There are two primary drivers of ECU (Engine Control Unit) performance: fuel quality and heat. Both affect whether the ECU advances or reduces timing and/or enters limp mode to protect the engine. Let’s take a closer look.

One of the most significant variables facing owners of performance street cars is the quality of the pump gas available from their local brands. Most car owners are conditioned to purchase premium fuel (typically 93 octane) based on OEM instructions in their manual or the belief that higher octane means higher horsepower.

Some argue that increased octane doesn’t necessarily lead to increased horsepower. The thought is modern computer-controlled fuel-injected cars self-monitor fuel and air mixture to compensate for engine knock and have one or more knock sensors in the intake manifold, cylinder head, or block. However, this simplified explanation can be misleading because timing advance plays a part in extracting power. As detonation occurs and RPM increases, timing is removed to control the problem, which works against pulling maximum power.

So, what kind of engines need more timing? Answer: large combustion engines, classic car engines, forced induction engines, and engines running rich fuel mixtures. Forced induction is essential to note because the most significant trend in modern cars has been to reduce engine displacement and add turbocharging.

Because automobile manufacturers want to avoid engine warranty claims, the ECU and knock sensor work to limit early engine detonation. However, race engine builders know that the most power is found by “tuning to the knock.” So, what if you could extend the window of when the knock sensor kicked in, allowing you to advance timing to an acceptable detonation limit to make more power?

Fortunately, that’s what the fuel formulation experts at VP Racing Fuels wondered when they developed Octanium™ Unleaded.

Octanium UnleadedTM This fuel additive provides an octane boost of up to 7 numbers to increase horsepower for classic cars, big block street hot rods, and modern sports cars. Check out the dyno test videos on VP’s website to see what Octanium can do for a Ford Fiesta ST and a GMC Sierra pickup truck. Octanium Unleaded is safe for use in cars and trucks with catalytic converters and 02 sensors. It also eliminates knocking and pinging, cleans fuel injectors, gum and varnish build-ups, and improves throttle response and acceleration.

Heat is the enemy of any mechanical system, and an engine and transmission are no exception. The engine coolant temperature (ECT) sensor monitors engine temperatures given off by the thermostat and/or the coolant. This data is then sent to the onboard control system to decide whether to continue operating or adjust certain engine functions.

Fortunately, the experts at VP Racing Fuels have developed a couple of inexpensive solutions for managing heat to improve power.

Cool Down: VP’s Cool Down is a coolant additive that improves the performance of your coolant and is safe for all radiator systems — ideal for racing, passenger, powersports, RV, and tow vehicle applications. It reduces engine operating temperatures up to 25°F. Cool Down increases coolant flow for better heat transfer and lubricates all vital components. High-performance powersports engines operate at higher compression ratios and develop more heat. Cooler cylinder heads allow the ECU to safely advance ignition timing with the threat of detonation, which increases horsepower. The corrosion protection aspect of Cool Down is essential because scales/deposits only 1/16” thick reduce heat transfer by up to 40%!

The increased use of aluminum in cooling and engine components presents another challenge for automotive and powersports owners. While aluminum dissipates heat better than most ferrous metal counterparts, it is the most sensitive to corrosion and electrolysis. Cool Down contains highly effective organic ingredients that provide protection specifically to aluminum. Through a process known as “electro-crystallization,” Cool Down forms a thin, protective surface film on aluminum surfaces.

Stay Frosty® is a proprietary VP Racing Fuels coolant formulated for high-performance engines that require additional protection from overheating and limited freeze protection (0°F). It contains a specialized blend of heat transfer agents and propylene glycol that improve the coolant’s ability to transfer heat away from high-temperature cylinder heads. Engine operating temperatures are reduced by up to 30°F compared to the conventional glycol-based coolant, which can optimize the air/fuel mix to achieve maximum power. Cooler temperatures also increase the density of the air/ fuel mix and allow ignition timing to be safely advanced without the threat of detonation — resulting in more power and torque.

Robby Gordon Motorsports ran Stay Frosty Hi-Performance (street formulation) in their racing UTVs during the 2019 Baja 1000. They achieved a consistent 20°F (or greater) reduction in engine operating temperatures. Stay Frosty is great for 3-season powersports use or year-round use in warmer climates where sub-zero freeze protection is not required.

VP also makes a glycol-free Stay Frosty Race Ready version that can be used in virtually any race application and is a favorite of 2-wheel and 4-wheel racers to reduce temperatures and improve reliability.