Product Preview: Pennzoil Ultra + RCR Tour
When we got the invite to head down to Richard Childress Racing in NASCAR Alley (Welcome, North Carolina, to be specific) and take a tour of their world-class facilities as the backdrop to learning about Pennzoil’s new full synthetic engine oil, we were more than happy to RSVP in the affirmative. It’s not every day you get to tour one of the top NASCAR factories while at the same time being allowed to pick the brains of some of the top engine oil engineers in the world. Win-win in our books, and the trip did not disappoint.
For starters we were given an in-depth presentation about Pennzoil Ultra, a full synthetic engine oil that Pennzoil claims will keep your engine closer to factory clean than anything on the market while offering performance that meets or exceeds the toughest standards in the industry. A bold claim, to be sure, but based on the evidence provided it would certainly appear they have good reason to be so confident. For the oil engineers at Pennzoil, the #1 selling brand of engine oil in America, the challenge was to develop a new full synthetic top-of-the-line product that offers all the protection required by discerning enthusiasts with high-end machinery and who don’t mind spending a little more for a superior product while also appealing to the environmental crowd by providing superior cleansing properties. Of course a cleaner engine isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s also a performance issue since a sludge-free and deposit-free engine is a more efficient and powerful engine. After all, for every gallon of gasoline burned, an engine produces carbon, soot, unburned fuel, partly burned fuel, corrosive acids and water. These byproducts can contaminate the engine oil and lead to sludge, varnish and other engine deposits, which can reduce performance and damage the engine as well as work their way out the tailpipe and tarnish good old Mother Earth. According to Dr. Robert Sutherland, Pennzoil Technology Manager, “As motor oil developers, we are seeing more and more engines with sludge and varnish, which can compromise performance and reduce efficiency. If left unchecked, deposits on critical surfaces can restrict oil flow or act as insulators that can cause the temperature inside of an engine to rise to a point where damage may result. Maintaining engine cleanliness should be a priority for all vehicle owners to best protect the substantial investment they have in their vehicle.”
Obviously Pennzoil wasn’t keen on giving away their specific formulation or any molecular level details, but as you can see from the side-by-side piston comparison in the image above, Ultra has some real cleansing properties. That’s the same piston, on the left when used with conventional engine oil and on the right after running Pennzoil Ultra. The difference is clearly visible and in the combustion chamber example they showed us in person the difference was even more impressive. We asked Dr. Sutherland what sort of cleansing results most consumers with late model vehicles are likely to see if they switch to Ultra and here’s how he responded. “It depends on what kind of shape your engine is in but normally you’d expect to see some traces of varnish deposits on the top half of the dip stick. Within three to four oil changes using Ultra, you should begin to see those disappear.” In fact, compared to its other brands of oil, Ultra apparently removed 35% more engine sludge than their leading synthetic, Platinum. Pennzoil Global Brand Manager Debbie Van Schalkwyk said, "We developed new Pennzoil Ultra motor oil molecule by molecule to seek out and dissolve contaminants safely into the oil before they form deposits or corrode the engine. We are very proud to be able to state that nothing keeps an engine closer to factory clean than new Pennzoil Ultra.” Ferrari North America seems to agree that nothing beats Pennzoil Ultra, since they’ve recently endorsed it and use it as their factory fill. We haven’t had a chance to fully test Ultra out ourselves yet, but we’re going to do some real testing including an oil analysis after we’ve torture-tested it on the street and at the track, so we’ll report back once we’ve got some first-hand data for you. Here’s some basic data on the oil in the meantime.
ULTRA SPECIFICATIONS & APPROVALS
- API SM.
- ILSAC GF-4.
- Chrysler MS 6395Q (5W-20, 5W-30 & 10W-30).
- Ford WSS-M2C-929-A (5W-30), WSS-M2C-930-A (5W-20).
- GM 6094M (5W-20, 5W-30 & 10W-30), & GM 4718M (5W-30 & 10W-30).
- Acura HTO-06 for turbo-charged applications (5W-30).
- Exceeds the engine protection requirements of ILSAC GF-5 (2010).
RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING FACTORY TOUR
As we mentioned earlier, the Pennzoil Ultra event was held at Richard Childress Racing, one of the biggest and most successful teams in NASCAR. We were lucky enough to get an inside look at RCR’s mind-blowing facilities, so here’s a few photos of what we saw. As we learned on the tour, RCR isn’t some small hillbilly race shop that builds a couple jalopies a year and goes racin’. This is a highly professional business that builds top quality machines and is staffed by over 300 highly skilled professionals who are clearly very dedicated and passionate about what they do. We started the tour in one of the chassis fabrication rooms. This is where they literally hand-build each of their NASCAR chassis and bodies. That medieval device hanging from the ceiling is a NASCAR “Car of Tomorrow” body template used to ensure the body is shaped to spec.
Next we headed over to the assembly room, where each chassis is equipped with its suspension, brakes, and engine. Like all the rooms at RCR, this one is huge and operating room clean.
Just off the assembly room, here’s one of several machine shops on site. RCR fabricates a lot of custom parts including the spindles and suspension control arms that come out of this room.
There’s also a suspension room where RCR has every length and rate suspension spring you can imagine as well as a huge assortment of anti-sway bars and shock absorbers. There are computerized shock dynos in this lab where RCR tests damping characteristics and customizes them for each track they race on.
Next to the assembly room there’s also a huge storage room where all of their racing rigs are parked and kept immaculately clean.
Just off the rig parking room we passed through this differential and gearbox room. And yes, that is Sam Memelo from Shadetree Mechanic/Two Guys Garage fame. We had dinner with him the night before at Richard Childress’ vineyard and he was actually a very cool and down-to-earth guy.
Next we took a quick shuttle ride over to ECR (Earnhardt Childress Racing), the race engine assembly facility. Just like the RCR building, ECR is spotless inside and on a scale that blew our minds considering the entire facility builds 600 engines a year just to service 9 different race cars (3 cars in the Cup series, 3 in the Nationwide series, and 3 in the truck series). Wow.
One of the first rooms we came across was a cylinder head prep shop. As you can see in the window, the long-tube racing headers ECR uses on their engines are true works of art and their top-secret head work is extremely impressive as well.
Next we peeked into one of their engine block assembly rooms, where we could see their custom spec crankshafts lined up down the stainless countertop to the left.
ECR also has several engine dyno rooms, where every engine is tested and tuned to perfection. These rooms are carefully ventilated and have a computer-controlled atmosphere so they can simulate track conditions at different venues around the country.
Here you can see a dyno operator doing his thing. Apparently all of ECR’s engines are within 1% of each other in terms of power output and they make the most powerful engines in NASCAR thanks to the insane amount of development work they do on all the engine internals.
Here you can get a glimpse of the sort of custom work we’re talking about, this highly sophisticated coordinate measurement machine ensuring a new set of pistons meet tolerance. Everything is checked before installation.
That’s it for the tour, but suffice it to say that we’re much bigger NASCAR fans after the tour than we were beforehand. The tendency among touring car road racers like us and formula car guys is to think of NASCAR as a very primitive series that runs old technology (they do still use carburetors), but the truth is teams like RCR have taken the level of racecar and engine prep to an extremely high level, every bit on par with what you’d see at a professional racing facility for high level pro racing elsewhere in the world. Many thanks to Pennzoil, RCR, and our homies at Coyne PR for inviting us on the trip.