PHOTO: After a dominant showing at New Hampshire, the American-Canadian Tour has begun measures to slow down Ford-powered cars like the #57vt car fielded by RPM Motorsports and Austin Theriault’s #57me. (Alan Ward photo)

–by T.J. Ingerson

I “cracked open the crate” a few weeks ago, and dived into explaining the benefits of crate motors, while comparing the two crate motor options that are currently available on the American-Canadian Late Model Tour: The Chevorlet 603 engine and the Ford S347JR engine. After a possible rule change was mentioned regarding crate motors during the drivers meeting at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in July, ACT issued a memo this week stating that the Ford crate motor will now have to run a 1.600” restrictor plate.

The restrictor plate will be placed underneath the carburetor spacer plate that goes on top of the intake manifold. According to ACT, the spacer measures at 1.709” as the maximum tolerance. This would restrict the entire opening by just over 1/10th of an inch, or each hole just over 5/100ths of an inch. Basically, the change is less than 1/8th of an inch total, and less than 1/16th of an inch for each hole.

“We are putting a 1.600 [inch] restrictor plate under the spacer which will not alter things much, but after watching the competition all summer we believe there is a slight edge with upper torque with the Fords on the bigger tracks,” ACT President Tom Curley told Vermont Motorsports Magazine in an email. “We tested the plates at the NHMS test and tune session a couple weeks ago.”

Curley said that officials are trying to be proactive with the Ford engine program, as when the motors start getting refreshed, there could be a slight performance advantage with gaining horsepower.

“Historically with these crate motors (both Chevy and Ford), there have been some changes when they get freshened. There is not nearly as much now as 10 years ago, but we anticipate that the Fords will also pick up a little more when they start getting freshened,” Curley explained. “Part of this tech memo is that we are trying to get ahead of the curve and any potential issues we might have going forward. [The restrictor plate] will bring the Ford and Chevy within one pound of torque on average and within one-and-a-half horsepower of each other. Realistically, I don’t believe we can get any closer than that at the present time.”

Curley also explained that this is a temporary amendment to the rule book, and in all likelihood, there will be another adjustment before the finalization of the 2012 rule book. He also stated that they have been working on some Chevrolet motor issues all season long, with the hopes of having an announcement about the Chevrolet crate motors in the near future.

“The goal is not to make the two brands identical, but it is necessary to make sure that the Chevrolets and Fords match up so that either choice feels they have an equal opportunity to compete on a level playing field,” said Curley. “We have not seen a lack of parity, even with some slight discrepancies on the shorter tracks, but we will continue to monitor that as well and make changes if we feel they are appropriate.”

Curley pointed out that the Ford crate motor program is still in the research and development stage during the 2011 season. He said the goal is to have the program confirmed for the 2012 season, but “we also know that are many factors that go into a project like this and we will take whatever time is necessary to try and make it competitively correct for all the racers, both Chevrolet and Ford.”

Ford engines had a dominating weekend in the ACT All-Star Late Model Challenge at New Hampshire, having four drivers finish in the top five, and seven in the top ten overall, including the overall win. The highest finishing Chevrolet motor was driven by Brad Leighton, who finished fourth.

There are three remaining races on the American-Canadian Tour schedule that will feature the newly implemented restrictor plates: Riverside Speedway in Ste-Croix, Quebec for the ACT Late Model Tour/ACT Castrol Series combination event, New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the non-points ACT Invitational, and the season-ending Fall Foliage 200 at Airborne Speedway. There will be no change for the remaining events at Thunder Road.

“Part of what makes this process so difficult is that a huge percentage of the teams that have won the vast majority of ACT races over the past five seasons are still winning races and many have switched to the Ford,” Curley said. “The ultimate goal which made ACT racing attractive to so many throughout the Northeast when originally introduced was that we had a dozen or 15 teams that felt capable of winning races if their driver drove the car more competitively than the competition, had some luck, and had a crew that gave them a good set up on any given day. Perhaps that standard of a dozen teams may have shortened up over the past few years, and our goal is to get back to that number as being realistic again as a basic philosophy of ACT racing.”

Will the restrictor plate help even up the competition? I believe so. Anytime you cut the amount of air that is being combusted in the engine, the results will be lessened horsepower and torque.

Will the difference be extremely noticeable? I don’t believe so. I just don’t think the Fords will be that much better than the Chevrolets than what was displayed at New Hampshire. Granted, the Ford camp features some very good drivers — Brian Hoar, Austin Theriault, Patrick Laperle, Joey Laquerre, Wayne Helliwell, Tom Carey, John Donahue — but the Chevrolet camp doesn’t feature any pushovers, either.

I think the rules change will make the ACT Invitational that much more exciting. And I hope it does.