more efficiently.

“You just need a ride height sensor and you are ready to use the feature.” says De Leon. “It allows you to have a table based on the height versus timing retard, and another table based on height versus timing cut, allowing you to add or remove power as the car goes up or down, and taking or adding power smoothly.”

It can also be disabled, allowing you to run the car on jacks, with the suspension unloaded.

Of course, with all of the integrated features, it would be silly if the FT600 wasn’t able to log all of that data for review. Not only is the FT600 capable of logging all the parameters it can control, but it is able to do it at an extremely high level. 256 channels of data can be recorded simultaneously at a user-specified rate (per-channel) up to 200Hz (200 samples per second) – all on internal memory.

“Adjusting the sampling rate does not affect the amount of channels able to be recorded, but it does affect the total time available to record,” says De Leon. “You can go hours on a slower sampling rate and fewer channels, but if you hook up all the channels possible, on the highest sampling rate, you can still qualify and go rounds without worrying about filling the unit’s memory.” Additionally, the unit has an alarm that lets you know when you surpass 80-percent of total memory capacity.

The team at FuelTech actually made the trip to Proline when it was time to dyno BlownZ06's 548ci Hemi engine. As longtime partners with FuelTech, Proline Racing had no problems getting the engine to make over 3,000 horsepower with the FT600 handling all of the fuel and spark duties.

Making Life Easy

At the risk of overwhelming you, these features we’ve discussed so far are just some of those incorporated in the FT600 that we’re using on BlownZ06. However, as we’ve mentioned, the guys at FuelTech are all about a user-friendly experience. To that end, their software is just as comprehensive as all of their hardware. On top of that, the software is free and completely unlocked, right out of the gate.

“We have a single software for a single unit that does it all,” De Leon says. “It basically allows you to do everything you can do on the ECU, and more, on your laptop. Using a simple USB cable without requiring the unit to be powered up by the car, the ECU can be standing still at your desk and you will still be able to retrieve a log or a tune, or upload a new tune to be run next day.”

While BlownZ06’s supertuner Steve Petty (in the camo hoodie) could probably work his magic on an etch-a-sketch, the FuelTech software makes life a lot easier, by being adjustable to tune through a variety of methods. In addition to being able to adjust to your (or your tuner’s) preferred tuning method, it has a built-in remote tuning feature, which makes life tons easier when your tuner can’t make it to the track with you.

Being able to pull every single piece of data out of the car—with a single connection and no need for external power—makes life at the track extremely simplified, as we found out recently. During BlownZ06’s first weekend at the track, the FT600 tuned by Proline’s Steve Petty helped the car to an amazing eighth-mile time of 3.979 at 194.42 mph at the US Street Nationals. This makes BlownZ06 not only the quickest and fastest magazine project car of all time, but also puts it within .001-second of the supercharged big-block elapsed time record. All those accolades right out of the gate are a testament to the FT600’s power and flexibility.

The FT600 In Action On Project BlownZ06!

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About the author

Greg Acosta

Greg has spent nineteen years and counting in automotive publishing, with most of his work having a very technical focus. Always interested in how things work, he enjoys sharing his passion for automotive technology with the reader.
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