By Steve Turner
Photography courtesy of Robin Lawrence
Some racers enjoy the tight confines of index classes, while others thrive in the heads-up battlegrounds. Some, however, can find enjoyment on both sides of the spectrum. One such racer is Robin Lawrence, whose day gig is the Director of Motorsports at Holley Performance Products, has a storied history behind the wheel as well. From putting the first S197 Mustang in the 9-second zone back in the NMRA Real Street days to becoming the first to win a naturally aspirated, direct-injection 2017 COPO Camaro to win NHRA’s FS/C class back a couple years back.
“After leaving the Ford pushrod world for the Chevrolet LS world, I decided that I wanted a race car that didn’t need a four-person crew. I took a job at Holley and my available race time was less than in my previous job,” Lawrence explained. “I have many friends that have raced NHRA Stock and Super Stock. With the recent addition of the Coan Engineering Stock/Super Stock Combo races at the NMCA, I have a lot of choices where to race a stocker. I really love the heads-up classes and would not trade those times for anything, but with my schedule, I really cannot commit to a competitive heads-up program.”
While he spends much of his time canvassing the nation in support of Holley’s fuel-injection endeavors at racetracks, Lawrence still feels the urge to race. As such, the idea of putting together a race car with a straightforward combo proved compelling.
“Because of the rules and the limitations of the combinations these cars are consistent and reliable,” Lawrence said. “You can pretty much roll the car of the trailer and go racing. Sure, I have to check air pressure, charge the battery and splash some fuel, but that is about it.”
That sort of low-maintenance package is the perfect arrangement for someone with limited free time like Lawrence. The question, however, became what combination to pursue. Having experience with both Bow Tie and Blue Oval machinery, he could have gone either way, but budget became the deciding factor.
“I have been driving one of Daren Poole-Adams’ COPO Camaro’s for the past several years. He has several, but I drove a 2012 427, a 2014 350, a 2014 427, and lastly, the 2016 with a direct-injected 376ci engine; all naturally aspirated and with various automatic transmissions. After going to the semis at a NHRA National event in St Louis, I decided to build a Stock Eliminator Mustang,” Lawrence explained. “I loved the COPO Camaros, but as popular as they are I figured I could build a Mustang for less money.”
Choosing a Mustang was just the beginning of the process, however, as he then had to choose between the various platforms. While the tug of the latest and greatest Mustangs was strong, he opted for the flexibility offered by the stick-axle S197 platform.
“I had briefly looked at the 2015-and-newer S550 platform, but like the COPO, it would add to the build cost,” Lawrence shared. “Ford Performance had done an excellent job of populating the NHRA guide with many combinations for the 2010 to 2014 bodies.”
Fortunately, he has plenty of experience with this platform, as some of his travel around the country is behind the wheel of one of the earliest Coyote-powered stallions.
“Since I had a 2011 Mustang as my daily driver, I chose to build this car with a Coyote engine package. There is a lot of uncharted ground with the Coyote, and although its size is a little daunting, I think that it’s a great platform for learning new things. I have identified two engine combinations on which to focus my efforts. “
With regard to upgraded parts, he went with a billet crankshaft sprocket from Boundary and a set of his on TiVCT lockouts. Built exclusively for JRP by Militia Racing Products, these lockouts allow full adjustability, while retaining the use of the factory camshaft fasteners, which is said to ensure durability when you are making tuning adjustments with the cams that require repeated fastener removal. “I had Charlie make me the setup the way I wanted it, so I was able to make it lighter and use the factory Ford fasteners, so it’s not ever going to slip,” Ronzello told us.The cool thing about running in a stock class is that the combinations are tightly controlled, but the racing is pretty varied based on the different combinations running across several classifications.
“Stock Eliminator, for those who don’t know, qualifies against an index. Your index is derived from two things: The rated horsepower of your engine combination and the weight of the car,” Lawrence said. “You can typically swing up or down one class designation from the ‘natural’ class. As I said, you qualify against your claimed class index. So if my index is an 11.20 and I qualify at a 10.40 I have qualified at .80 of a second under the index. There are many thoughts on the best place to qualify, but that would take up another two issues.”
Obviously we don’t have the space to detail all those options here, but the fun thing for Robin is that he will get a taste of heads-up action in the world of index racing.
“Once you are qualified, you dial- or bracket-race against others in the eliminator. If you run against a competitor in the same class like an FS/G car racing another FS/G car, the run is heads-up,” Lawrence elaborated. “So on the bracket race you have the issue of breaking out. Not so in the heads-up race, but go too fast and you will get weight added to the combination. Ask me how I know…”
To make this stock-racing program come together, he located a 2010 body in white that ran through Watson Engineering before he purchased it. There, the car received numerous Cobra Jet-specific components, so it was poised for performance on the 1,320. He plans to power this platform with two engine combinations depending on how the weight breaks and class attendance breaks down. He will run either 325-horsepower 2012 or 345-horsepower 2013 stick-shift combinations.
Comparing the Combos
2012 325HP 2013 350HP
Valve Lift .473/.473 .512/.512
Intake Manifold Stock GT Cobra Jet
Cylinder Head Stock GT CNC-ported Boss 302
Port Volume 200cc Int/85cc Exh 200cc Int/95cc Exh
Throttle Body Stock GT 80mm Twin 65mm or monoblade
Ensuring that his racing platform was sound, he turned to Jimmy Ronzello Performance to build his engine. Ronzello had transitioned from a racer with a machine shop background to a Ford employee involved in engine development. From there, he was integral in the development of the 2008 Cobra Jet and earned an expertise in the modular and Coyote engine platforms.
Working in the hot test area at Ford’s Engine Management Development facility, he worked on plenty of modular engines and hot-tested the first Coyote development engine. Along the way he had been drafted by Brian Wolfe, who was running Ford Performance at the time, and he did so from the car’s earliest days through 2013.
On the side Ronzello had been building engines for racers and he built the absolute first Coyote stocker engine, which set the D-Stock Automatic record right out of the gate as the first Coyote to run in the NHRA back in 2012. That engine is still under the hood of Ricky Pennington’s racer. Eventually, he began getting calls from all over the country to build engines. Those calls inspired him to strike out and start Jimmy Ronzello Racing back in 2017 with his partner George Wright.
These days, Coyote engines make up 85 percent of his business, with modular engines taking up 10 percent of his activities and other engines rounding out the rest. Thus far he has over 25 stock Coyote engines out in the field, so he is definitely an expert in the field, which led Robin to his doorstep for the 325-horsepower Coyote engine build.
Robin opted for a Predator 5.2-liter engine block as the basis for his build, which features the rugged Plasma Transfer Wire Arc cylinder liners delivering a larger bore. Ronzello cleans these up with a diamond hone, using torque plates, and says they simply don’t wear. Naturally, he performs the traditional block prep and generally follows the Ford assembly specifications along the way, and relies heavily on using factory parts in his builds.
“Ford engineers have done the majority of the work on this engine. You just look to see where the improvements need to be,” Ronzello said. “Reliablity comes from changing the key parts that keep it alive, and the e.t. comes from degreeing the cams properly. Because I have such a variety of cars, I have learned what works and what doesn’t work.”
There are not a lot of secrets to the building process, save for a fastidious attention to detail. Jimmy says he doesn’t set out to build record-setting combos, but engines that will reliably go rounds and he certainly has had a lot of success with these combinations.
“I kind of found a formula that works,” he told us. “Judging by George Wright’s (who runs mid 10s in his FS/G 2012 Mustang) performance, Robin is going to run in the low 10s and he may even crack the nines with the higher horsepower engine.”
How these combos run falls largely on how much testing and optimization is carried out once they are in the car, which happens to be an area in which Lawrence excels.
“Most will remember that I really enjoy the testing and the technology. Working at Holley mostly dealing with the EFI has exposed me to a lot of smart people in the racing world,” Lawrence said. “I have ideas that I would like to explore on my own program. I am not as driven to race as I am to work on the development and testing side. It’s my release.”
So these engines won’t just serve to propel his pony down the 1,320. Lawrence also plans to use these powerplants to test a variety of parts, including many of the available intakes and throttle bodies for Coyote engines, and he plans to share that data with us here at RacePagesDigital.com, so stay tuned for more from these combinations in the future.
Block: Ford Performance 5.2-liter Predator aluminum (PN M-6010-M52)
Oil-Squirter Delete Plugs: Accufab Racing
Crankshaft: 325HP: Ford Performance Boss 302 forged steel (PN M-6303-M50B) and 350HP: Ford Performance Coyote 5.2-liter forged cross-plane (PN M-6303-M52)
Piston: 325HP:3.702-inch MAHLE Motorsport (PN 197736202) and 350HP:Militia Racing Products (PN 302NA)
Piston Rings: Total Seal Gapless with custom zero-gap top, Napier second, and 2mm low-tension oil
Bearings: King mains (PN MB5734XP), rods (PN CR868HPN), and (PN CR868HPNSTDX)
Oil Pump Gears: Boundary Pumps F-150 billet
Oil Pan and Pickup: OEM Mustang GT
Oil Filter Adapter: Gen 2 Oil Filter Adapter Kit (PN M-6880-M501)
Cylinder Heads: 325HP:OEMGen2 Coyote and 350HP:Boss 302 (M-6049-M50BR and M-6050-M50BR)
Valve Springs: PAC (PN 1234X)
Valve Stem Seals: Mod Max Viton (PN 35025500)
Head Bolts: OEM Gen 2 Coyote
Head Gaskets: MAHLE Motorsports Boss 302
Connecting Rods: Manley H-beam (PN MAN-14042R-8)
Camshafts: COMP Cams custom
Cam Gears and Drive: Ford Performance Gen 1 Coyote
Chain Guides and Followers: Ford Performance
Crankshaft Timing Gear: Boundary billet (PN CMSP11-14)
Crankshaft Damper: ATI Performance (PN 918047N)
Headers: Hooker Blackheart 1 ¾-inch long-tubes
Engine Management:Holley EFI Dominator EFI
Ignition Coils: ACCEL
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