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The massive Pro-Mag 44 ignition system has many shortcomings, one of which is its loss of ignition energy as timing is retarded from the optimum position.
The task of delivering spark energy to light off today's high-horsepower engines used in classes such as NHRA Pro Mod, Radial Vs. The World, Drag Week, and more requires the most robust components proven to perform in high-stress situations. MSD's Pro-Mag 44 ignition coil and familiar 44 amp generator has been the most visible and reliable choice for racers in these classes in years past. Today, MSD's Pro 600 Capacitive Discharge Ignition system is the hot ticket, as it offers substantial performance improvements and vehicle integration in a more manageable package than the massive — and heavy — Pro-Mag setup. The Pro 600 CDI's enhanced capabilities tie in nicely with today's electronic fuel injection systems, and it works on 4-, 6-, and 8-cylinder engines.
"With a magneto, you're stuck — you can only pull so much timing. The big benefit here is when you have your launch timing out, your wheelie control kicks in, and then whatever else you have on there that may pull timing happens … with a magneto, you're going to end up on the next cylinder over, the motor's going to bang, and bad things will happen. With the Pro 600, it just makes less power and keeps going," says MSD Electronics Systems Specialist Ryan Witte.
"Additionally, when you pull timing with a magneto, the ignition power is reduced because of the generator. A magneto makes max spark output at a specific timing advance, and any time you start removing timing from it, the ignition becomes weaker — while the Pro 600's power doesn't change when the timing is altered."
It has been highly successful in top-shelf racing programs because of its consistency and adjustability.
The MSD Pro 600 CDI kit offers the wallop of the Pro Mag 44 setup, but without the drawbacks and weight that came with it.
The use of coil-near-plug ignition by OEMs has become nearly standardized, and for many good reasons. There is less voltage loss from the coil to the spark plug due to the short path, and there is no air gap between a rotor and cap as with a distributor.
Since the coils communicate directly with the engine management system, individual cylinder timing is another massive benefit to coil-near-plug systems. Power management is the key to getting these high-horsepower engines down the track efficiently, and the ignition system plays an enormous part in providing the tuner with the pinpoint control necessary to manage the engine's performance to match track conditions.
"It's coil-near-plug, so there's no distributor, no spinning rotor and cap to burn out, and no rotor phasing to deal with — that's probably the biggest advantage. With magnetos, getting your rotor phasing and your generator phasing right is a huge deal and a huge piece of setup. With the Pro 600, you get the power you need for your turbo methanol engine without the shortcomings of rotor phasing, which is a limited ability to manipulate timing," says Witte.
Timing manipulation is a critical component of today's engine management and traction control systems, as it allows the tuner to regulate power and remain on the edge of traction and strong engine performance more effectively. Power management is the key, and one of the challenges to using the mag-style ignition with these engines is that the rotor is nearly always between cylinders. If you retard the timing too much, you end up firing a different cylinder than the intended target. As you might imagine, that's not the best outcome when the engine is ingesting dozens of pounds of boost or several stages of nitrous injection.
This area is where coil-near-plug ignitions excel.
Additionally, the weight difference between the Pro 600 and the Pro-Mag 44 gives the racer a large chunk of weight to move around in the car; the Pro 600 and its coils are lighter and easier to mount compared to the heavy generator above the center of gravity in the vehicle's nose.
Stevie "Fast" Jackson uses the Pro 600 exclusively on every blown alcohol car he works with as he has found it to be consistent in its performance, which is critical when thousandths of a second matter.
Engines with extreme cylinder pressure from a pair of turbochargers, a big blower, or massive amounts of nitrous oxide require an ignition system built with extreme performance in mind. MSD developed the Pro 600 CDI 8-channel ignition system's capabilities in partnership with some of the planet's most successful racers, like NHRA Pro Mod champion Stevie "Fast" Jackson.
"We ran it for a while before it came to market. We helped MSD develop it and work out some software and component bugs while testing it in a racing environment. We continue to work closely alongside MSD and Holley; we make a lot of laps a year in a decently-controlled environment so we can give them feedback in a real-world scenario," says Jackson.
There are many advantages to using a capacitive discharge ignition system like the Pro 600, and perhaps the most important is its incorporation of coil-near-plug technology. Using an individual coil for each cylinder provides the tuner with the ability to utilize the latest electronic capabilities to improve performance.
To increase spark energy and thus the available horsepower potential, MSD engineers went to the drawing board with a plan. They delivered on that plan with an ignition system that provides 600 millijoules (mJ) of continuous-duty spark energy and a whopping 680 millijoules at max power. According to Witte, 680 millijoules are available for short periods (on a dragstrip run or for a couple of minutes), but this output is not validated for continuous duty.
Most ignitions utilize direct current, which is where the ignition fires, current runs through the wires, and the spark plug delivers its spark.
The Pro 600 CDI uses alternating current for power delivery and requires only 3 Amps per 1,000 rpm of engine speed at 16 Volts and 600 mJ to power the coils, which reduces the strain on the battery or charging system. Although the Pro 600 has a relatively low power draw on the charging system, it offers nearly double the spark energy produced by MSD's popular 8-Plus ignition system (680 mJ) when used with Holley EFI and/or the MSD Power Grid versus 345 mJ of the 8-Plus) and is the ultimate solution for all-out applications where failure is not an option.
The Pro 600 CDI is user-adjustable to deliver 250 to 400 millijoules of spark energy in its standard configuration and can be set to output 680 millijoules for short periods. This adjustability makes it the perfect choice for a Drag Week-style car that does not require maximum spark energy all the time.
Setting up the Pro 600 in the Holley software will allow the user to ramp up the ignition power as boost increases. Here, we see how the system will recognize that we've asked it to provide maximum ignition power (680 mJ) over the default, user-set level (from 250–400 mJ) as boost pressure ramps up.
"This gives the system the ability to potentially multi-spark if there's enough energy left over after the first cycle. It also offers much higher efficiency and has less battery current draw compared to a direct-current system of the same energy," says Witte.
The Pro 600 also differs from other ignition systems because it can switch between two different power outputs — a user-adjustable 250 to 400 millijoule output or the high-powered 600 millijoule output. The user has the flexibility to tune the system with the lower output in less-demanding situations, such as a cruise, and the full zap when it's needed at the dragstrip. This feature can be controlled by a switch, or through Holley Dominator or HP EFI engine management systems directly through the CANbus connector.
MSD recommends its 8280 coil packs for use with all high-powered engine combinations as it has optimized these to provide the spark energy that the Pro 600 ignition system delivers.
Delivering the spark energy is handled by one of two part numbers — the 8232 or the 8280 coil pack. The 8280 is, as Witte calls it, "the bad boy coil" that MSD developed to work specifically with the Pro 600 CDI and is what he recommends to all customers using this ignition system. The 8232 was an existing part that works with the system but will not deliver the same performance.
"The 8280 delivers the power output and characteristics that we want. We pushed the envelope all the way around — it has a lot more copper in it. We tuned the windings for the ignition to give better efficiency and higher output. With the extreme voltages and power we're pushing through these coils, they needed a connection to handle the higher power. The 8280 uses ring terminals that provide exceptional reliability and power transfer instead of an integrated harness connection like the 8232," says Witte.
According to Witte, the Pro 600 CDI's AC current design combined with the 8280 coils provides the capability to tune the ignition to have a longer spark duration than most capacitive discharge ignitions available.
"Not only does it have the power output but also the spark duration to get things lit. We've stretched the duration as long as we could without decreasing the power," says Witte.
Using the Pro 600 with MSD's Power Grid is a plug-in affair to control advanced individual cylinder timing based on gear or time, along with five stages of nitrous oxide ignition retard and four RPM limiters.
The Pro 600 CDI plugs directly into the MSD Power Grid, Davis Profiler, and OEM LS-style coil harnesses for easy integration with these components. There are diagnostic LED indicators for each coil to help determine where an issue may be, and it offers reverse battery protection and protection against open or shorted-out coil packs to prevent damage to the ignition system.
"We chose to partner up with Shannon Davis at Davis Technologies for several reasons. His company is the leader in traction management systems, so it made sense for us to have a product that interfaced easily with his. He offers a plug-in harness to mate with the Pro 600, and from there, it's tuning as normal in the Profiler," says Witte.
Interfacing with the Power Grid also unlocks the ability to set the cam sync position using the Pro 600's built-in diagnostic LEDs. It is perhaps the most critical step to setting up a coil-near-plug ignition system. If the cam sensor is set wrong, it's like installing a distributor off a tooth or three — the ignition will never work unless it is appropriately synchronized with the camshaft to ensure each cylinder fires on time.
Two additional features come to life with the Pro 600 CDI is paired with Holley EFI through the CAN connection. First, the power output of the Pro 600 is adjustable through a table in the Holley EFI software, and second, the user can record diagnostic data from the Pro 600 in the Holley EFI's datalogging software. It will record the internal temperature of the Pro 600, battery voltage measured at the unit, along with voltage and millijoule energy measured at the capacitor. It will also count the number of misses when the ignition detects an open load condition, measure the length of spark duration (which can help diagnose shorted or dead coil packs), and measure the capacitor's efficiency.
The Pro 600 CDI ignition excels in nitrous-injected applications like Marcus Birt's Corvette as it provides the ultimate individual cylinder timing control necessary to keep all eight cylinders lit.
"It's one of the only things on the car that we never have to think twice about — it's easy enough for a novice to install it and forget it, and it's got enough power to run my screw-blown Hemi with 4,000 horsepower and 65 pounds of boost down the track to a 3.50-flat at 215 miles per hour," said Jackson. "The tuneup seems to be much more stable, and the engine is far less critical to cylinder head temperature on the starting line. It's a no-brainer for us."
MSD's engineers designed the Pro 600 CDI to handle the most challenging engine combinations and provide racers with a superior ignition system that performs every time without fail. It is proven in these classes as Jackson uses it in every appropriate application for his tuning customers. If there's any better testimonial than that of the reigning back-to-back NHRA Pro Mod champion, we're not sure where to find it.