Michigan: Greg Specht - Ford interview

Greg Specht, North America Operations Manager for Ford Racing Technology, was part of a manufacturer's panel discussion hosted by Nextel earlier today at Michigan International Speedway. Specht addressed such issues as NASCAR's Car of ...

Greg Specht, North America Operations Manager for Ford Racing Technology, was part of a manufacturer's panel discussion hosted by Nextel earlier today at Michigan International Speedway. Specht addressed such issues as NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow project and Toyota's entry into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series in 2007.

GREG SPECHT, North America Operations Manager, Ford Racing Technology

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CAR OF TOMORROW? "I agree with Robin (Pemberton). I think that with the test out at Lowe's (Motor Speedway) we really turned the corner on the car of tomorrow. The feedback that we got from the drivers was very, very good. They were happy with the package and our aero people and chassis people are happy with the package now. As the design is frozen and we can start looking at pretty close to what we think we're gonna be racing at Bristol next year, we're excited about finishing it up and then getting on board in terms of starting to stamp on sheet metal and starting to build chassis and starting to learn as much as we can so we can be ready for the race at Bristol. We're also starting to realize and understand the benefits that the car of tomorrow are going to bring. It's going to be costly to make the changeover, but we think once that's done the teams will be able to have fewer cars in their fleet. They will have more adjustability built into the car with adjustments they'll be able to make at the track during the race weekend, which enable them to free up some of their time and resources. Instead of constantly making trips to the wind tunnel and trying to build individual cars for individual tracks, they'll be able to take more of a generic package to several tracks. And then with the adjustability that NASCAR has built into these things that they'll be able to make the tweaks to the car to make the driver happy at that particular track, so we're looking forward to getting on with it."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON FORD'S SEASON SO FAR? "We're happy with the performance of the Fusion, not only on the track but in the marketplace as well. It's doing well out there and being very well accepted by our customers in the showroom. I think, hopefully, we've gotten a lot of our bad luck out of the way in the first half of the season. There were a few races that slipped away there due to nobody's fault, certainly not the fault of the equipment. We think it's performed very well, it's just those racing deals that popped up, but we're pleased and we're seeing that our teams are picking up momentum. It's going to be interesting the next few races because there are a lot of teams and drivers that are vying for those last two or three spots to make the chase and I'm pleased to see our guys bubbling up towards those spots and confident we're gonna get a couple more drivers up there for the chase."

SO FORD FEELS COMFORTABLE WITH THE CAR OF TOMORROW AT THIS POINT? "Yes, we do. We like the package as it has evolved and I think that's because NASCAR included the manufacturers in the development process, which we appreciate greatly. We know what we're getting into and it's not just something that was thrown over the wall to us, so all of the manufacturers have had the opportunity to participate in the development of the car, so really there should be no surprises for anybody when the thing gets rolled out. It's about 95 percent complete and we've come to a good compromise not only on the aero performance of the car and the safety features, but also the brand identity of the car. NASCAR has been really good in working with us and ensuring that we're able to put a car on the track that looks like a Fusion and represents our brand very well. That's very important to us. That's a big reason why we're here and we think we've come to a package that will enable us to do that."

WE'VE HEARD ABOUT TOYOTA COMING IN AND SPENDING A LOT OF MONEY ON PERSONNEL. IS THAT A CONCERN FOR YOU GUYS AND IS THERE ANY DOUBT ABOUT FORD'S LONG-TERM FUTURE IN THE SPORT? "I would say that Ford's commitment to racing has not changed. We've been in it a long time -- since the beginning of the company -- and we intend to stay. I agree that NASCAR has done a good job over the past couple of years defining the rules and enforcing them so you can't spend money to get a competitive advantage with your equipment. However, what we don't have, for example, are salary caps, and I think it's more than just a coincidence that with Toyota coming into the series we're seeing salaries escalate at geometric proportions, which I don't think we saw when Dodge came in. So I think that dynamic has changed and it is a concern for us."

WHAT IS GOING ON AT ROBERT YATES RACING? "Obviously they're struggling. Their performance isn't where they want it to be and where it's been in the past. They haven't won a race yet this year. They won a race last year. There are ups and downs in this sport and every professional sport. It's so competitive out here that if you're off just a tick, you're in trouble and you're not performing to the level that you want to be. I'm confident that with the caliber of the people that are on that race team starting with Doug and Robert Yates, and with their experience and history with the sport that they're going to come back. Teams go through struggles. You look at Richard Childress Racing a year or two ago and they were struggling, but they've turned it around. We're confident that Robert Yates is going to get that turned around as well."

WITH THE WING AND SPLITTER ON THE CAR OF TOMORROW HOW HARD WILL IT BE TO MARKET A CAR WITH THOSE ASPECTS? "I don't think too many of our street cars have today's spoiler on the back of them. Actually, when we put that wing on we thought it made it look more like our street cars."

GOING BACK TO TOYOTA, THE U.S. AUTOMAKERS ARE STRUGGLING IN THE MARKETPLACE. DO YOUR BOSSES SEE THIS AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO WIN BACK CAR BUYERS IF YOU BEAT TOYOTA ON THE TRACK AND WILL THERE BE MORE PRESSURE? "The competition here has always been ferocious. I think NASCAR is the most competitive form of motorsports on the planet. It's absolutely ferocious and always has been. The piece of the pie is going to get smaller. We have an objective of what percentage of races we think we ought to win and that's going to be tougher as the number of players increases, so are we re-doubling our efforts? Absolutely. Do I think it's going to be any more difficult in terms of competition? I don't think so. We're pretty much going flat-out now and we're looking at how we can be smarter with how we use the resources that we have, and, absolutely, we want to defend our turf. That's why we're here."

-ford racing

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Robert Yates