Engine & Drivetrain

Power Steering

Before racing power steering, caster was utilized to help cars turn left. Manual steering provided great feel but required Popeye forearms to get through the corners. Many drivers of today might fall out of the seat if it were not for the utilization of advanced power steering systems. It is clear that many drivers have extended their careers due to the power assist.

Serpentine Belt

Serpentine belt drive power steering pumps are more durable. Today’s advanced power steering systems are a giant leap forward compared to designs of the past. These advanced systems increase horsepower by utilizing smaller light weight pulleys and lighter belts. Serpentine belts eliminate slippage that can occur in V-Belt systems. New advanced power steering packages maximize flow and are more efficient resulting in marked improvements on the horsepower dyno sheet.

Through technological advances, driver feel is optimized by advanced power steering systems and caster is now used as a chassis tuning tool. Steering effort relies on the precision built into the power steering system independent of chassis and caster settings.

Power steering pumps, and components, are precision instruments that are built with the latest manufacturing technology. Close tolerances are a requirement for power steering systems to perform. To sort through the intricate details, and variety of power steering application options, we sought out racing power steering experts CJ Jones of Jones Racing Products and Michael Deppa of KRC Power Steering. Both companies utilize advanced power steering systems. The differing philosophies of these manufacturers offer racers a variety of successful power steering package choices.

What are the recent advancements made relating to racing power steering systems?

Michael Deppa:
Coil bind set ups, wide soft compound tires, high amounts of caster and fast steering boxes place more demand on the power steering system. Faster racks, small ratio steering boxes or quicker steering boxes often require more volume feeding the servo. Aggressive front end geometry and high banked tracks can place high amounts of load on the wheels. Faster rack-and-pinions require more volume to fill the slave cylinder due to the quicker cylinder stroke. Manufacturing advancements allow for managed pressure relief settings, in the pump, even at the high pressure.

Pavement late models, on semi-banked tracks, often create around 600 PSI of pressure in the middle of the corner, while Modifieds at Bristol create 1500 PSI – Dirt cars can see the same 1500 PSI. Hardware has changed to meet the new pressure challenges and changeable flow valves allow pump volume to be adjusted throughout a large range for precision tuning in varying applications.

CJ Jones:
Through research and testing, our team discovered that power steering pump performance relied on building systems with a solid foundation which allows the pump’s internals to provide excellent fluid control, pressure and flow curves along a wide RPM range. . Machined CNC Aluminum construction, manufactured with exacting tolerances, provides the rigid platform required for the best performance. A solid foundation allows the internal pump components, and flow controls, to provide optimal fluid management and pressure stability. Fluid flow curves, throughout the RPM range, can be specifically tailored due to the rigidity engineered into the CNC machined housing.

Our extensive testing illustrated that matching pumps with integrated fluid reservoirs created optional solutions for the racing market. An integrated fluid reservoir simplifies installation and is more cost effective. Removing the remote tank eliminates four fittings and two hoses. Overall system performance is enhanced, and restriction is reduced, due to the elimination of unnecessary hoses and fittings. Integration ensures fluid feed, at the source, providing advantages as compared to remote reservoir designs. The performance of the entire system is enhanced; there is never a possibility of the pump struggling to get fluid from the remote tank source.

Integrated Reservoir Tank

An integrated reservoir tank eliminates hoses and fittings increasing flow characteristics. With the tank mounted right at the pump fluid is ready available to feed the pump reducing cavitation.

Explain your thoughts on power steering fluid.

CJ Jones:
We tested all the available fluids and our group felt improvements could be made by producing a synthetic fluid designed for the racing market. Synthetic handles extreme temperatures nicely resulting in steering consistency throughout the fluid temperature range. A confident steering feel, from race start to finish, is obtained due to the performance of our proprietary synthetic fluid. Foam free and crystal clear synthetic fluid eliminates cavitation during full operating temperature even on long green flag runs.

Clear power steering fluid helps the team to keep a watchful eye on the stability of the system with just a quick glance at the fluid itself. Racers are able to spot any type of contamination in the fluid, helping to catch any problems with the rack, steering box or hoses. Catching one of these problems will protect the rest of the system.

Weekly fluid inspection should be standard practice and a complete flush and fluid change is recommended 2 to 3 times a year. If you run more than once a week, or often run in long events, then increasing the fluid change schedule is recommended. Racers should adapt their schedule based on their usage but 1500 to 2000 laps is a reasonable guide for synthetic fluid replacement based on type schedule. Contaminated, debris filled or burnt fluid should be replaced immediately.

Utilizing Clear Fluid

Whether you choose a full synthetic fluid or a petroleum based fluid, utilizing clear fluid provides the opportunity for system checks with a quick glance. Clear fluid that is discolored gives teams a heads up in identifying potential problems in the power steering system. Hose issues or other problems are quickly resolved when clear fluid suddenly becomes discolored. Purchasing small bottles for top offs and large bottles for full system fills ensures efficient use of your fluid.

Michael Deppa:
We like petroleum based fluid as it is incompressible and safe for internal system components. Low viscosity petroleum based fluids flow through the passages of the pump with a constant density through pressure change. Petroleum based fluids cool nicely and are readily available. Fluid issues, such as boiling, give racers an opportunity to inspect the entire system. Corrections can be made right at the problem source that is creating the fluid boiling point.

Pavement cars sealed off tighter for aerodynamic purposes may benefit from a cooler. Lower fluid temperatures provide fluid integrity but generally a cooler is not mandatory. If a cooler is used, the best place to mount a cooler is in front of the radiator so the ducting forces the clean cool air through the cooler.

We recommend the fluid be changed roughly two to three times a year in most racing applications, but it should be changed immediately, along with a thorough flush, if the fluid is discolored or smells burnt. It also should be changed more often if you race more than once a week on a regular basis. Before every race we recommend checking the power steering fluid level. Using clear fluid as a diagnostic tool makes it simple to spot problems and discoloration.

Other weekly maintenance includes checking your belts and pulleys for wear, checking belt tension, clearing pulleys of debris, and inspecting your hoses and fittings for any leaks.

How do you determine pulley sizes for power steering systems?

Michael Deppa:
For racing applications you should ensure you do not over spin pumps at RPM levels above the pump rating. Special caution should be utilized with an OEM pump to avoid excessive RPM. Manufacturing pumps, specifically for racing, allows for increased RPM’s in the 9000 range.

To determine the correct power steering pump pulley size, you should consider that most constant flow vane-style power steering pumps achieve maximum flow rate at 1500 RPM at the pump. A well designed pump will flow at a constant rate from 1500 RPM of pump speed on up. Over spinning the pump will not increase the flow rate of the pump. We recommend turning our pumps, on most engine set-ups, at around 4,000 to 5,000 RPM of pump speed. In some instances, such as dry-sump mounted pumps, the pump may not be spinning fast enough at low engine RPMs to get maximum flow out of the pump. This may cause the steering to feel tight in the pits. The key is to make sure the best feel is found at race speeds. Racers can go online for the pulley RPM formula or consult or techs for specific information to ensure all variables are taken into account.

CJ Jones:
We recommend that racers identify power steering, pulleys and mounting hardware based on the engine RPM range and the accessories on their car. Power steering pulley size is used to fine tune the pump speed for optimal pressure and flow curves. Ensuring a cool running pump, that is mounted properly, is obtained by utilizing the vast array of configurations available. A call to our techs can help teams to achieve the best system for their application. Equal effort can be placed in improving existing systems for maximum performance even if a team is enhancing their existing system verses starting from scratch. Regardless of the scenario, expert tech support can make dramatic improvements in power steering performance.

Why are serpentine belt systems better?

Michael Deppa:
Serpentine belts are capable of withstanding higher RPM’s without the belt stretch that can be seen with V-Belt systems. V-belt stretch causes slippage and rapid pulley wear. The Serpentine belt structure requires less material, thus the belt itself is lighter. Serpentine belts provide greater grip to the pulley allowing smaller pulleys to be used. Pulleys can be made in smaller diameters reducing rotating weight adding horsepower and acceleration. With appropriate tension, Serpentine belts last longer and coupled with smaller pulleys the long term cost savings are significant.

CJ Jones:
We searched for alternatives to V-belts over 30 years ago and found serpentine systems improved the drive of accessories at optimal RPM. Serpentine pulleys offer multiple light weight ratios that are more reliable at the high RPM found in racing. The variety of pulley options reduces belt induced horsepower loss. The serpentine concept increases reliability and is a superior alternative to V-Belt designs. Serpentine reliability and longevity are a dramatic improvement over V-Belt systems.

How do you determine the correct pump for a given application?

Michael Deppa:
A major consideration is identifying how the pump is to be mounted. Will the belt drive be on the front of the engine or off the bell-housing? Will the power steering pump drive off the dry sump pump or cam shaft? Once the pump is mounted, the last step is to fine tune the pumps flow rate to the application. Standard flow rates work in a majority of applications but differences in rack-and-pinions, steering boxes or steering gears may require simple flow valve changes to optimize the flow rate to the steering system. 1600psi of pressure relief is the highest safe rating we recommend. We can adjust the relief valve from 1000-1600psi. Other considerations relate to the tank – will it be pump mounted or remotely mounted?

Power Steering Pump

Power Steering Pump manufacturers have developed a variety of mounting options to suit nearly any application. Consulting your power steering company of choice will provide you with many problem solving mounting options.

Explain the advantages of a pump designed for racing as compared to past or stock designs?

Michael Deppa:
GM Saginaw pumps are built for mass production with low cost at the major factor.

Designing a racing pump from the ground up allowed for input from industry expert Tony Woodward. The evolution of pumps specifically designed for racing allows for the use of superior materials and very tight tolerances. Diameters can be held to tolerances of 1 micron. Honing and hard coat processes create longer lasting better performing pumps that go beyond the technical abilities of a stock Saginaw style pump. Improved manufacturing processes provide greater power assist when you need it. Efficiency improvements result in temperature drops of 30 degrees or more illustrating the advances of modern technology.

Power Steering Pump

A power steering pump designed specifically for racing applications reduces fluid temperatures and increases performance resulting in a smooth steering package.

What other power steering system knowledge would you like to pass on to readers?

Michael Deppa:
Most steering issues we come across on a daily basis are due to plumbing issues. The feed line for remote systems should be no longer than three feet and should be a hose designed specifically for power steering with the correct vacuum rating. Push-lock and braided-stainless hose will not work for a power steering system. Once hot, if oil is pumped through these non rated lines, they can soften and will more easily be sucked shut, starving the pump of fluid.

Remote tanks should be mounted above the pump and care should be taken to ensure the line is insulated from header heat. If the line is routed below the pump, and then enters the pump from above, it can create air pockets in the line creating steering with hard spots and inconsistency.

We check the fluid level with the engine off. Care should be used to prime and bleed the air from the system. Primed and bled properly – the fluid level should not change once the engine is turned on, unless there is a leak in the system. The fluid level should be well above the return line where it enters the side of the tank. If the fluid level is not above the return port, excessive fluid aeration will lead to cavitation.

CJ Jones:
Dyno testing each power steering pump, to verify and document flow and pressure characteristics, improves on track performance allowing for specific tuning for individual drivers. Dyno testing is something we feel very strongly about and we believe every pump should be run on a specialized pump dyno. Continual improvement processes are enhanced through the rigorous daily dyno testing.

Serialization allows baseline numbers to be matched so that Saturday night short track racers, or Super Speedway Cup stars, can maintain the steering feel that is best for their situation utilizing years of technical support experience. Storing documentation allows drivers to repeat the feel desired from the steering system for future needs.

Serializing Pumps

Serializing pumps allows for storage of information that can be pulled up for baseline comparison at anytime.

Jeff Butcher:
Utilizing the correct steering wheel size will help your driver to be fresh at the end. Larger diameters reduce back pain and find the correct “feel” is very driver specific. One driver likes the slightly slower and smoother performance of a large wheel and other drivers like the quick reactions of a small wheel. Small wheels can make it more difficult for drivers to be smooth. Working to find the optimal size for each driver is another tool that can make your stopwatch produce smaller numbers.

Power Steering Wheel

Using a top quality steering wheel gives the driver maximum feel and feedback. Quality steering wheels are round where as knock off wheels can be oblong creating an erratic feel. Mounting your steering wheel as close to your chest as possible reduces back strain. The best steering pad available should be a must have item for any team.

Quality power steering systems provide excellent feel and keep drivers up on the wheel for the entire race – there is no need to “ride” to conserve driver energy. Running hard every lap is possible due to the design of a good steering system. To maximize feel, your steering shaft should be mounted solidly with the steering wheel located in a comfortable position.

Rigid Steering

A rigid steering column mounting system gives your driver reliable and consistent steering feedback. Steering columns that flex or have bent steering shafts create unpredictable steering motions. Using the proper mounting hardware is an easy way to ensure your advanced power steering components are fully utilized.

Mounting the wheel as close to the chest as is reasonable allows more leverage to be applied to the steering system and back strain is reduced. Proper positioning gives the driver more power in the turns they can stay in the seat for the entire race. A racing steering wheel should be paired with a precision machined steering wheel quick disconnect. Close tolerance splines connect providing the safety of a quick release system..

Steering Wheel Disconnects

Steering wheel disconnects are a must have safety item. Tight splines transfer feel from the tires directly to your driver for enhanced feel. There are many quick disconnects to chose from and this is an area where the old saying “you get what you pay for” applies.

Each track, car type and driver style presents many variables. Today’s power steering system manufacturers have the resources to offer the correct hardware to maximize the potential of nearly any car. Smooth and dependable steering feel, with proper power assist, promotes better feedback to help drivers dial in set ups. Drivers can utilize the power assist to go the distance better than ever before and taking the time to work with your power steering supplier will help your team to easily turn into victory lane.