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Oil Pump Tech Talk: Crankshaft Insurance

GM Pro Series Drag Race Oil PumpAs racers, we've never understood why so many racing teams will entrust an expensive crankshaft to a stock-type oil pump — at least until a pickup tube or pump housing winds up in their oil pan! Buying an oil pump is like buying insurance. It all comes down to how much you like your crankshaft.

Once upon a time, the only alternative to stock oil pumps was an exotic dry-sump system. Sportsman racers were understandably reluctant to make that kind of investment. Today, however, you can bolt in a wet-sump pump that provides all the "insurance" of a dry sump — at a fraction of the price and weight. Titan engineers have developed a full line of billet-aluminum oil pumps for popular Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler engines. These high-technology, Professional-series Titan pumps lubricate everything from fuel dragsters and nitrous doorslammers to pullers and sprint cars.

With the subsequent introduction of our cast-aluminum Sportsman pump for GM and Ford engines, Titan added a model that costs about half as much as its billet big brother. The Sportsman pump incorporates the same dual-feed, georotor design as our Professional series. Moreover, the Sportsman flows virtually the same amount of oil as our Professional 875-, and 1100-series pumps.

Cavitation is the mortal enemy of conventional, "spur-gear" oil pumps. Titan prefers the dual-feed georotor design both for its smooth, high flow and its inherent ability to prevent cavitation all the way to 12,000-plus rpm. Cavitation is what causes pickup tubes to break and fall off, and housings to crack in half. Cavitation causes the drive to hop back and forth between the drive and coast sides of the gear at high frequencies, breaking the drive. (And the ignition follows it, changing the timing back and forth.) Moreover, during cavitation, the horsepower required to drive the pump increases. (On our flow bench, when a pump starts to cavitate, it sounds like cracking knuckles, only real loud and violent. It makes you step back!)

Stock oil pumps work acceptably up to about 4500 rpm. A spur-gear pump is used by auto manufacturers because it's cheap to make, and it's adequate for most passenger cars. Somewhere between 4500 and 8000 rpm, however, it cavitates — without exception. On our test bench, we've never found a stock or modified spur-gear pump that didn't cavitate. Some do it during a 100-to-200-rpm spread, pump speed; others will cavitate for 500 rpm. Generally, once you drive past that point, the pump starts pumping oil again. For example, it might cavitate once between 4400 and 7600 rpm, then go back into cavitation a second time between 8000 and 10,000 rpm — only a lot more violently.

A spur-gear pump will work if the engine doesn't remain in cavitation. A racer who revs to 8500 rpm might be passing his cavitation point so quickly that it hasn't bitten him yet. As the pump and the engine wear, cavitation worsens. More fuel gets by the rings, contaminating the oil and increasing chances of cavitating the oil pump. When a pump does cavitate, the volume of liquid drops drastically: 70- to 80-percent less is not unusual. In a Chevy, with the oil-pressure sending unit in its stock location, you don't see it. The gauge needle fluctuates so little that you just don't notice, going down the track. But if the line is tapped further downstream, like at the front of the main oil gallery, you do see it. At a given pressure, the volume of oil leaving a spur-gear pump or a Titan pump might be the same. What's different is that when the other one starts to cavitate, ours is still pumping, and displacing more oil to wherever it needs to go.

Our huge, dual-feed suction system lets the oil flow into the pump at a slower rate than it does into a stock pump. The porting is much larger, and our pumps feed the eccentric from both ends, rather than one end, like a stock pump. Because we bypass internally, the volume of oil coming through the screen in the pickup is virtually equal to the volume of oil going out to the main oil gallery. If you bypass externally, the volume of oil coming into the suction is the full volume and capacity of the pump; not just what is actually being fed to the engine. This means the oil is getting sucked into the pump at a much higher rate than is needed, which speeds up the flow, creating extra differential pressure. The higher the differential pressure, the more gas bubbles are sheared into the fluid on its way into the pump, setting up cavitation. Bypassing internally is also more efficient on a mechanical level: The energy it takes to rotate our pump at higher crank speeds is considerably less than a pump that is running at the same speed, but bypassed externally.

Titan pumps are also engineered to retain oil after the engine is shut off. Even if the oil is drained out of the pan, there is always oil in the pump. Then, when the car is fired up again, within a single rotation of the oil pump, it's already pushing oil through the lines.

Generally speaking, the wider an engine's operating range, the more it needs a high-volume oil pump. Titan's original billet models were designed for Top Fuel powerplants, which must instantly accelerate from idle to maximum rpm when the driver hits the throttle. Consequently, a fuel motor needs an oil pump large enough to lubricate the main bearings before the load gets to them — much like an accelerator pump functions in a carburetor. The objective is to force the lubrication ahead of the load; to build pressure as quickly as possible and put oil to the bearings before the car starts to move. A smaller pump is slower to fill up the lines downstream — by only a nanosecond, but it can mean the difference in a bearing that gets scratched and one that doesn't.

Today, the same wet-sump technology that lubricates Top Fuel motors is available for all types of racing engines. Your rebuildable Titan pump will be the best — and possibly the last — oil pump that you'll ever buy.

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