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Stock Rocks—Inside Uncle Robin Lawrence’s stocker 5.2-liter Coyote engine builds

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Robin Lawrence is the Director of Motorsport at Holley Performance Products, but he is also a dedicated racer and an ardent fan of testing. He love learning on the dyno and the racetrack, and his latest platform for doing so is a stocker Mustang that he’ll run in various sanctions and categories, including the NMCA’s Coan Engineering Stock/Super Stock Combo class.

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.

Depending on the weight breaks and amount of competition in a category, Robin plans to move between a 325-horsepower 2012 or 350-horsepower 2013 stick-shift combinations with an engine swap and change of bodywork. Both engines rely on a Ford Performance cross-plane crankshaft, while one will run unported Gen2 Coyote heads and the other will run the factory CNC-ported Boss 302 heads (pictured).

“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.”

Though the 5.2-liter engine was initially known for its flat-plane crankshaft, these engines use a more traditional cross-plane crankshaft and firing order. The 5.2-liter blocks not only yield a slightly larger bore (3.63-inch versus 3.7-inch), but the Ford Performance cross-plane crank delivers a bit more stroke at .012-inch. Robin’s two engine combos use different cranks. The 325-horse combo uses a Boss 302 crank and displaces 314 cubes. The 350-horsepower setup uses the Ford Performance cross-plane crank and clocks in at 315 cubes.

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.”

At the heart of the rotating assembly is a familiar set of forged rods from Manley. These are the same units used by Ford SVT in the storied 2003-2004 Mustang Cobra known by its codename—Terminator. The engine share the same rod journal pin, and rod length, so these are the same part number used in the Termi, so you know they are proven units.

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.”

While we are focusing on the 325-horsepower combination here, the piston choice is one of the main differences between the two setups. To run with the NHRA, you must use part numbers approved by the sanction. As such, Robin selected MAHLE pistons (at left) for this combo, which he picked up from Holbrook Racing Engines. For the 345-horse engine, he opted for forgings from Charlie Wescott at Militia Racing Products (at right), which add a bit of performance via their design. “Charlie always brings something to the table,” Ronzello told us.

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.

From the factory, the Coyote rings feature a high performance design, but for this application, Ronzello installed Total Seal Gapless top, Napier second and a low-tension 2mm oil rings.

“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.

Ronzello is big on OE parts, so he dialed up a Gen1 Coyote chain guide kit for most of the cam drive and simply subbed out a few higher performance bits for enhance durability.

“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.”

To ensure the engine is ready to rev without unneeded vibrations and stay on the good side of the rules, Lawrence opted to run an ATI Performance Products SFI-certified crank damper.

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…”

For this application, Ronzello selected PAC’s drop-in beehive valve springs for the Coyote engine. They will support valve lift up to .575-inch and carry a spring rate of 240 in-lb.

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

 

On a stocker engine it’s the little things that can add up. One trick utilized on this engine is the use of an F-150 Coyote oil pump. These factory units have narrow gears and lower volume, so they eat up less power to pump the oil. For this build, Ronzello fortified the F-150 pump with billet gears from Boundary that Lawrence picked up from Mod Max.

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.

Here JRP’s Josh Bryant begins the build after already taking all the critical measurements. Coyote-series engine mandate really tight bearing tolerances, but he tends to skew toward the middle of the Ford specification for safety.

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.

Obviously custom file-fitting the rings to a race engine is standard fare. As we mentioned, Ronzello cleans up the factory PTWA bores with a diamond hone, along with the other machining prep, before giving the block an ultrasonic bath, wiping it down and assembling the engine. Interestingly, Ford is transitioning its 5.2-liter blocks from the initial Voodoo casting to the more robust Predator 5.2 casting utilized by the forthcoming Shelby GT500. Not only do these blocks feature deeper 12mm head bolt holes, but Ronzello also says they are about 9 pounds heavier, which indicates enhanced strength.

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.

For the 325-horse build, Robin reused some of reciprocating parts from a previous Coyote build, including the Manley forged rods and MAHLE pistons, which have since been superseded by a part number that features valve reliefs for the larger valves in the Voodoo and Predator heads. Ronzello opted to install all new ARP 2000 fasteners. With the rods and pistons installed, Bryant ensured the side clearances were up to spec.

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.

After pre-lubricating and assembling the oil pump with the Boundary gears, Bryant installed the oil pump, rear oil galley plug and the timing cover dowels and cover. He then uses a special Ford tool to install the rear cover.

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.

MAHLE’s multi-layer steel head gaskets got the nod for this engine, just like they do in the OE applications.

“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.”

To swap out the valve springs in order to check the piston-to-valve clearance, Lawrence used this Coyote spring compressor from EuroExport. This CNC-machined unit it makes it easy to swap out the springs with the heads one the engine. With the spring and retainer in place you can turn a bolt to compress the spring and drop the keepers into place.

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.

For the 325-horse combo, Lawrence chose a quartet of camshafts from COMP Cams featuring 252 degrees at .050-inch on the intake and 258 degrees .050-inch on the exhaust.

“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.”

Dialing in the cam timing on these engines is not only critical to maximizing their output, but it’s also key to helping them survive. If you spec too much duration or don’t time them right, you might have piston-to-valve contact. Ronzello says checking this clearance is the most critical step. Ronzello and Lawrence swapped out the PAC springs in favor of checking springs and used cylinder six to test the clearance at top-dead center. He aligned the cam gears and intermediate chain before wrapping the timing chain around the billet crank gear.

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.

Further hastening the cam-timing process, Ronzello used this tool from a Wydendorf Machine, which he fitted with a TDC finder and a third dial indicator. If you are building as many Coyotes as JRP does, a tool like this will really speed things up. Ronzello times the cams using a proven formula that he knows will work. Racers may be able to optimize it further with dyno and track testing, but his settings are a safe bet. He told us the beauty of have four cams, despite the additional expense, is that the exhaust and intake cams can be adjusted independently, which gives you far more flexibility.

 

Ronzello wrapped up the engine assembly by bolting on a factory oil pan and pickup.

“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.”

Here is the completed 325-horse stocker engine ready for final assembly and installation in Robin’s new race car. Stay tuned to follow along as he tests a variety of intakes and more using this setup.

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.

 

The Details

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

 

Sources
Accufab Racing

Accufabracing.com

(909) 930-1751

 

ATI Performance Products

(877) 298-5039

ATIRacing.com

 

BES Racing Engines

(812) 576-2371

BESRacing.com

 

Boundary Pump Division

(214) 810-4030

BoundaryPumps.com

 

COMP Cams

(800) 999-0853

COMPcams.com

 

EuroExport

(561) 315-8930

EuroExportInc.com

 

Ford Performance Parts

(800) 367-3788

PerformanceParts.Ford.com

 

Holley Performance Products

(866) 464-6553

Holley.com

 

Jimmy Ronzello Performance

(313) 319-0470

 

Holbrook Racing Engines

(734) 762-4315

HolbrookRacingEngines.com

 

MAHLE Motorsports

US.Mahle.com/mahlemotorsports/

(888) 255-1942

 

Manley Performance

(714) 978-3335

ManleyPerformance.com

 

Militia Racing Products

(517) 531-3430

MilitiaProducts.com

 

Mod Max

(954) 951-5779

ModMaxRacing.com

 

Moroso Performance Products

(203) 453 6571

Moroso.com

 

PAC

(866) 799-9417

RacingSprings.com

 

Wydendorf Machine

(269) 781-2709

WydendorfMachine.com


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