Penske, Gilles, Balash - Dodge interview 2010-06-11

DODGE CHALLENGER MEDIA PROGRAM An interview with: Roger Penske - Penske Corporation Chairman Ralph Gilles - Dodge Brand President Joe Balash - Nationwide Series Director RALPH GILLES: Welcome. You're standing in our wind tunnel. We use ...

DODGE CHALLENGER MEDIA PROGRAM

An interview with:
Roger Penske - Penske Corporation Chairman
Ralph Gilles - Dodge Brand President
Joe Balash - Nationwide Series Director

RALPH GILLES: Welcome. You're standing in our wind tunnel. We use this place a lot, so it's a miracle that we can shut it down for a couple hours and talk about NASCAR and the Nationwide Series.

It's awesome. I mean, we're really happy. There's a lot going on with the Dodge brand in general. Our sales are up dramatically from a year ago. A year ago was a very different dynamic. A lot of positive things are happening, including our relationship with (Roger) Penske's team, but also in general for the Dodge brand, separating from Ram, becoming its own kind of viable car company, and it's really taking shape. Just about every nameplate in my brand is up, and that's with existing products. So we look forward to our third and fourth quarters, especially the fourth quarter when we're going to be launching six heavily revised or all new products. So welcome, and thank you.

ROGER PENSKE: Well, obviously I get many questions from this group about our relationship with Dodge, and is it important to have multiple car teams being supported by an OEM? And I think I've said before that the relationship for us over the last 24 months has been terrific. You know, there's a concentration of effort from the engineering staff at Dodge. We are integrated on the engine side, on the aerodynamics side. Obviously the entire Challenger project was one that was coupled with both organizations, and I think that it's paid off.

You'll see simulation today that Chrysler and Dodge will be able to supply, and they worked with us from the standpoint of our tire data, our aerodynamic data, and obviously the things that take place on the engine side. So we think some of our success -- obviously it takes a package, a car, a manufacturer, a driver and the execution on race day. A lot of this has manifested itself because of this partnership.

I personally -- if I had a choice, I'd like to be the only one with the manufacturer because I know I'd get all the attention. I'm the prettiest girl in town I guess right now.

We're excited about it, and there's no question that today to be able to showcase the Challenger going into Nationwide, this is a big step for NASCAR and certainly for Nationwide, the fact that we can represent the brand with a vehicle that many people are driving today and will drive on the highway. And I think it's a next step, and hopefully we'll see that following through on the Cup side.

But Joe obviously can give you more input on that, but it's a pleasure to have you here. You can see this wind tunnel. These are things that we get access to, not every night or every day, but we can schedule ourselves in this tunnel and it gives us terrific aerodynamic data, and it's consistent, where we just don't have this kind of facility available to us in Charlotte and the Mooresville area there's different wind tunnels. But this is a high-tech, high-grade tunnel and it gives us the absolute data that we need.

JOE BALASH: We've been working on this project for a long time, and Dodge has really partnered with us to pull together to put the new Nationwide car on the racetrack. It's given us the ability to kind of take a vision to give the Nationwide Series its own unique look and have our vehicle drive differently than the other race cars that we see that race on Sundays. Even though we're using a very similar platform, we're able to make changes aerodynamically and also with the chassis with the grip and the changes with our engine package to make the car drive differently. And I think we've reached our goals with getting the Nationwide Series their own unique look.

Along the way through that project, Dodge has been very instrumental in helping not only the series but really all of NASCAR as we went through our aerodynamic studies and looking at where do we want the drag to be on the car and finding a middle ground between the Truck Series and the Sprint Cup Series, and we were able to do that.

Looking at the unique look of the Challenger, we think that that was what we had envisioned was the unique look, and kind of used that as a benchmark for the other aerodynamics as we went through our process to make sure that we had the unique look, and yet when the cars got out onto the racetrack, there was no one considerable aerodynamic advantage by having one shape versus another shape.

And along with that, as other things have evolved within NASCAR, Dodge has been able to offer up time in the wind tunnel for other studies and things that we're doing. So they've really become a good partner with us.

The Dodge innovation is something that's not new in NASCAR. I mean, they've had a long heritage of having really unique, kind of marquee cars, not only at NASCAR but the street versions, as well. And I think this is the next chapter in what we see on the racetrack with the Dodge brand.

ROGER PENSKE: I think also from a safety standpoint this is a next step forward with this chassis and this body gets us to the higher level of safety from the standpoint of the Cup car now, the Nationwide is at the highest level, too, which obviously is important to us as car owners, the safety of the drivers as we go forward.

JOE BALASH: Absolutely. We've been able to roll forward all the safety enhancements of the certified Challenger chassis into new Nationwide car. It brings those things that fortunately or unfortunately have been tested not only behind the scenes in locations like this, but also out on the racetrack with some incidents that we've had in having very good results from it. So we're very happy to bring it forward.

ROGER PENSKE: The other thing I think it does and the one thing we don't even think about is the ability for people to get in the business, to get into racing, and now with the advanced chassis that you run on Sunday, having it be the same that we can run in the Nationwide, you're going to have some of these cars that we might run on Sunday then can be sold or handed down to smaller teams, and I think that's a real advantage to get more people in the sport. That which we couldn't do now because there's a difference.

So the technicians, the crew chiefs and things like that will start to understand the vehicle dynamics of this car because there's so much knowledge around the garage area, and that'll start to flow in all directions, and I think that's even going to make it more competitive. And yet if I wanted to come in as an ARCA team or an Indy team and wanted to come in, I probably would be able to get in at a much lower cost because these cars will be available to us in the future.

JOE BALASH: And that is happening right now. We've certified about 100 chassis through the NASCAR R & D Center, and of those chassis that have been certified 60 percent of them were Sprint Cup cars that have been converted to Nationwide cars. So that does help the teams at all levels of the sport make the conversion to the new car.

ROGER PENSKE: I think it might be important, and I'm not sure of the detail, so the media understands what we go through when we build a car to try to have a level playing field what you do when you certify a chassis.

JOE BALASH: Absolutely. We basically take a bare chassis to the R & D Center. There's a fixture that the car is placed on that is the same for all cars, and then we use something called a ROMER arm that actually measured the chassis location of the components down to the thousandths of an inch. We have those specifications for all of the chassis that we certified. As we go through it's over 125 different locations that we check with that. We also go through and check the metal thicknesses in a number of places throughout the chassis along with the sheet metal components on the firewalls and those type of things that are added.

We put on RFID chips across the chassis so we can use those for tracking and making sure that the bars haven't been changed from the time it was certified to the time it gets to the racetrack, and then we also have a complete database to know where the car has been run, and we know from on the Sprint Cup side, we have cars that have raced on road courses have also raced on Superspeedways. So that shows the flexibility of the chassis and the car that we're building, that it can run in multiple locations without having to have the specialized car.

The next step we've taken is we've gone from individual templates that can fit on a car, and you've seen the different Nationwide car that runs at Daytona doesn't look anything like a car that runs at ORP. We've locked those templates together in a grid, and some of those tolerances are as much as 70 thousandths. We also have some hard points where the grid actually has to meet the template. And that takes away some advantages. Sorry about that, but it takes away some of the advantages of the teams that have access to a lot of wind tunnel. But it makes the competitiveness of the sport rely on the driver.

So we've gone through all those steps. We've brought the teams not only to the tests at Richmond and Charlotte and Daytona and Talladega, we've also invited them into the research and development center to have the templates put on the car to make sure that everybody is prepared to get to Daytona.

ROGER PENSKE: Typically when you look at the number of cars, we needed separate road racing cars, we needed short track cars and we needed mile and a half and two mile and then we needed speedway cars, and today on the Cup side where we'd try to run with 13 or 14 cars in the old days, we'd have 20 or 25, and that's the good thing here, we're going to be able to reduce the fleet because the cars are more flexible, and the way the specifications are will give us a chance to take some cost out, and I think the complexity and the way the cars are checked and what we do, you see it every weekend, the first car and the second car typically go to NASCAR, and then they pick a random car. So this isn't a case where you can kind of stay out in right field and not have your car checked.

And I think the intensity of that today, I think there's a lot more, I think, interest in the garage area, and I think the credibility of what's going on car to car, there's I think a level playing field, and this certainly will go a long way, too, and the cars will look -- you'll see them look the same whether you're at Daytona or you're at Michigan. So it's a big step.

Q. For Ralph, can you say how many people in this building work, at least part of their job, is working with Roger?

RALPH GILLES: I think that would be more for Mr. Bailey and Joe Grace. We have on staff about two Motorsports people that manage the marketing piece of it, but most of the people are on the engineering side. We'll handle that later.

Q. I was just wondering for Joe and Roger, what have you heard so far about the buzz of this car? From what you're hearing from the fans, are they excited about it, and what are some of the concerns that you have?

JOE BALASH: Well, I think first of all, we went to the fans first when we started the project, and we did a lot of marketing work with our race fans to have them tell us what they were looking for with the Nationwide Series. And so we started with them.

Then when we started talking with the manufacturers. We had those conversations about here's what the race fans are looking for, and I think at the end of the day, everybody kind of weighed in on that. We get the great looking cars like we have behind us.

So the buzz has been they're great looking cars, and it's something that we're pleased that the fan reaction to that has been very high. We've had some very successful tests out on the racetrack now, seen the cars drive and draft well together and those type of things. So we have a high level of expectation when we get to the racetrack that all our targets are being met.

ROGER PENSKE: I think from a dealer perspective, let me talk about from a dealer perspective, to have something that you can have as a show car in your showroom that looks like what you're racing is key. I mean, I think that we've been so far away from that, I think that's one of the things that I like about it, that we can use when we have special events and attractions. This is going to be key for us, and I know from a dealer perspective, we love it.

Q. Any buzz that you're hearing?

JOE BALASH: We've been lucky enough now to go through a number of years of work on the Sprint Cup side, to work through everything, and I think what we've got so far as the drivers have gotten out of the car at each one of our different tests, and they've come back with some very good comments about the way the car drives and handles and that type of thing. I think we're on track with what our level of expectation is for the car.

ROGER PENSKE: I think the one thing initially for the drivers who had not run in Sprint Cup was the size of the spoiler and the ability to see. Always when you're running like this, can you see, and that was one of the things I think that -- just the width of the spoiler. But since they got used to it, I know in the drafting session you had here a couple weeks ago, everyone came back and felt real good about it, and they were quite competitive.

Q. Joe kind of mentioned the unique characteristics of these cars. As a manufacturer, how are you pleased by the fact that these race cars now retain some unique characteristics looking at it now, and it's not as homogenized as some of the Cup cars appear to be now. Do you think that gives you an edge in terms of giving yourself more of a representation on the track?

RALPH GILLES: You know, I'm pretty new to NASCAR, and that's a great question, and yes, we're very pleased with the way the car looks. It exceeds our expectations, and it's really a credit to the engineers. These engineers have become very aesthetically sensitive, so I'm glad to see they're able to balance the requirements of racing.

I'm new to NASCAR, so I've been studying this thing, and I've noticed the drivers are really the stars at the end of the day. The brand is important but this gives the cars a chance to become stars once again. I think back in the day when we had Super Bees and great cars like that, you collected the little model cars and it was just as much fun rooting for your driver as it was rooting for the car. So I think this once again allows the car to become the star, and you kind of have the drivers and the cars coming together and the combination is going to be amazing.

Q. For all three gentlemen: From the NASCAR manufacturers and team owners' perspective, is there a feeling that what we see here with the Nationwide car may become what we see with the Cup car now on the road in terms of brand identity and stuff like that?

JOE BALASH: From our perspective the Nationwide projects and the Cup projects are two separate things. The Cup car started before we did. We had the ability to get the feedback from the Sprint Cup car, and we haven't got this car to the racetrack yet. We had a high level of expectation, and we'll see what happens from there. But the Sprint Cup projects are separate from what we're doing.

RALPH GILLES: Yeah, I think the fans will be the ones that drive this in many ways. We'll see the reaction we get. We'll measure the buzz. I'm very excited to see the buzz and see what comes up from all this. And I think the Sprint Cup side has to observe that and see what works best for them.

I think ultimately there has to be something that kind of influences kind of this direction because it is important for the manufacturers to finally get a little bit more amplified representations so to speak. I think as we go forward and we compete, cars' styling has become even more important as a way to differentiate. As cars get more and more reliable, more and more robust styling is more important than ever before. So this is a great way to market those cars.

ROGER PENSKE: I think that whenever we race on Saturday and we race on Sunday, we're going to need some differentiation, whether it's engine, aerodynamics or styling. So I think that's something NASCAR studying at all times. As you know they're trying to make this sport more attractive to more fans, the side-by-side restarts, you know, the green-white checkereds and things like that. I think we've got to look at the competition piece of this thing, and then we've got to really look on Saturday and Sunday, what's the differentiation. Sure, there's going to be different drivers.

So I think that's really the next step, once we see how these cars handle and run on the racetrack, then I think they can get a good gauge on what might be the next step. I think NASCAR will learn from this and it will be an evolutionary process for the Cup side.

RALPH GILLES: I'd like to add to that, in our case and with Ford we had multiple nameplates. We have Challenger and Charger to figure how to market, and this gives us an avenue to do both.

Q. Dodge has seven wins. How big a deal is that to you?

RALPH GILLES: It's huge. I remember talking to you all at the beginning of the season, there was a lot of question how we would do a lot of things going on this year. I couldn't be happier. Very pleased with the results. We're fifth on the way to the Chase. We're very excited at the potential to be in the Chase. Kurt is blowing me away, Brad is impressive, Sam has been running at the top, and I think what Brad is doing in Nationwide is outstanding. I mean, he's No. 1 there. He's great to watch. I mean, it's just awesome. I'm on the edge of my seat every weekend watching this stuff. It's great to see, and I think our brand is getting a lot of air time, which is fantastic, considering three cars and two cars.

I TiVo? or DVR every race, and I watch it. Sometimes Roger ruins it for me, though, because he'll send me the details and I haven't seen the race yet.

ROGER PENSKE: The gory details. (Laughter).

RALPH GILLES: Him and Bud always blow it for me.

Unposted-subject: NASCAR-CUP/NASCAR

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.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup , NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Roger Penske