Since 2004, Doug Yates has faced many unique challenges as the President of RoushYates Engines.
But the second-generation Ford engine builder, who currently supplies power to 21 teams in NASCAR, IMSA and FIA will undertake his most formidable task to date — the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing to the Blue Oval Brigade.
Yates discussed his new opportunity with Motorsport.com, the shift in Ford Performance’s philosophy and what lessons he learned from Team Penske’s transition to the manufacturer that will ease RYE’s expansion prior to SHR’s arrival in 2017.
How excited were you to hear Ford had recruited Stewart-Haas Racing?
Yates: It’s really exciting for RoushYates and all of our employees. We got them together on Wednesday after the announcement and the group was as excited as I’ve seen. There’s some really good energy. We’re looking forward to 2017 with Stewart-Haas and it will also provide additional motivation for this year.
Brad Keselowski called Dave Pericak’s (Global Director of Ford Performance) move to recruit Stewart-Haas Racing “ballsy”. For years, Ford has been considered the conservative manufacturer in NASCAR racing.
Yates: The new leadership at Ford with Raj Nair (executive vice president and Chief Technical Officer, Ford Motor Company) and Dave Pericak has been outstanding. This deal happened for two reasons. One, Ford is on a mission to win championships — driver and manufacturer championships — and Dave Pericak was part of the push to make that happen. His management listened to him and they’re going to give him what he needs to accomplish his goals and we’re a part of that.
The second reason why it happened is because Stewart-Haas has the confidence in our engine company to give them championship winning engines. It’s a big moment for Ford. In the history of big teams changing manufacturers, this is right up there.
Team Penske’s move from Dodge to Ford in 2013 was one of those historical moments. What were some of the obstacles you faced then that will prepare you for SHR?
Yates: We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished with the Penske guys. In the last three years, we’ve won 48 races — 20 of those being Cup races. That’s really impressive, but in this garage, to earn the ultimate respect, you have to win championships and that’s what we’re really striving for.
When we took Penske on, we thought we were ready and prepared. But really, we started too late. We started later than we should have. In the shop we kind of over-estimated our ability to get the work done. We’re a much better company today. We have a lot better process control and people in place to do the job.
On the engineering side, we brought on some great talent with our new technical director Jamie McNaughton. What we want to do, knowing it’s early in the season, is to play if out like we have four new teams now. How many more people do we need? What’s the facility going to look like — everything from parking spaces to tools. But on the engineering side, that’s where it’s going to be a win for all Ford teams. All Ford teams and drivers are going to have better packages because we’re going to have better resources. It’s going to be great for all Ford teams.
Chevrolet has enjoyed a stranglehold of sorts in the Sprint Cup garage — particularly with 10 teams being fully equipped by Hendrick Motorsports along with two additional engine programs at Ganassi Racing. Will Ford adding four teams — particularly a company with the resources of SHR — balance the scales a bit?
Yates: I think the key is 12 really good cars. We’ve had a great group of customers, but we haven't had the top level customers all the time. Hendrick has eight teams. The resources and the funding that provides you is something that’s really going to strengthen our program. We always felt we did really good but we were resource limited in some ways.
This is going to allow us to overcome that and just the sheer amount of cars, Ford Motor Company, one of their goals is to win the Manufacturer’s Championship. It was really difficult with less cars. Going forward, having this many good cars, is going to give us a shot to go out there and win a lot races. The data that’s coming back with the different drivers and what we learn, electronic fuel injection has helped us become a lot smarter engine guys and now we have test equipment back at our facilities that we can run those different configurations and learn more.
It’s a real exciting time and what’s exciting about it is just the resources and what it’s going to allow us to do as a company. I’m really, really looking forward to the future.
NOTE: On the introduction of NASCAR’s new lower downforce Sprint Cup package this weekend, Yates says the biggest difference on the engine side will be the change in lap times and the change in RPM ranges with the current engine package.
“Last night we were seeing 9,400 rpm,” Yates explained. “In the race, you’ll probably be lucky to see 9000 rpm. That low rpm number was 7,500 and now it will probably be high sixes. To build an engine with a broad power curve is the key to success here. But I think watching a little bit of practice here, it’s going to be a drivers’ race, a handling race if anything because these guys are pretty sideways.”