If you want to get a room full of drag racing nuts chatting like a bunch of old folks in a bridge tournament, ask for an opinion about automotive fuels. There are as many opinions about fuel as there are people who use it. For all the marketing speak about automotive fuel, not enough of us understand what it does and how it affects performance.
Fuel type and quality effect performance and durability more than any other single element, short of lubrication and cooling. When you’re pushing an engine at wide-open throttle, fuel quality and anti-knock value become very important. In this Tech Review, we’re going to look at cleaner burning, high-octane, unleaded fuels from VP Racing Fuels that make the going easier for racers, as well as high-performance street and muscle car enthusiasts.
When high-performance muscle cars were rolling off assembly lines decades ago, they were equipped with high compression engines that called for strict use of high-octane fuels. As factory compression ratios ran as high as 12.0:1, and higher, in some applications back in the 1960s, we needed 100-octane pump gas to avoid spark knock and serious engine damage. In those days, refineries added tetra-ethyl lead and other additives to automotive fuels to increase octane levels and provide lubrication for exhaust valves and seats. Tougher emission standards during the 1980s called for the elimination of lead in automotive fuels, forcing the oil companies to seek alternative methods of boosting octane levels. Octane ratings have suffered in the years since.
Low-Amp Octane Reality
Since the 1980s, octane-enhancing additives have helped maintain anti-knock values to some degree, but are no match for vintage high-compression and late model supercharged engines that need high-octane fuel. These additives have also done their share of fuel system damage to hoses and other soft parts. The absence of lead in fuel has also presented new challenges for older engines, because iron exhaust valve seats won’t stand up to extreme heat and the cleaner burning nature of unleaded fuels. This has compelled engine builders to install hardened steel exhaust valve seats in iron heads, for durability during engine rebuilds. Engine builders have also had to reduce compression with dished or custom pistons in order for older muscle cars to live peacefully with today’s lower-octane pump gas. While lower compression ratios have resulted in a lackluster performance from once great muscle cars.
Spark Knock, Octane & Engine Damage
With the increasing number of enthusiasts driving and racing high-performance street cars, VP Racing Fuels recognizes the importance of having high-octane unleaded fuels available to meet the need. – Steve Scheidker, VP’s Director of Marketing
If you think pinging is just an annoying sound that happens under hard acceleration, consider this. Pinging, spark knock, pre-ignition and detonation are all the same – a destructive and abnormal reaction of fuel-air ignition. Premature ignition and even a harmful on-time ignition are common with opposing flame fronts, which can result in serious engine damage.
Detonation is a violent reaction across the piston’s crown that can rattle rings, break ring bands, shatter spark plug insulators, and hammer rod bearings. Ideally, you want a smooth quick-fire light-off on the piston to deliver the kind of power you desire. As a rule of thumb remember the higher the octane rating, the slower and smoother the light-off. The lower the octane, the more abruptly air and fuel ignites, resulting in spark knock. The engine’s state of tune and compression also factor in here.
Racer Serving Racers
Steve Burns, Founder and President of VP Racing Fuels, cut his teeth as an avid racer back in the 1970s, around San Antonio, Texas, deep in the heart of oil country. He had a passion for internal combustion and power. Research and development interested him most – the how to get the maximum amount of power possible from an engine. In those days, Steve wasn’t happy with the fuel quality available for racers and street performance enthusiasts. He set aside space in his parents’ garage, and began his lifelong work and extensive research into automotive fuels. In the course of grassroots development work, and without a budget or resources, Steve developed his own special fuel mix for racers known as C12, launching VP Racing Fuels in 1974.
Just What The Racer Ordered
VP Racing User Friendly Unleaded Fuels
- VP100/StreetBlaze 100: 100 octane (R+M/2), oxygenated with ethanol, orange in color, CARB-legal* (the only street-legal fuel in VP’s portfolio)
- MotorSport 109 is a clear 105-octane (R+M/2) fuel oxygenated with MTBE and designed as a replacement for pump gas in street cars raced off road or on the track where increased compression or boost could use more octane
- MotorSport 109E is an ethanol blend version of the popular MotorSport 109
- C10 at 100-octane (R+M/2) in clear is regarded by many as the best non-oxygenated unleaded racing fuel in the business, offering substantial performance gains compared to pump gas.
- C9 is a 96-octane (R+M/2) non-oxygenated fuel that provides a more economical alternative to C10, with performance gains and detonation protection superior to pump gas. Because it’s ethanol-free, it also protects your engine during long-term storage.
- C85 is for users of E85. With C85 comes more power and solid consistency you’ll never get with E85
VP Racing Fuels was founded with a strong focus and commitment to provide racers and enthusiasts with the knowledge of exactly what they were getting for their money. In those early years, Steve met two other racers – Buddy Morrison, and David Reher of Reher-Morrison Engine Development, whose engine advancements created more opportunities to learn how to develop better fuels. Those early collaborations led to countless contributions to the world of racing, including numerous national records in the NHRA. Four decades later, Burns’ VP Racing Fuels remains on the cutting edge of fuel technology, continually striving to meet today’s new challenges, and better serve its customers around the world.
Fuels For Every Mission
In the time we’ve spent visiting with VP Racing Fuels, we’ve learned a lot about the specialized nature of fuels the experts formulate, blend and sell to classic and performance enthusiasts everywhere. First and foremost, we discovered that one size definitely does not fit all.
When you visit the VP Racing Fuel’s website, you will quickly learn there is a specific fuel type for every car, based on the kind of driving you expect to do. In the event you become stumped over which fuel is the right fuel to order, give their full-time Tech Support staff a call and they will help you determine which of their fuels will optimize performance in your specific application. In order to give you a head start, we’ve provided a summary of seven VP Racing Fuels that make the grade.
1. VP100 – Street Legal High-Octane
VP Racing Fuels’ VP100, also marketed as StreetBlaze 100, is oxygenated with ethanol and is street legal in most areas (CARB- legal for California vehicles). What this means for you is a clean-burning, high-octane, unleaded gasoline engineered for your high-compression or high-boost engine that will get the job done, without detonation. And because VP100 offers a generous 100-octane (R+M/2), it yields a smooth light-off, along with serious thermal expansion and power. This high-performance fuel adds more power, without the negatives of destructive spark knock.
“With the increasing number of enthusiasts driving and racing high-performance street cars, VP Racing Fuels recognizes the importance of having high-octane unleaded fuels available to meet the need,” Steve Scheidker, VP’s Director of Marketing tells us. “In areas where the highest octane available is less than 93, VP100 is the perfect solution,” he adds. “Over 200 nameplates, currently in production, call for premium 93-octane fuel for optimum performance. Blending VP100 with lower octane pump gas can give you the desired octane number to at least meet your manufacturer’s specs, while generating even greater performance gains, and engine longevity.”
With VP100 standalone, or mixed with premium pump gas, you can raise compression or boost without having to be concerned about destructive spark knock. And, because VP100 is a high-octane unleaded fuel, it burns cleaner while yielding quick throttle response. You can push timing a little more. Nitrous users can also push their applications a little harder with the advantage of octane. In our dyno test on a turbocharged application, with fuel the only variable, VP100 generated 14% more horsepower than premium pump gas. We also like VP100′s orange color, which reminds us of the good old days when premium high-octane fuel looked like premium high-octane fuel. Now, as then, it is orange for identification purposes.
VP100 is designed for any street-driven vehicle, particularly some of the newer, late-model muscle cars – Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers, and the like – ponies with superchargers, turbochargers and nitrous oxide. Considered an all-around good unleaded race fuel, it works well in naturally aspirated cars, or those producing around 10-15 lbs of boost.
2. MotorSport 109
For those of you who like to race your daily driver, clear MS109 is a cool drop-in replacement for the lame pump gas you’ve been feeding your frustrated high-performance engine. MS109 is oxygenated with MTBE and can withstand 15.0:1 compression in naturally aspirated applications, or 25 lbs of boost for the supercharged crowd.
“In high boost applications, we recommend MS109 up to 10:1 compression,” said Jim Kelly, VP’s Eastern Regional Manager. “MS109 offers more power than any unleaded fuel on the market. It will require some jetting and timing adjustments, but its well worth it for the 2-3% horsepower gains over pump gas, and up to 5% in some applications.”
With its 109 RON rating (105 R+M/2), this is VP’s most powerful unleaded fuel and works great for racing hardcore street cars off road, or on the track. It’s not street legal, and also not legal for use as a race fuel in a few states that ban the use of MTBE in fuels. We suggest you check your local regulations or ask your regional VP distribution center. Cars pushing 25-30 lbs of boost, using an air-to-air intercooler, and those with a 300-shot of nitrous have used MS109 with exceptional results. Naturally aspirated, high-boost, and nitrous-fed race cars are the target market here.
3. MotorSport 109E
For customers who can’t use an MTBE-oxygenated fuel in their state, MS109E is a good alternative to the MS109. According to Jason Rueckert, VP’s Technical Consultant for Drag Racing, “MS109E is oxygenated with ethanol and primarily intended for use in states that outlaw MTBE in fuels.” Fred Turza, VP’s Technical Consultant for Oval Track advises, “MS109E will require re-jetting or timing adjustments, similar to MS109, and yields comparable gains in torque and horsepower.” MS109E is suggested for high-boost applications with compression up to 10:1, and for naturally aspirated high-compression engines up to 15.0:1.
4. C10 Non-Oxygenated Racing Fuel
VP’s C10 non-oxygenated unleaded racing fuel is ideal for your engine for weekend and full-time drag racing, when the temperatures get hot and your adrenaline gets going. C10 will not harm expensive catalytic converters or oxygen sensors, and is respected by racers everywhere.
“Because it is a very consistent fuel, C10 is easy to tune and tech,” according to Jim Kelly. “C10 works really well in boosted applications,” according to Rueckert, “due to its low vapor pressure.” VP has used C10 extensively in karting, and it has also served as the spec fuel for some NMRA classes. Because it has no oxygen, it is an easy fuel for inspectors to check. Although not street legal, it’s ideal for racing street cars off road, or on the track.
5. New C9 – The Affordable Alternative
With an octane rating of 96 (R+M/2), C9 was introduced to compliment C10, as a more economical alternative that still offers greater resistance to detonation and an improved performance over premium pump gas. “C9 has actually outperformed a competitor’s 110-leaded fuel in some applications,” Jim Kelly adds.
C9 is an NHRA-approved fuel, considered ideal for Stock and Super Stock racers, and those with similar race engines with compression ratios up to 11:1. C9 is an excellent choice for racers with lower compression ratios that currently utilize standard 110 fuels.
Because it’s ethanol-free, C9 is an excellent seasonal storage fuel, as well. In storage, pump gas with ethanol will attract moisture, leave deposits and compromise fuel lines. C9 prevents all those problems, and does not require draining the fuel system while engines sit idle. Making C9 the last fuel you put in your tank before you park your car for the off-season, will help ensure it starts at the first turn of the key come spring.
6. New C85 For E85 Users
The special blend of ethanol fuel in VP’s new C85 is engineered for those who are committed to E85 fuels, notorious for several inherent problems. “In addition to requiring an expensive E85 carburetor and a completely revamped fuel system, E85 is also very corrosive and inconsistent,” Jim Kelly comments. “When you don’t know what percentage of ethanol you’re getting, this makes an engine extremely difficult to tune. Many engine builders have cited up to a two-jet swing in their tuning, from one E85 batch to the next.”
Kelly advised us that VP guarantees every drum of C85 is the same as the last one, regardless of where or when it’s purchased. This consistency means substantially easier tuning. And, you can expect up to 4% more power with C85.
Consider the benefits of C85 versus E85:
- C85 is a consistent, custom ethanol blend you can bank on
- C85 takes all the guesswork out of engine tuning
- Special additives in this fuel provide an increase in power and torque
- Unlike the E85, VP’s C85 is appropriate for all kinds of racing, including bracket racers
We brought out C85 to be the baddest ethanol fuel on the planet, and it’s aimed at someone that wants to get the most horsepower and performance out of an E85 vehicle. It was designed for performance, not for economy. If you have to run E85 and there are no rules against it, C85 is the fuel you want to run,” explains Rueckert.
7. E85 – For the Environment – For Octane
There has long been debate over the use of E85, which is an ethanol fuel blend containing a maximum of 85% denatured ethanol fuel, and minimum of 15% gasoline. E85 is gaining in popularity among drag racers thanks to its benefits, which include: its status as a renewable resource with a growing infrastructure; lower combustion temperatures; a lower price than gasoline; and the movement toward a decreased dependency on petroleum.
There are also disadvantages and tradeoffs, primarily in fuel system corrosion, hit and miss availability, and the lower heat energy which requires burning more fuel, along with the debatable political and social factors. Perhaps most problematic is the inconsistency of standard E85, due to great variations in the percentage of ethanol in the blend, which can make tuning a serious challenge.
E85 allows you to run more timing, yet it also yields less heat energy which means less power, gallon for gallon, compared to gasoline fuels. The E85 tradeoff: timing, or power.
StangTV Editor, Mark Gearhart uses a 50/50 mixture of 91-octane and VP Racing Fuels’ VP100 when at the track. The ECU in many late model muscle cars can actually sense differences in fuel quality and automatically adjusts the timing.
VP Racing Fuels’ High-Octane Energy
Steve Burns and his team at VP Racing Fuels remain committed to serving racers and high-performance enthusiasts the most advanced fuels available on the market, since its founding almost 40 years ago. With first-hand experience on the tracks and a commitment to R&D, VP has never lost sight of its objective – to provide you with consistent, high-quality, top-performing automotive fuels you can count on, tailored specifically to your driving needs.
This is well illustrated by David Rampy, winner of 75 NHRA national events, who commented, “We’ve run VP forever – in fact, every one of my 75 wins has been fueled with VP. We wouldn’t use any other fuel – VP is the most consistent fuel you can find. VP makes more power than other fuels with comparable octane, it provides excellent protection against detonation and it’s the same from drum to drum every time.”
As you’ve no doubt seen here; regardless of your application, power adder of choice and racing mode (track or street), VP has an unleaded fuel for you and your vehicle, for every day of the year. Once you determine your specific needs and requirements, we encourage you to reach out to the VP Tech Support staff, for your next fuel selection. VP’s contact information and online support is available at vpracingfuels.com/contactus.html.