Mike Miller on the LS3 Engine and TA2
August 1, 2012
Mike Miller is the owner and a competitor for Miller Racing. The team features himself, Trans Am veteran Pete Halsmer and, briefly, 19 year old speed demon Cameron Lawrence. Mike has a long history in racing dating all the way back to his days with Roush in Trans Am, he’s put that experience and history to work in Miller Racing.
This year, under Mike’s guidance, within the TA2 class, Miller Racing has taken six podiums in five races, including three victories. While having an all time great like Pete Halsmer doesn’t hurt, this streak of success is in no small part due to Miller’s attention to detail and his work over the offseason putting together two identical Ctek Battery Chargers/Motorstate/Allstar Chevrolet Camaros. Featured in those Camaros are Katech LS3 engines, a product of the cooperation between Miller and Katech over the winter as he and his team put in the time and effort to develop the LS3 for Trans Am TA2 racing.
We sat down with Mike Miller and discussed his work and how it affects the TA2 class.
Tell us a little bit about your work over the offseason and it’s importance to the series.
I think the key is the involvement of Katech, and Chevrolet and the reliability of these new LS3 engines The TA2 class in the Trans Am Series has typically been an LS1 series, and to build interest in our series and make it relevant for today’s consumer, we elected to work with one of Chevrolet primary contractors, Katech, to build a Chevy LS3 engine that would comply with the Trans Am rules.
During the winter we spent a lot of time working with the SCCA and Katech to develop a rule package that would limit the amount of power we can produce from the LS3 to try and detune it to the LS1 level, but still give it the reliability to run an entire season, without having to take it out of the car and freshen it up or rebuild it.
What went into this process?
Katech is currently engaged in a number of activities on our behalf: evaluate valve train stability, structural components in the engine, testing the engine for data to gather together for the SCCA and Trans Am in order to equilibrate the two engines, the LS1 and the LS3 that is. Katech really took to the role of making the engines work in these cars.
We had some installation issues because these cars, even though they’re new chassis, were built for an LS1 engine, so we had to engage Chas Howe and Howe Enterprises to modify the car to get the dress package on the front of the engine, that’s the alternator, power steering pump and the water pump, all to run appropriately for the engine. We had to design, build and put on various stock parts that would make the engine, affordable, reliable, powerful, easy to use, easy to install and make the series somewhat more competitive in its relevancy by using the real Camaro engine. The LS1 hasn’t been in a passenger car in 9 years and we decided any work we do needs to be relevant and positive.
How will these developments impact the direction of the TA2 class?
I’m hopeful that the direction Trans Am will take on the TA2 side for Chevrolet will ultimately be the LS3 base with the Camaro body. So the two primary builders of the LS3 are Katech and Schwanke. Katech, of course, has been GM’s premier engine development house for years, so this really was right in their wheelhouse and when we called them early last year, and said we wanted to develop this over the winter, they were very active.
Fritz Cale, Richard Johnson—the whole group at Katech really put a lot of effort in to getting the package together. They’ve literally designated the GM part numbers for each component in the engine, so we can keep the engines consistent, keep performance parity in the engines and limit the modification to the engine. This is really a slightly detuned stock engine that we run, and Katech has done all the development to make sure that you can run it a whole year without having to take the engine out of the car, and freshen it up without doing work on it.
What benefits from a mechanical standpoint will drivers see in using an LS3 over an LS1?
Well, the other thing that Trans Am has done is they’ve limited the RPM range to 6800 so that, in itself, saves components and parts—all of the electronic engine control unites are flashed with the 6800 RPM rev limiter so that does increase engine life, since the engines are specified at a 10:1 compression ratio. Then we can also keep the valve to piston clearance consistent so that if and when the engine is accidently over-revved and downshifted the engine isn’t damaged.
The idea is to find a way to make a performance engine that makes 500 horsepower that can be reliable and run an entire season without a rebuild. Katech took that challenge and said “I think we can do that with the LS3 motor and make it relevant to the current Camaro.” This makes the TA series a little more relevant since we’re using electronic fuel injection, and getting away from carbureted engines and so I think that’s going to be a positive move. As you know NASCAR has already done it, and said “we’re moving away from carburetors and going to electronic fuel injection.”
I think you’re going to see a lot of electronic engine control and electronic fuel injection coming up in racing. It’s much more stable than a carburetor and it’s a much more stable process, so therefor you get better engine longevity.
However, what we want in TA2 is for this to be a racing series and not a development series. So we asked Katech to make these specifications along with Schwanke to develop the engine so that they will last a long time, a guy doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to buy one—you can buy one for just a little more than a standard crate engine. You have to remember, guys like Katech also do a lot of finesse work on engines for reliability and their history and legacy in this industry will be that they build 24 hour engines. They’ve built engines for LeMans, I think they’ve got 4 wins at Lemans with Chevrolet, so they know how to make these engines last and make them work while still making power. You still have 500 horsepower, you’ve still got a lot of fun, you’ve got great cars but you also have longevity, low maintenance, and cost control. And so for those reasons I think it’ll really work in the series and I think guys are starting to catch on.
How vital is this development to Trans Am and the TA2 class?
Well I think it’s critical. I think Katech’s long-term relationship with GM and Chevrolet is very important to us. We want Chevrolet to embrace our series, and we want all of the major car companies to embrace our series. We have their latest Camaro bodies running in the series, now with their latest Camaro engines, and I really think it does translate from the racetrack to the show room. That’s something we’ll try to do with the folks at Chevrolet is to show them we’re very relevant to what they’re doing and we want them to be a part of the series.
I think we’re bringing some great drivers into the series, I think their willingness to be a part of our series is much more likely today as a result of the development work that was done by Katech last year to get this LS3 engine into the series and to be able to make these cars run as well as they do.
How has the transition between the LS1 and LS3 gone so far?
I think there are a couple of teams that have made the step to the LS3 engines and there have been very few bugs to work out due to the people that developed them. The camshaft has been spaced in such a way that it protects the engine over a period of time but still makes a lot of power—the guys have done a great job at Katech in making the engine an important and relevant step in bringing Trans Am and General Motors back together.
If you remember the heyday of Trans Am we had great manufacturer competition, and I don’t know if we will ever get back to that kind of competition, but we would like to have Chevrolet involved so they can sell their product and they can be a part of our series. The way our history has been this is something that they should be part of and certainly proud of.
Miller and his team will take part in the Trans Am Series’ next race at Road America on August 17, 2012.