Our interview with Powerchip's Wayne Besanko was one of the most talked about stories of 1999. Now for 2000 we exclusively interview Lachlan Riddel, director of ChipTorque. Plug-in power gains on standard cars, emissions compliance, and management system re-programming software are some of the topics covered this week.
AutoSpeed: I want to start off by talking about a car that is standard.... an off-the-shelf car for which you sell a chip and for which you claim a power improvement. How can you do that? Has the original manufacturer made such a terrible and gross error that you can, with vastly less research and development than a manufacturer, improve upon the standard chip - just like that?
Lachlan Riddel: Only in a couple of circumstances. The Hyundai Lantra 1.8, for reasons unknown to me, has programming that is either vastly too conservative for the Australian conditions or too conservative for the fuel that we run. Changing an air duct to the airbox (still using the standard filter, etc) and changing the chip will make about a 10kW gain.
AutoSpeed:That was a mechanical change as well. I'm well aware that you can make good power with mechanical changes, but let's just go back to a purely electronic change, which now leaves out the Lantra, if in fact you need to do both modifications.
Lachlan Riddel: You can do just the chip change on the Lantra and get somewhere around a 5kW gain. The two changes together are simple changes that are surprisingly noteworthy in terms of most of the things that we see. I rarely chip standard cars; it's not something that we go out to do. In most circumstances the manufacturers will do a remarkably good job, although they are constrained occasionally - by circumstances like emissions or noise - to keep within the guidelines of a total build project.
AutoSpeed: You said that the Lantra was one, what's the other car?
Lachlan Riddel: The Subaru WRX is the other obvious easy example.
AutoSpeed:While retaining standard boost?
Lachlan Riddel: No. I don't set out to do standard cars in their fully standard trim; it's not something that we endeavour to do.
AutoSpeed:Have you in the past sold large numbers of chips that have been designed to be fitted to standard cars and have had power claims made of them?
Lachlan Riddel: No.
AutoSpeed:How do you react to other companies in Australia who nominate quite large power gains that are apparently achievable with standard cars by simply making electronic changes - and I'll narrow it down to just naturally aspirated cars.
Lachlan Riddel: I regularly do my best to explain the fundamental mechanical and physical principles that say that that is both unlikely and, in most circumstances, will be impossible.
AutoSpeed:So the other chip companies are crooks?
Lachlan Riddel: I don't know how they justify power gains. We put a fair amount of time, money and research into using chassis dynamometers and occasional track testing to ensure that anything we make has the right horsepower - will make at least the gains that we claim - in the majority of circumstances.
AutoSpeed:So do the other chip companies! All you need to is go talk to them and they'll say exactly the same thing; they'll take you on a tour of the dynos that they use and they'll discuss track testing - and they'll still come up with those same power figures. So, either they're crooks and liars, or what you are saying is not correct.
Lachlan Riddel: Let me answer by saying that for want of not getting myself into litigation with other companies, I shall not call them crooks - and I will leave it at that.
AutoSpeed:Let's talk about the software that you use in the manipulation of engine management maps. I am very familiar with Kalmaker (for GM ECUs) and understand that you have purchased that software. That's a software package that lays bare every variable and every interrelationship between those variables. So for argument's sake, if you want to change the speed with which a knock sensor pulls off timing when it detects detonation, then that function is available to you. Kalmaker is well-known and well-regarded. What other software do you use that is of a similar nature - and has similar abilities - for all the other myriad of cars for which you can change the chip?
Lachlan Riddel: To the best of my knowledge there is no other software that is of a similar nature. The extent to which (Kalmaker software writer) Ken Young has put his time into that software is well beyond any economic bounds of normal software that is purchasable at that price.
AutoSpeed:Let's emphasise this because I've heard a lot of people belittle Kalmaker as being nothing fancy, and nothing better than other companies can produce at will.
Lachlan Riddel: I wouldn't agree with that at all. The level of software that Ken produces in the Kalmaker software is very close to the level of software that's available to the manufacturers in the original Delphi/Delco systems. It doesn't expose every variable; (but) in my observations it certainly will give you most of them. It's extremely well researched and rarely in error - and certainly I am not aware of any errors that are in his current version of software.
AutoSpeed:So if that is such a good software package, by definition the other software packages that you use for other (non-Delco) chips that you do must be vastly inferior to Kalmaker.
Lachlan Riddel: Yes. I will freely say that that level of support is not available to anyone else that hasn't put in the amount of time into their software that for example Kalmaker has, or MoTeC, or Autronic. And that includes any of the other myriad of engine management systems that are available as aftermarket add-ons. Having said that, the software that we use was written in conjunction with the company that I was formerly working for in the UK, and this is the software which is used almost the rest of the world over for aftermarket engine management re-programming. It's a software that for example is used by Superchips in the UK, Superchips in the US, RaceLogic in the UK - and a myriad of other distributors around the world.
AutoSpeed:With respect, so what? You are using the software packages other people use; no doubt other chip companies in Australia will make similar claims. They're using that software package, you're using that software package - it's not making a particularly good case that in fact your end result is any better than that achieved by others.
Lachlan Riddel:(long pause) The other chip companies in Australia - I have some knowledge of them and I've never seen them use the software that we do. I'm not aware of their affiliation with the suppliers of the software, or the manufacturers of the software, as to whether they have any current or recent upgrades. We go to pains to ensure that our (power) figures are verified reasonably independently of our own work so that the general public get information - aside from our own - to back up the figures that we get.
AutoSpeed:Do the chipped cars that you have produced past emissions testing?
Lachlan Riddel: Most of them. I have produced a large number of chips - maybe some 4500 over the last five years - and some of them will not past emissions tests, purely because of the mechanical specification of the vehicle.
AutoSpeed:How do you know that some of them do pass?
Lachlan Riddel: I've tested them at the EPA testing centre in Altona (in Victoria).
AutoSpeed:Of the range of chips in your catalog, how many are legal in terms of emissions?
Lachlan Riddel: To the best of our testing and engineering, and through discussions with engineers that we've used up here for our compliancing, 70 to 80 per cent of the chips that we provide should pass the Australian ADR 37 and 37/01 as appropriate for the date of manufacture of the vehicle. Some of them - because of the cars' mechanical specifications - will not. They're our best guess - if the car's going to be on the road it should at least be as close to legal as we can make it, and we endeavour to do so.
AutoSpeed:Just recently AutoSpeed has gained access to an emissions testing facility. You'd be quite happy to provide for testing one of those chips that you believe will pass?
Lachlan Riddel: Most certainly.
Next week: What percentage of chips don't work, and the blindman's bluff of chip re-programming.
ChipTorque's Lachlan Riddel - Part 2