Today’s OEM vehicle computers have become so advanced that they have abilities that rival standalone setups. The problem is unlocking that potential, and doing it in a way that doesn’t require going to grad school to understand. Sniper Inc. has developed hardware and software that allows you to harness the full capability of your black box. While there are a lot of different tuning solutions available now for late-model factory ECU’s, there’s always been a tradeoff between ease of use on the one hand, and power and flexibility on the other.
According to Sniper Inc, their system is easy for the end user to start with a “point and click” software, then grow into full custom tuner control over every aspect of their car or truck’s engine management without having to turn it into a second career. If you’re the “do it for me” type, Sniper Inc’s network of tuning shops can use the same tools available to individual users to build custom programs and flash them to their customers’ cars.
To demonstrate the software’s potential to improve the performance of just about any late-model car or truck, we took a bone-stock 2004 V6 Mustang, added a K&N cold air intake and Zex wet nitrous kit, then used the interface box plus Commando and Special Forces tuning software to dial in the tune, following up with their Recon data logging to verify our results.
The interface box can hold five tunes, plus your stock tune, at the same time. Your computer need not be present to upload to the car, making it a handy way to carry tunes with you to the track without lugging around a lot of extra hardware.
History of Sniper, Inc.
Follow through the Delta Force line and you feel like you’re in a Rambo movie – with products referred to as “Commando,” “Recon,” and “Bullets,” you can see they were definitely going for a certain theme. Your two main guys at Sniper are the Stajdel brothers, Chris and Patrick. Patrick worked on EFI systems during their adolescent years (adolescent EFI, not Patrick) in the early 1980’s. It didn’t take long to build up a good reputation in the Grand National crowd – the distributorless Buick turbo V6 was the hot car of this era and proving his worth in this market was priceless. It didn’t take long for GN-based Indy Car teams to pick up on Patrick’s tuning knowledge.
Patrick began to supply a major chip manufacturer, and he has been involved with nearly every major chip and tuning company on the market. Though Sniper, Inc. is a new company as a whole, the experience and knowledge goes back far beyond the start date on the business license.
It all started with the illustrious Delta Force software, which was originally designed for in-house tuning development for their own handheld flash tuners. One day Chris was brainstorming with one of their engineers and said, “Man, it would be cool if we could have a list of questions and the software just creates a tune for you.” The wheels started turning, and nine months later Special Forces was born and the direction of the company had changed. “Our first year of business, we didn’t sell anything, it was all development,” Chris recalls.
Sizing up the competition
“We were the new guys on the market. Our main goal was to bring profit back into the dealer’s pockets. One box allows a dealer to keep little to no inventory”, Chris says. Sniper, Inc. has a unique approach when it comes to their tuning software; it isn’t just a one time plug-and-play tuner. Special Forces and Delta Force offer two levels of tuneability, from a simple car configuration map to full standalone capability.
Chris gets questions like, “I have a ’03 GT with a Vortech and 60 pound injectors plus a home-made mass air meter; will this work?” all the time, and the simple answer is that if you have any car that runs on a 1996 or newer Ford ECU, it will work. Another great aspect is that it can tune over a hundred different vehicles by simply purchasing a “bullet” or password. Nobody likes to break out a laptop at the track to load a new tune, which is why the tuner contains five custom tune slots and one for your stock tune that can be changed in just a few minutes. The fact is, a laptop isn’t required, as all adjustments can be done from any Windows-based computer, then stored in the interface box for use “in the field.” Another unique feature is that the interface box isn’t locked to a single vehicle – you can use the interface to flash any number of vehicles.
Special Forces to the Rescue
The Special Forces program is the building ground for the vehicle and comes with Delta Force and Commando tuning kits. After you download your stock tune file (we will get to that later) the Special Forces software prompts you through a series of screens that asks you very basic questions about your combination, from stock to mild bolt-ons, all the way through to aftermarket forced induction. As long as all the correct information has been inputted, it will create a custom map that will run your vehicle properly. From there, you can use the Commando software to delve into the details of your ECU, graduating from the multiple-choice format of Special Forces to a more sophisticated tuning software.
While the Special Forces software makes basic tuning as easy as clicking through drop-down menus, the Delta Force program turns the vehicle’s ECU into the equivalent of a full standalone engine management system.
Full ECU Control with Delta Force
The Delta Force software is awesome and can even be a bit overwhelming at first because there are a lot of options to control. It turns your ECU into the equivalent of a standalone that is easy to use, with variables like air/fuel ratio expressed in real-world units that won’t have you doing conversions in your head. “The Ford ECU is hell of a computer; it works fine for 1,000 horsepower cars. People have this thought that if you make 1,000 horsepower that you need a standalone, and you don’t,” Chris explained. So what’s the highest horsepower car that’s been tuned using Delta Force? “’03-‘04 Cobra; those have bullet proof bottom ends already, that made 1,100 wheel horsepower which is about the max of a Ford ECU”, Chris remarked.
Special Forces Features
- Simple point & click software
- Allows you to tune two vehicles with initial purchase
- Allows you to tune additional vehicles
- One part number covers all supported Ford gas vehicles
Allows adjustments/calibration for the following:
- Altered compression ratio
- Supercharger (Roots & Centrifugal)
- Low / High fan settings
- Engine idle speed
- Nitrous (wet & dry)
- Passive Anti Theft
- Injector size
- Fuel octane rating
- Returnless fuel pressure setting
- Headers / exhaust
- Mass air brand / calibration
- H/X pipe
- Intercooler type
- Rear oxygen sensor delete
- Fuel pump type
- Automatic transmission shift points and firmness
- Engine rev limiter
- Vehicle speed limiter
- Tire height and gear ratio speedo correction
- Air Fuel Ratio adjustments (richen/lean)
- Spark advance / retard
Commando / Delta Force Features
Everything above, plus full standalone capability including:
- Info displayed in “user friendly” terminology
- Powerful professional tuner software
- “Flash” directly to vehicle
- View or edit Special Forces or “other” performance files
- View multiple performance files at the same time
- No conversions needed
- Create performance files using several different methods
- Compatible with other Delta Forces Tuning products
- Comes with Special Forces software & hardware
** Depending on model year and vehicle, some options may not be supported, contact Sniper Inc. for further details.
3.9 and holding – the 2004 Mustang V6
Our test Mustang rolled into the shop completely stock, a car that sees double duty as both a daily driver in SoCal’s commuter hell and a weekend warrior bracket racer. Economy, drivability, and extra power were all on the agenda, and we were depending on the Delta Force Tuning hardware and software to get the most out of a few simple mods. What we didn’t expect was the way we’d be able to completely change the personality of the car just by giving the computer new marching orders.
To start off, we strapped the V6 to the dyno for a baseline test, where it served up a mediocre 152 horsepower and 194 ft/lbs. While this was in line with our expectations, we took a ‘glass half full’ approach and got to work knowing that there was nowhere to go but up.
Intake, Nitrous, and Tuning
Concentrating on upgrades that wouldn’t interfere with the basic good qualities of our test Mustang, we turned to K&N Engineering for their “Fuel Injection Performance Kit” high flow intake system, and procured a ‘wet’ nitrous system from ZEX, along with their electronic window switch to make activation foolproof and safe. K&N makes a point of optimizing their intakes to work with stock ECU programming, so we were curious whether we’d be able to squeeze anything more out of a N/A tune with Sniper’s help. More importantly, since there’s no distributor to back down on our Mustang, the Delta Force Tuning system would be the key to creating a safe nitrous tune-up.
With the intake and nitrous installed, we were ready to unlock the power potential of our silver pony. The first step was to locate the OBD-II connector that is typically found where the plastic ends under the dash, and plug the black tuning box into it. The interface box will be used to snatch the factory tune from your vehicle’s ECU. You will then plug that very same box into your computer to pull your stock file so it can be loaded into Special Forces. Having that stock tune file loaded will make your life a lot easier when creating your custom tune. The software prompted us to enter the three letter and one digit ECU box code, and from there, we followed through the questions, changing the parameters that applied to our vehicle.
- Transmission Type (Auto or Manual)
- Compression Ratio (if other than stock)
- Aspiration (Turbo, Nitrous, Supercharger)
- Octane Used
- Injector Size
- Fuel Pump Size
- Mass Air Type and Location
- Exhaust Configuration
- Shift Modifier for Automatic Transmissions
We started off simple, selecting a tune for 91 octane, switching the mass air location for a cold air intake, and indicating that we were running nitrous. Because the interface box will hold multiple calibrations at the same time, and the software itself allows you to save tunes for your car limited only by available hard drive space, it was easy to make two tunes right off the bat – one for N/A, and one for spray. Another nice feature was the ability to create dyno-only tunes that locked the automatic transmission in third gear; much easier than trying to have the dyno operator manage the kickdown and prevent an upshift while making the pull. To prevent potential misadventures, the software won’t let you save any file with the third gear lock without adding a “Dyno Only” warning to the name.
With our first tunes built using the simple point-and-click system, we uploaded them into the interface box, then pushed the changes back to the Mustang’s ECU, a process that takes just a minute or two. Then, it was back on the rollers to see how we’d done.
Room for Improvement
Compared to our baseline naturally-aspirated test run with the K&N FIPK installed, we discovered that the Special Forces tune had picked up three peak horsepower, and more importantly had smoothed out the air/fuel ratio across the entire rev band. We were certain that we could pick up more power with the control offered by the Delta Force software.
Back to the laptop, and with Delta Force loaded and running, we compared the stock tune versus the Special Forces-created tune – one of Delta Force’s features is that it bolds everything that is different between the two files, making comparison easy. We went into our fuel table and added 1.75 points to the AFR by simply adjusting the ratios in the table. Keep in mind that the stock O2 sensor is a narrow-band, so we weren’t expecting exact ratios. Since the car had responded well to additional timing via Special Forces, we added another 2 degrees of ignition timing via the global spark modifier to see if that would pick up some more power without getting into knock, then loaded it all back into the interface and updated the ECU in preparation for another pull.
It went well!
With the added fuel and timing, we netted another 5 horsepower and 8 torques, bringing in a total gain of 8 horsepower and overall numbers of 160 and 204 foot-pounds. Satisfied with our naturally aspirated numbers, we moved into our nitrous tuning. Since our NA tunes had added a bunch of spark advance, we wanted to start with the completely stock run file and work from there. Again, we went into our global spark modifier and pulled 2 degrees of timing out across the entire RPM range. We then loaded the new nitrous tune back into an open slot in our interface box and got the rollers warmed up.
The ZEX kit performed exactly as expected, with a 50 horsepower gain on the ’50-shot’ jetting, and a gain of 90 foot-pounds of torque. The nitrous was activated at 3,200 RPM and we found a slight dip in the power curve in the 3,700 RPM range. Being that it was already a late night, we stopped after our initial nitrous pulls, though we could have easily adjusted the air/fuel ratio for a flatter curve with a few clicks of the mouse.
During this entire time, we data logged each run. The Recon software gives you the ability to log all the sensors and even display heads up gauges that play back real time. The parameters can then be viewed over the run in any form to show exactly what is going on in the Ford ECU. When taken as a complete package, the interface, tuning software, and datalogging capabilities give you not just the ability to change the way your car performs, but monitor those changes to make sure you’re always heading in the right direction.
More to come from Sniper, Inc.
One of the limitations that the current generation of Delta Force Tuning hardware shares with most flash tuners is the fact that making changes to the program in the ECU requires a few minutes of down-time while loading the interface box, and then subsequently transferring the new data to the ECU. The future generation of Sniper Inc. hardware will include on-the-fly tuning. “If you wanted to add two degrees of timing during the middle of the run, you could,” says Chris. The major advantage to live reprogramming will be significantly faster turnaround time between dyno runs, an important upgrade whether you’re paying for dyno time while doing your own tuning, or running a professional shop. That’s not the only improvement on the way. Here’s a list of some other additions in the pipeline:
– Tune for E85 Fuel
– More aftermarket mass air meter/intake kits supported
– Aftermarket ignition coil calibration
– Greater vehicle coverage
Making great parts better
With little effort and dirt under our fingernails, we were able to install a K&N intake, ZEX nitrous kit, and get all our tuning done on the dyno with Sniper in a single day. The programming is a breeze to set up and even easier to use. Even people who have never touched a tuner before can get tangible improvements on the first try, will have a system that will grow along with their understanding, and gain access to a growing network of professional tuners using the same powerful hardware and software to get the best performance possible out of their hard-earned engine upgrades.