One of the biggest challenges facing racers during summer months is keeping a racecar's engine as cool as possible. It is important that teams keep a close watch on water temperature throughout race day. However, racers often lament overheating problems but have no idea the type of radiator on their car.
Racers should never assume an overheating engine is simply due to hot weather. The design of the radiator is to cool the engine no matter the ambient temperature outside.
"A good rule of thumb is for every 10-degree increase in the outdoor temperature that means 10 degrees warmer in the motor," says Richard Bailey, owner of Innovative Cooling Equipment (ICE) in Concord, North Carolina.
ICE is a relatively new company attempting to break the "a radiator is a radiator" stereotype. The company builds a product that is not only efficient but durable
When Bailey was asked what to look for in terms of radiator damage after an accident, he picked up a hammer and slammed one of his radiators. He then pointed out that all he actually damaged were the fins designed for cooling; the radiator lines were not damaged and hence did not leak after the hammer blow.
Nonetheless, a radiator's fins are extremely important. If you are involved in an accident that damages the fins, use needle-nose pliers to carefully straighten them as much as possible. This is important because closed or damaged fins lead to lower volume of air passing through the radiator.
Radiators come in one-, two-, three-, or four-core systems. Essentially, this number refers to the number of passes the water will make through the radiator before it exits back into the engine. You can see why having the right amount of cores is crucial. If you are running during the summer with a one-core system, then you are running the risk of overheating very quickly. This is why some teams will never see a problem until the summer months hit. A four-core system, which I run in my car, is a lot heavier because it holds more water and it is simply a bigger system. But we run more laps then the average Saturday night racer. A two-core, or dual-core, system might work just fine for the typical Saturday night car.
Speak with your engine builder this year to determine a safe operating temperature for water. Most of the time, 220 to 240 degrees F is safe, but if you do overheat at some point, make sure you take a close look at your cylinder heads and your head gaskets. Depending on how long the car was kept at the high operating temperature, you more than likely will have a blown head gasket or, worse, a cracked cylinder head. By using an additive like Water Wetter or 40 Below, you can help control engine heat.
One of the most important issues with radiators is whether or not you have proper airflow contributing air to the radiator. It's critical to use a sheetmetal shroud that allows air to reach the radiator without being obstructed in any way, and make sure you use duct tape to seal the radiator to the shroud. This will force the air to pass through the radiator rather than finding an escape route.