NASCAR got the 2014 season underway in earnest Thursday at Daytona International Speedway with the annual preseason testing. While mother nature delayed the start of the day, Ford Racing caught up with NASCAR program manager Pat DiMarco and Ford Racing aerodynamcist Bernie Marcus to discuss changes to the Fusion race car and how the new NASCAR rules package affects the Ford cars for 2014.
WERE YOU ABLE TO QUANTIFY HOW MANY TIMES THAT WAS AN ISSUE LAST YEAR? “We never lost a race or lost positions on the racetrack because of it. We did have a harder time and there were concerns at points but just from a pure safety factor to be 100-percent sure that we don’t get into that situation since these cars will live on for awhile we addressed it early on with NASCAR and the other OEMs and it is a non-issue.”
TO BE CLEAR, THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE COSMETIC LOOK OF THE FUSION GRILLE? “The grille bars on the car are staying identical to what they were in 2013. It is only the lower inlet which is the dark black area on the car which will be flushed out. To the average Joe sitting and watching, they won’t even really be able to tell on TV what has changed.”
BERNIE MARCUS, Ford Racing Aero Specialist – FROM AN AERO PERSPECTIVE, WHAT DOES THIS CHANGE DO TO THE CAR? “Nothing. It was purely done for debris purposes and the aero numbers did not change. Nothing on the aero side changed by doing this.”
SOME SPECULATE THAT THE DESIGN OF THE FRONT END OF THE FUSION HAS LED TO POOR AERO, AND IN TURN, POOR PERFORMANCE. “All I can tell you is that we just had another OEM comparison test just before Christmas where we ran all the body kits, the entire body kits around the 2014 rules package with the spoiler and splitter packages and we were still in the exact spot we were before. We were right there with the other OEMs in terms of our aero numbers. There is nothing wrong aerodynamically with this nose.”
PAT DIMARCO CONTINUED - CAN YOU EXPLAIN THIS NEW RULES PACKAGE FOR 2014 AND HOW IT WILL AFFECT COMPETITION? “The new aero rules add some downforce to the car which during Charlotte testing in December the drivers felt gave them a little more security in the car compared to 2013. Then there is a no ride-height rule in post-race inspection which will allow the guys to make the cars drive a little more comfortably for the driver. It lets the springs be the springs and the shocks be the shocks on the cars.”
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR THE POST-RACE INSPECTION PROCESS? “The bodies will be inspected at a six and eight frame-rail height as they were last year to make sure the bodies meet all the rules but the post race inspection now the car does not have to come back up to those six and eight frame-rail heights. Once it leaves tech inspection to go onto the race track they can put it down to whatever attitude they want it on the race track and it can come off the race track at whatever attitude the car settles in at. The disconnect came in trying to meet the six and eight ride-height rule for inspection and then meeting it post race. The cars are so aerodynamic, so trying to get the cars in the attitude they wanted to was causing people to use the springs and shocks for other purposes than what they were designed for.”
BERNIE MARCUS CONTINUED -- SO HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE AERO SIDE OF THINGS? “Again, it doesn’t really affect it. What I do as far from a design standpoint with the OEM equipment it really has no affect. It is more a team specific thing which enables them to be a little more free with their setup work because it is very difficult when you do your suspension settings and then have to have the car come back up to a certain ride height. Having eliminated that I think it helps the teams.”
PAT DIMARCO CONTINUED -- DO YOU FEEL LIKE THIS IS SOMETHING THE TEAMS WERE HOPEFUL ABOUT WANTING TO CHANGE? “I would say it was 50-50 in the garage. Some teams felt it was an advantage, some felt it didn’t do anything for the cars. The product on the race track will determine if it was the right move or not.”
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO GATHER FROM THIS TEST? “To make sure the cars are in the realm where we want them to be in terms of speed, handing and drafting and knowing that there is more speed in the car that will come back for the race. The guys will take the cars back and whittle on them some more and whittle on the engine and then come back here and put on a good race.”
Doug Yates took time while waiting for testing at Daytona to begin, to discuss how the new NASCAR rules package affect engine preparation and also how the change to the Fusion grille helps with his goal of making the fastest, most reliable NASCAR engine in the series.
DOUG YATES, ROUSH YATES ENGINES -- WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO FIND OUT AT THIS TEST? IS IT ALL ABOUT HOW THE ENGINE ADJUSTS TO THE NEW RULES PACKAGE? “I think what you learn at every Daytona test is how you stack up to your competition. The number one reason to come here is to find out where you are at. To give the car guys a chance to test their part of it. The engine piece for Daytona is pretty straightforward. You need power in a certain range, a pretty narrow range, and you go work on the dyno and can get that. There are tweaks we will do here to make sure everything with the insulation and air box and drive line components are right, but for an engine guy you want to see how you stack up and then from that what you do is you go home and you figure out where you are at and how much you need to gain. It is not hard to understand that because if you are off two-and-a-half horsepower that equals one-tenth of a second. That is either in power, drag or drive line efficiency. Or something in the car like the brakes are dragging or something like that. Really it is more about shaking the cobwebs off, getting back in the groove, getting back into the routine and seeing how you stack up as an organization.”
FROM AN ENGINE PERSPECTIVE, HOW DOES THE CHANGE TO FLUSH THE LOWER INLET OUT HELP YOU? “It absolutely helps. Anytime you have to adjust your strategy based on potentially getting trash on the grille and consistently getting trash on the grille, it makes the engine builder job extremely hard. We work to running at this oil temp and this water temp for this long and we go test and build our engine around that. When on top of that you have debris getting on the grille it throws a curve. You run into things where you are trying to build margin into the engine and you may not need to and then you compromise performance. I am excited about the change because it is a move in the right direction to let us get the debris off the grille and move forward and hopefully that makes life nicer this year.”
CAN YOU QUANTIFY HOW MANY TIMES GETTING DEBRIS STUCK ON THAT GRILLE WAS AN ISSUE AND MAY HAVE AFFECTED THE ENGINE LAST YEAR? “I think it was stated yesterday where Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards at Michigan last year, it put those guys in a tough spot. It put them in a position of needing a teammate to back up to get something off a grille and both of them are trying to win the race. That is something we need to avoid. You will have that and you may have that a couple times during the year but you don’t need to have it a dozen times during the year. I don’t know the exact number but it felt like more times than not that we had debris and were fighting to keep the engine cool or at the spot it was supposed to be operating. That was a challenge. It never cost us a win, but it was something we were challenged with several times.”