The days when a manufacturer’s involvement in NASCAR Cup Series racing consisted primarily of free sheet metal and complimentary wind-tunnel time have long ago been relegated to the history books along with the Ford Thunderbird, Chevrolet Lumina and Dodge Intrepid.
Today, the relationships between NASCAR’s three manufacturers — Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota — and their teams are engineering exercises that combine the ultimate in high-tech resources with the best engineering minds in the automotive industry.
SPEED SPORT recently asked Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, how Ford works with its NASCAR teams to make their race cars faster.
“We provide a vehicle dynamics simulation tool to our teams,” Rushbrook said. “They can use it in their laptop or desktop computers to run the simulations to look at chassis setup, chassis design, front clips, aero maps — what do they want to do for tradeoff between downforce, side force and drag — and they can do that in simulation.
“Then they can bring that simulation model here (to the Ford Performance Tech Center in Concord, N.C.) to run in the simulator, so that’s seamless, the physics model that goes into that,” Rushbrook added. “Then once they understand what aero performance they want from that simulation tool, we provide simulation engineers to run it with them. Once it’s defined which aero map they want, we also provide the aero CFD (computational fluid dynamics) tool to our teams, again with aerodynamics engineers dedicated to each team to run through the CFD to know how to build the cars to get the aero performance they want. Verify it through simulation and go build it; test it in the wind tunnel to make sure they’ve got what they want and then go racing with it. So it’s those tools in terms of the car setup.
“Beyond that, we also provide a lot of analytic tools in terms of looking at the history to prepare before going to each track, so they know when to expect a caution, whether when you get a yellow with 15 laps to go it is better to take four tires, two tires or no tires. So there are tools to support real-time decision-making as well, so teams can prepare for the race upfront and then during the race it enables them to understand what is going on in order to make the best decisions possible.”
Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Fenway Racing are the teams that directly benefit from Ford’s engineering resources.
Ford drivers won 19 of the 36 NASCAR Cup Series races last season with Team Penske topping seven events with drivers Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, while Logano earned his first Cup Series title. Stewart-Haas Racing’s four drivers picked up 12 victories, led by Harvick’s eight triumphs. Roush Fenway Racing went winless in 2018.
“Obviously, from a resource standpoint anything Ford Performance has to offer, they are there for us,” said Greg Zipadelli, vice-president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing. “Whether it is stuff at the race track on a week-to-week basis, whether it is sim tools, to the simulator, to parts and pieces, Ford is very proactive. They are racers. They want and expect to win, and they put their heart and soul into winning and performing, just as we do as a team.”
“Racers” is a term mentioned often when discussing Ford Performance, which encompasses the manufacturer’s NASCAR, IMSA, NHRA and Formula Drift programs in North America along with WEC, WRC and Australian Supercars on the global stage.
“Just like Stewart-Haas as an organization, Ford Performance is really a team of racers, literally from top to bottom,” said Rushbrook. “That’s part of what we do with our team is ensure our people have that mindset, that sense of urgency knowing that we’ve got to go to the track every week with our best game and not accepting anything less. Then we have to keep pushing week after week to make it better and better and better.”
“It starts with the people you hire. You don’t necessarily have to hire the championship crew chief to have the best crew chief, you have to hire the right people that fit within your culture and what we consider our family here at Ford,” added Pat DiMarco, NASCAR supervisor for Ford Performance. “We hire people here who understand what it takes to get a car to the race track.”