When the 2004 Taurus makes its debut in the 2004 Daytona 500, it will represent Ford’s most synergistic effort in race car design to date. This synergy comes from all corners of the Ford empire and includes solid representation from not only the NASCAR ranks but also the real world production side.
When the 2004 Ford Taurus makes its debut in the 2004 Daytona 500, it will represent Ford’s most synergistic effort in race car design to date. This synergy comes from all corners of the Ford empire and includes solid representation from not only the NASCAR ranks but also the real world production side.
“A lot of times you can build a car that just suits one team’s purpose,” said Ford Racing’s NASCAR Field Manager, Robin Pemberton, on a pitfall of this type of engineering exercise. Pemberton is in a position to know, as he was one of the principals of a three-team entity that worked on the ’98 Taurus while working at Penske South Racing.
With lessons learned from 1998, Ford Racing’s North American Operations Manager, Greg Specht, knew that he wanted to approach the car design issue differently. With a heftier engineering staff at his disposal, all he needed was word that the production staff wanted a new car developed for the NASCAR circuit.
The call for a new Taurus came approximately 20 months prior to its first on-track experience and included conversations between Ford Racing and Ford production. The result is a race car that is representative of what consumers see on the showroom floor.
Having the production car designers more intimately involved from the start is also something new to the process, as the value of the NASCAR fan base becomes a key factor.
“In the recent past, racing considerations haven’t influenced their (production’s) thinking a lot anyway,” explained Specht. “Even going back to the Thunderbird, what they did in the design studio was not affected that much by what was happening on the race track. However, it is starting to change in that they’re asking for [Ford Racing’s] input a lot earlier on in the process and some ideas that will actually improve the production car and truck."
“That happened with the new F-150, in fact, because since aero was such a big thing on the race track, we spent a lot more time in the wind tunnel with our race trucks than the production engineers do with the production truck,” continued Specht. “So we know a lot more about balance and downforce and drag and the subtle little things that you can do to increase those characteristics."
“Our expertise has come up to a level now where we’ve got people that really can go in and make a contribution on the production side of things,” added Specht. “In the past we haven’t had the depth in our aero group that we have today, so I think that’s part of the reason that we’re able to provide more input than we have in the past.”
Once the basic design concepts were developed, then the aero process began. This is the playground of Ford Racing’s lead aerodynamicist, Bernie Marcus, who spent a considerable amount of time working out the nuances of the new car by using hand sketches and computer modeling before any consideration was given to forming actual metal fenders, hoods and decklids.
Marcus didn’t have a wide open field in which to draw from because of NASCAR’s “aero-matching” rules, but he closed in on the starting point for the new car by using electronic models and 40-percent clay models.
“I think with the responsible aero people at Ford, Brett Andrews and Bernie Marcus, and with their experience with working on 40-percent models, the approach was to try to come up with the best car using the model program,” explained Pemberton. “It’s probably one of the first times there’s been an effort to use the models to develop something new instead of just trying to enhance something that’s out there presently. As far as the stock car world goes, it’s probably one of the first times or very few times that a new car has been done this way.”
So, how many people does it take to design a new car for NASCAR racing? The easy answer is lots and lots. Explaining this aspect of the project, Specht said, “Within my group alone there were probably about a half dozen people that were working on the project, not all full-time. Then we also had suppliers that helped us out like Roush Industries and their composite shop. We had outside people doing scans. We had people building scale models for us, so it’s a sizeable effort. I couldn’t count up heads on the outside people, but within our shop probably a half dozen people. It’s no small undertaking."
“Everything went pretty much according to plan,” Specht continued. “We had involvement of our three key race teams, so it was very much a group effort and that is very gratifying. Even up to the submission test that we did at Atlanta. We had the Wood Brothers there with the car. We had Roush there with their engineering support. We had Yates there with their driver, and Dale Jarrett got in the car and drove it. I’m glad that when he got out of it he said, ‘It’s great!’
“It was like that all along the process. The first few meetings were with production guys representing the production side, and then we had representatives from all our teams come in and talk about what we were planning on doing. In that regard it’s been very gratifying that there’s been no competition or backbiting amongst the teams. The piece that we’re ending up with is a very good race car and it goes to show that two heads are better than one.”