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Ford Doubles Down on Racing Tech

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 6/7/2014 Frank Markus

This month Ford opened a brand-spanking-new Racing Tech center in Concord, North Carolina, near Charlotte and virtually next door to NASCAR’s own R&D center. Ford spends a bit less than GM and Toyota and makes a similar business case for it, as 36 percent of purchase intenders self-identify as racing fans, of which 83 percent follow NASCAR. Race fans following sports Ford participates in hold the brand in higher esteem than the average buyer; young people are engaging with motorsports, etc. But when this new Tech Center is fully up and running later this year, Ford will begin cycling new engineers down to experience firsthand the lightning-quick pace of racing development programs in hopes that they’ll help imbue Dearborn with these team-oriented problem-solving skills.


But the main purpose of this state-of-the-art 33,000-square-foot facility is to support teams competing in NASCAR, TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, IMSA, Rally and Global RallyCross, NHRA, and other series. It replaces an older facility lovingly referred to as “the shack,” and it bristles with modern technology and tools, including a “K-rig” to quantify and assess chassis and suspension kinematics, a tilt-table to determine a race car’s center of gravity, a torsion rig to assess chassis torsional rigidity, a coordinate-measuring machine, and the piece de resistance: a full-motion platform simulator capable of allowing drivers to compare various chassis setup options on the next weekend’s track while there’s plenty of time to make changes.

© Provided by MotorTrend That rig is the first to be used in NASCAR, but they’re in widespread use in Formula 1. It is of the “sled type,” rather than the “hexapod type,” in which the vehicle cockpit and view screens are located in a sphere perched up on big hydraulic rams. Those systems are fine for passenger car simulation, but the sled-type is better suited to the ultra-fast inputs of racing, which are in the 10-50 Hz (events per second) range with response rates on the order of 20 milliseconds. Of course, the sled type can’t simulate sustained g loading, but quick inputs give the driver the feedback needed to determine “touch down points” when the chassis takes a set in a turn, for example. Drivers must learn to correlate the simulator feel with the car feel, but apparently the learning curve is steep. So far Ford has mapped 10 of the 18 NASCAR tracks, and plans to map the IMSA tracks next.

During our visit we also toured three of the client facilities Ford’s Racing Tech center will be supporting: race-car prep companies Penske Racing and Roush-Fenway Racing (each of which supports several Ford-powered individual teams), and Roush-Yates, which supplies the Ford engines to those companies and teams (as well as others, and for crate-engine sales) to support a variety of racing efforts.

© Provided by MotorTrendPenske Racing, by the numbers:

  • 424,697 square feet on 105 acres, built in 1990
  • 300 employees supporting 3 teams, 12 cars/team
  • 4 days to build a chassis; 10 employees build 50 of them per year
  • 2000 miles is as far as a chassis can go before the 2.5-3.0-g loading takes them out of spec
  • 3200 pounds of downforce at 200 mph, 600 of which comes from the underbody
  • 1 gallon of coolant is allowed on most tracks; 2 on the superspeedways
  • 6 pounds is the weight of the driver air-conditioning system used in longer races to cool the helmet (the head makes a great radiator)
  • $236,000: price of a 2015 Freightliner team transport tractor, which now gets 6.0 mpg -- 1.5 mpg better economy than before, for huge annual savings
  • $400,000: price of the team trailer, empty, which now weighs 1800 pounds less, meaning it can carry that much more useful gear without going over the 80,000 GCWR
  • 24: total number of tractors in the Penske Racing fleet, half of which are the new model

© Provided by MotorTrendRoush Fenway Racing by the numbers:

  • 250,000 square feet on 25 acres, built in 1988
  • 2 microns: accuracy measured to in the optical metrology blue-light scanning department that ensures bodywork conforms to NASCAR specs while optimizing aerodynamics. Fun quote: “It’s harder to build a legal car now than it was to build a cheater back in the day,” said operator Chris Hunley.
  • 8-post rig: This torture tester holds the car down with four rams, pummeling the tires with four more as it replicates a particular driver’s run around a particular track (we witnessed Dover) to test new settings and verify durability.
  • 2 inches front, 3-4 inches rear: typical suspension/body travel on the worst tracks
  • 10.89 seconds: the time it takes a Roush Fenway pit crew to execute a no-fuel four-tire-change pit stop while we watch them practice for the All Star pit qualifying round the following weekend. The team studies and optimizes 45 segments of time during a typical pit stop.
  • 315: the number of victories in NASCAR’s top three series achieved by Roush Fenway teams, making this the winningest organization in the sport’s history

© Provided by MotorTrendRoush Yates Engines, by the numbers:

  • 2004: year that longtime Ford racer Robert Yates teamed with Jack Roush to build engines
  • 1000/year: engine build rate, including 750 V-8s for NASCAR and 250 twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6s for IMSA
  • 45: percentage of parts Roush Yates builds on-site for its engines
  • 10,000 miles: distance a typical engine block will last in racing; the heads last 5000 miles
  • 900 hp: typical rating at the crank of the RY9 NASCAR V-8, with 850 at the wheels (both figures are consistently measured to check for changes in driveline losses)
  • 11: number of dynamometers used -- 8 water-brake type for durability testing, and 3 more AVL full-range climate-controlled dynos for development (4 more dynos are located at the road-race facility)
  • 6: number of Spintron machines used to test and develop the valvetrain.
  • 600 hp: typical output rating of the EcoBoost V-6 race engine, which consists of 80 percent production parts
  • 436 cubic inches: the displacement of the RY45 engine built for dirt-track, drift, and aftermarket applications, using an aluminum version of the RY9 NASCAR block

Ford Racing Tech Center© Provided by MotorTrend Ford Racing Tech Center

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