Las Vegas: This Week in Ford Racing, part 1

This Week in Ford Racing March 7, 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Matt Kenseth gave Fusion its first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series points victory when he won the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway on February 26. That victory, in addition to...

This Week in Ford Racing
March 7, 2006

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series

Matt Kenseth gave Fusion its first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series points victory when he won the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway on February 26. That victory, in addition to Elliott Sadler's win in the first Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying race at Daytona, has gotten Ford's newest model off to a good start. Ford Racing Technology officials discussed the start to the new season and the philosophy that went into making Fusion competitive immediately.

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DAN DAVIS, Director, Ford Racing Technology

WHAT HAS YOUR REACTION BEEN TO THE DEBUT OF FUSION? "We've been working a couple of years on this project and it's very rewarding to have the car come out with that kind of result when you work so hard. We think we've got a really good process working and we understand all of the interactions between the aerodynamics of the car and the mechanics of the car. We really think we understand all of that, so we were able to put together a total program that comes out really strong immediately. You can miss doing that by overlooking any number of things -- either the mechanical aspects of the vehicle or the cooling aspects of the vehicle. There is some aspect you can miss and if you miss it you're in trouble because it's hard to make that stuff up down the road. Once you've got a car approved you're done and you don't get another chance for quite a while. Our competitors have shown on occasion to bring out cars that aren't better than the cars they had and/or possibly slightly worse and it's understandable. I can see how it could happen and it could have happened to us if we weren't real careful. In the case of the Fusion we were extremely careful and very methodical and it came out the way we wanted, so that's rewarding."

WAS THERE MORE PRESSURE WITH THIS CAR BECAUSE IT WAS SOMETHING FORD WAS INTRODUCING AT THE SAME TIME AS A NEW VEHICLE? "I think it does because the media is obviously looking at the production car very closely and here comes the race car at the same time. You want the production car to be perfect and you want the race car to be perfect, so there's another level of pressure on you. The worst of all worlds for me in the racing operation would be to have a fantastic production car and a race car that wasn't very good. There's a tremendous amount of pressure not to let that happen, but we have a lot of internal pressure to make sure that any new race car really does well no matter what. So it adds a little extra pressure, but there's a ton of pressure there already."

THE FIRST TIME TAURUS RAN AT VEGAS FORD HAD 13 OF THE TOP 14 FINISHERS. "I remember that extremely well. The Taurus came out and the balance of the car from a speedway versus downforce track wasn't good enough. In speedway form it was pretty draggy and we had a lot of trouble and in downforce form it was an absolute killer car. Sure enough, when we showed up in Las Vegas what we pretty much thought was going to happen happened and I think it was pretty eye-opening. A lot of times manufacturers are accused of maybe shading the truth and I was pretty adamant that the Taurus was going to be a really incredible car on downforce and at Vegas it proved that."

WE OBVIOUSLY WON'T SEE THAT WITH FUSION THIS TIME AROUND. "The Fusion is really well balanced. At Daytona it was a very good car. It's a really good speedway car and it's a really good downforce car, but the rules have tightened up quite a bit since then when the Taurus ran like that so you can't really get any big advantage like that. I think any advantage we could possibly get with the Fusion we've taken advantage of, so within the rules I feel like we've gotten our job done. I think the car was good at California and it will be good at Las Vegas, no question."

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BERNIE MARCUS, Head Aerodynamicist, Ford Racing Technology

WHAT WAS THE MAIN GOAL IN BUILDING FUSION? "Obviously we wanted to improve it. Every time you do a new car in an ideal world you want more downforce and less drag. That's usually the goal, so that's what we worked on but without one thing to turn the whole world upside-down. So rather than revamp everything, we really just did a logical evolution of the '04 Taurus while also building in the character lines of the Fusion production car."

HOW MUCH DID YOU INVOLVE THE RACE TEAMS? "During the whole process of the development, from day one, we've had input from all the three major teams -- Roush, Yates and the Wood Brothers. At each wind tunnel test we had a representative from each team present so they could see what we were doing. We took their input because we can't just work in a box without their input. The teams are the ones racing the car every week, so we need to know where they need the help. Do they need more front downforce? Do they need more rear downforce? What do we really need to work on? That's just how it worked and that's how we arrived with the final product."

YOU'RE PLEASED WITH WHAT YOU'VE SEEN SO FAR? "Yes. Obviously the '04 Taurus was a lot more competitive on the downforce tracks than the previous version, but at the same time I felt that even though we had taken a step at the superspeedways we still weren't quite there. I still think we were a little short in the drag department mainly, and I think that has now come around. Even though the Daytona results don't reflect that, I think we had very competitive cars there and one of those could have won the race. I think we have gained a little bit on the superspeedways, and I think we've also improved on the downforce tracks because, after seeing the test we had at Vegas, I think all of the Fords were very competitive and the feedback we got was very positive from the teams."

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BEN LESLIE, NASCAR Field Manager, Ford Racing Technology

WHAT IS DOWNFORCE? "In layman's terms, downforce is the amount of force that the air is pushed down on either end of the car. Depending on the driver's characteristics will depend on the balance. When you get to a place like Vegas, where you're running just north of 175 miles an hour -- approaching 200 miles an hour on the straightaways -- the aero load is incredibly sensitive and incredibly important. It actually overcomes some of the mechanical grip you get. You get more grip through aero than you do through mechanics at a place like that. With the way the cars have become now, the aero part of it is kind of the last frontier as far as trying to find an advantage. A couple of pounds here or there can make a really big difference."

WHY ARE DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA SO DIFFERENT TO THE OTHER TRACKS LIKE VEGAS? "It basically is track specific. At Daytona you don't have to lift your foot off the gas pedal. They're running wide open and anytime you get to a track where you don't have to lift in the corners, drag becomes an issue because of the overall top speed. As soon as you get to a place like Las Vegas where you have to lift in the corners, now you have several things involved, like g-forces, vertical and lateral loads, and that's when your downforce overtakes and becomes more important than what the drag becomes."

HOW DO YOU DEFINE DRAG? "Drag is the wind that holds the car back. Downforce like having a 500-pound piece of lead sitting on the hood and a 700-pound piece of lead sitting on the trunk. That's downforce and that would equal 500 pounds of front downforce and 700 pounds of rear downforce. Those are the physics of the air pushing down on the car. Drag is just holding the car back. An example of drag is after a funny car completes its run and the parachute comes out the back to slow the car down."

NOTE: The last time Ford came to Las Vegas with a new car model was 1998 when Taurus swept the top seven finishing positions and 13 of the top 14. Mark Martin won the race, which was the first NNC event at LVMS, while the late Dale Earnhardt was the only non-Ford in the top 14. He finished eighth.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Matt Kenseth , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin