Kearney, Grace - Dodge interview 2010-06-11

An interview with: Bryon Kearney - Vice president of scientific engineering laboratories and proving grounds Joe Grace - Vehicle line executive for SRT, for Motorsports Programs BYRON KEARNEY: Welcome to the Chrysler world headquarters and ...

An interview with:
Bryon Kearney - Vice president of scientific engineering laboratories and proving grounds
Joe Grace - Vehicle line executive for SRT, for Motorsports Programs

BYRON KEARNEY: Welcome to the Chrysler world headquarters and the technology center in Auburn Hills. My name is Byron Kearney. I'm the vice president of scientific engineering laboratories and proving grounds, proving grounds here in Michigan and also in Arizona. I like to my of my job as the most interesting, the most rewarding and of course the most fun because I get to work on every single product that comes through here from the initial concept to production. And of course, I get to work on the Motorsports program like this Nationwide Challenger behind me.

Just to get you a little grounded a little bit here, you're obviously on the first floor and you're standing inside the test chamber for the wind tunnel. What we're going to do this afternoon, we're going to go through the wind tunnel first and you'll see what we do there, and then we're going to take you through our power train test facilities, which we have about 129 dynamometers.

A couple other facts I'm not sure if you're aware, but there is about 4.5 million square feet here at the complex. The laboratories here, the shops, the garages, occupy 1.5 million square feet, all on this first level here, to support all of the engineering and development work we have to do.

Today as I said earlier, we're going to show you two of our development test laboratories, and the first one of course is the wind tunnel and the second one is the power train one. To support all of those laboratories, we have 15 garages and shops that do just about everything you can think of. Some of the shops, they fabricate metal, plastic, wood. We build engines, we build transmissions, we build axles, and of course we build full running prototype vehicles.

We also have in the building, and you're not going to be able to see it today, but we do have a vehicle pilot center which is pretty much like a mini assembly plant, and that's where we do primarily process tryouts with our manufacturing partners and any full volume prototype programs that we have to have.

So as you go through the tour today and other information that you may hear about, I hope you'll see that we have the capability to design, develop, build and test products from initial concept that starts in the studio and to full running prototypes.

I like to think that we are the most capable automotive engineering center in the world because we truly have everything under one roof. We are a turnkey engineering center. We can do it all right here under this one roof here.

So as you go through the tour today, remember the words I said: We are truly a turnkey organization. Okay? Next is Joe.

JOE GRACE: Thanks, Byron. Good afternoon again, my name is Joe Grace, I'm the vehicle line executive for SRT, for Motorsports Programs and for our new small car programs or A and B segment cars. One, thanks for coming; two, Byron, Tonita, thank you for sharing your facility with us. As Ralph mentioned in the beginning, this place is a machine. It's running almost all the time. One of the things that we do here with respect to the Motorsports programs as Byron mentioned as we tap into the resource here at the Chrysler Tech Center, and what that does, there was a question about the support, kind of the support from Chrysler, from Dodge specifically, for the Motorsports activity. It's really an extended enterprise. We do have a nucleus of people that are dedicated to the Motorsports programs. So we really have a lot of people that are involved.

So if you add people up on a fractional basis, we have a lot of passionate people. We have a lot of people that put in extra time. We work on our programs basically just on a phone call. On a tap on the shoulder they'll drop everything and help us, because we want to win, we want to be competitive, and we have, as Ralph mentioned, the success we've had so far this year has been tremendous.

And really why is that? To us it's really the focus that we now have working with the Penske team, kind of one manufacturer, one team. We have Mike Nelson here from the Penske engineering side and Dan Samsung from the Penske power train side.

We talk on a constant basis. We're together not only at the track, but we're also via phone conference, via visits to Charlotte, we're together. You can really break it down into kind of three categories: One, of course, that you can rotate the car around so we can kind of get a front view again, the development of the Nationwide Challenger. To us when we do new cars, in a sense it's like birthing a baby. So when we're kind of coming into the production or developing a new car, we start as Byron said, start from a concept, we develop it, and what we'd like to say is that of the new Nationwide cars that you'll see, we think this is by far and away the best.

And why is it the best? Because it really connects the reality of the Challenger that we have today in the marketplace that people are driving with the car you're going to see on the track. So what did that -- as you look at the other products, the other manufacturers, Joe talked about the aero parity between the vehicles. We work diligently both with the Penske team, with our design office, part of Ralph's team, Ralph's other job, the design office side, to create a car that was, one, a true representation of the Challenger but, two, would keep us competitive on the track.

So that process was a long process. It took us a couple years to get this all the way through. And what you'll see, of course, and the signature of the Challenger as it rolls around is the front end, is the inset in the grille. What we think is we've got a car that's going to get us where we want to be on the track.

Obviously this year we've had tremendous success with our current Nationwide cars. We know that'll continue, and we think we'll have a car that's just as competitive with the new cars, as well.

One, the car itself was something that we tapped into. So essentially we have our aerodynamicists who essentially were dedicated, and Tonita will take you through it in more detail. We do both physical development with physical properties and then we do a lot of analytical development with CTD, computational fluid dynamics, which gives you the ability to range things rapidly, much more rapidly than you can change on a physical property.

So the aerodynamics work was done here, was done in Charlotte. We think we've got, again, a product that is going to be second to none in terms of recognition, and again, we know it'll be competitive when it gets out on the track.

The aerodynamics side, again, is something that we've done jointly with our labs team, with Byron's team, and then you'll see in a few minutes after you get done with the wind tunnel, our power train facility. We have again a team dedicated to do the race motors, to do the R5, to do the A6, and what we do here is we work on an ongoing, kind of a continuous improvement basis. We'll still work R6s. The motors are never done. We're always looking for opportunities for improvement. We're working with NASCAR on future initiatives, because again, the race shops typically have kind of a near-term focus where we usually take a longer-term focus with making product advances that we can use in future races.

The engine side, the aerodynamics are things we feel, again, we have a lot of expertise here. We have a lot of people that we can translate both from the production programs into the race programs to make sure we're bringing all the best technology to bear on the future products.

What might not be quite as obvious is we also have on the chassis side, we do a lot of work with chassis setups, with the tire data. I think Roger touched on that in his discussion. So we help the teams, and again this year with the Penske team, make sure that they have the proper setups for each week at each track, and that's another area of expertise that we again work jointly with the Penske team on.

Again, you've got aerodynamics, the engine development, the chassis simulations. And then I think one other thing that's kind of not as well known and that's I think an area of opportunity for us, is again, and Byron mentioned it, as well, and Roger Penske mentioned it, the process -- it's not a one car thing. You're building different cars for different weeks. It's a process of trying to have repeatable build processes, repeatable parts. So what we're trying to do again is working with the Penske team finding opportunities to share the processes that we've developed here to build pilot cars, to build production cars so that when they're building their cars, they're doing it with all the latest technology and the things we've learned here at the Chrysler Tech Center.

Again, it's a very collaborative process. I think the advantages we now enjoy are really, one, that we can share openly and that we don't have to worry about kind of the one manufacturer on multiple teams, where you're never quite sure of the communication, if you're getting all of the information regarding the latest developments that the different teams are going through.

We think, again, with the number of cars that we have, we've been tremendously competitive in both Sprint Cup and Nationwide. We think that will continue. And we as kind of the manufacturer, we couldn't be prouder of the work done by the Penske team getting ready and by the efforts of the drivers each week.

It's a very professional operation. We take this very seriously, and we have a lot of truly passionate people that work on the cars each and every week. And we look forward to working with NASCAR on future development. Ralph touched on that. We can't wait to get going on a new Sprint Cup car because this is really what it's all about because people connect with this.

Q. With the success that you've had so far this season, are you thinking now adding presence in Sprint Cup, or is that still not something you're thinking about?

JOE GRACE: No, I think honestly we have no intention to change the situation we have right now. We've got a good rapport, we've got winning cars. I think Mr. Penske mentioned it. We hope that some independents will pick up and run our cars. We enjoy that. But I think in terms of the larger scale teams, we're with Penske and that's where we want to be.

Q. Can you like give us an idea the amount of people that are working on this program, is it dozens, is it hundreds?

JOE GRACE: Just being honest, we have really what I would say, at least within my organization, we have six people that are just fully focused to NASCAR and to racing. And again, when we staff programs, we have people wearing many hats working on many programs, so we count fractional people as people. It's hard to say one person, this is your one and only job that you do 40 hours a week or 60 hours a week or whatever the case may be. So we think if you add up kind of the equivalent of the people working on it, it's 20, 30 plus people working all over the -- you'll go in the Dyno cell, we've got people setting up engines, working on engines. We've got all types of technical staff, and Byron's organization they're working on the programs. So it's really an extended enterprise.

BYRON KEARNEY: Mine truly are fractional people because we work on every single program. We even work on clients outside of Chrysler as well. It fractions and it's kind of hard to add it up, but I think Joe set it straight on who's actually dedicated to it.

Q. For Byron: What is different about this wind tunnel that differentiates it from others?

BYRON KEARNEY: I don't want to steal Tonita's thunder. When she talks you through it, she's done this many times, but primarily we're able to do a lot of acoustical testing here, as well, which we really don't worry a whole lot about -- at least I don't think we worry about wind noise on the racetrack. But that's some of the things this wind tunnel is known for, not only its spin capability but we're also able to get very, very, very low noise from the tunnel itself and be able to pinpoint different design changes or even things on the exterior that we can hear standing out, not just inside the vehicle what the driver happens to hear. But as we talk through this, Tonita can probably touch on some of those things, as well.

Q. For Joe: What's the biggest challenge for this Nationwide car? I've heard a lot of guys saying they're pretty loose in the tests, and at Daytona it could be kind of wild. Specifically with this car what's the biggest hurdle?

JOE GRACE: I think we've looked at the force balance between the front and rear end and the overall drag, and we believe it'll be competitive with the other manufacturers'. I think most people would say you really don't know until you get out and you're racing among many.

The biggest challenge, of course, is if you look at the car you realize what it is. I mean, this is a Challenger. It looks like a Challenger. It's got the signature of the Challenger, which is the front end. You look at the other manufacturers' cars, and I'll frankly say I don't think they went as far as we did. I think we deserve the credit for kind of taking that step to do something a little different that says, okay, you know this is a Challenger. There's no mistaking it.

Does it look like a bullet-nosed car, no, but it'll be there. The numbers speak for themselves in the tunnel. It'll be competitive.

-source: dodge motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup , NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Roger Penske