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Ford’s Allison Talks About Strengths, Struggles

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 12 2013

Ford Racing's Jamie Allison fielded a wide-ranging series of questions on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Ongoing development of team synergy – specifically between longtime powerhouse Roush Fenway Racing and newcomer Penske Racing – dominated questions directed to Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, during a national teleconference Tuesday afternoon.

Through the season’s first 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, Ford drivers have scored two victories in the new Gen-6 Fusion: Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway Racing at Phoenix International Raceway and David Ragan of Front Row Motorsports at Talladega Superspeedway. In comparison, Chevrolet SS drivers have won seven races and Toyota Camry drivers have won five.

Edwards trails five-time Cup champion/leader Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports by 51 points (521-470) in the championship standings. Reigning series champion Brad Keselowski of Penske Racing is ninth with 398 points, with Greg Biffle of RFR in 10th at 395.

No Ford driver has yet to win a Cup pole, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of RFR leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year point standings.

Coming off a weekend during which Ford Racing celebrated its 200th NASCAR Nationwide Series win, and sitting on 999 all-time NASCAR victories, the manufacturer heads to familiar turf at Michigan International Speedway this weekend. Allison addressed numerous topics in the following full transcript.

Q: FORD CELEBRATED ITS 200TH NATIONWIDE SERIES WIN WITH TREVOR BAYNE AT IOWA SPEEDWAY LAST SUNDAY, AND THE COMPANY HAS 999 ALL-TIME NASCAR VICTORIES. WHAT’S THE VIBE HEADING INTO MIS?

Allison: “Yeah, Michigan is one of those days that we all circle on our calendar for a variety of reasons, the first of which is it is our hometown. Going to race in our hometown and having the pride of our employees, the pride of our fans and the pride of our teams with Roush (Fenway Racing) and now Penske (Racing) being based right here in Michigan, certainly it’s a pride thing. The pride of our employees, teams and fans.

“Additionally and specifically this year, we have 999 wins. It really is just begging for one more to get to the amazing milestone in our company’s history to achieve 1,000 NASCAR wins. So, it could certainly be the catalyst for our momentum as we enter the halfway point of the regular season. We have some excitement coming out of how we ran at Pocono and of course notching the Nationwide win in spectacular fashion with Trevor in the last few laps down in Iowa. All feels well. All feels great and we can’t wait for this weekend at MIS.”

Q: WHAT DOES WINNING IN FORD’S BACKYARD MEAN FOR THE MANUFACTURER AS FAR AS BRAGGING RIGHTS AMONG THE AUTOMAKERS?

Allison: “You know, NASCAR is like many forms of sports in that there is that emotional bond and connection among fans, employees, teams and drivers and everybody who is connected with the sport. To be able to be here in your hometown in front of your friends and neighbors and colleagues, it all adds to the desire to succeed at the highest level. It’s less about bragging rights and more about wanting to showcase the best of what we are made of in front of all the people who follow us, support us and cheer for us. I’m excited for a win at MIS on Saturday and/or Sunday.”

Q: SOME OF YOUR TEAMS HAVE STRUGGLED WITH VARIOUS THINGS CONCERNING THE GEN-6 FUSION. HAVE THEY APPROACHED YOU FOR HELP?

Allison: “We know what it takes to capture a win at a NASCAR race. Obviously, often the fastest car does win and in the case of Pocono it was the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet SS) that checked-out and was the class of the field. If you break it down a little further than Pocono with Carl (Edwards) leading the first handful of laps and was running second into about the 70-or so lap mark and (Brad) Keselowski had made his way all the way into the top-five or top-seven.

“Obviously, in the sport of NASCAR you have to do everything right. You have to be fast and have great pit stops and make sure you don’t make any mistakes throughout the race. We had a couple of those issues with Carl and Brad that took a couple of fast cars from being able to showcase and run for the end as we saw (Greg) Biffle did. Biffle made his way through and then (Joey) Logano made his way through. Really if you look at it, our Ford cars – Biffle, Carl, Brad and Logano – are strong top-two, three, four and five cars. Circumstantially we didn’t end up with the win. That does speak to the fact that we were in contention and have fast cars.

“Throughout the season I can point to moments in time and periods of time when we were in contention to win races. Overall in the first 13 or 14 races we have not had the performance that we had expected coming out of the gate this year. There are opportunities to lead more laps and be there at the end and to contend but until all those are happening in our program across our teams, not specific to one team but across all teams, that will be the true measure of the strength and performance of our abilities as a team.

“We have some work to do and we know exactly what we have to tackle. The beauty of the NASCAR season is that you have a regular season and a playoff. We’re halfway through the regular season and we’re addressing the issues. Hopefully we’ll have a little stronger performance the second half and be ready for the Chase.”

Q: DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE ADDITION OF THE PENSKE TEAM TO THE FORD CAMP COULD HAVE SLOWED THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEW CAR? WERE THERE ANY INSTANCES WHERE HAVING THAT TEAM MAYBE SPED UP THE PROCESS A LITTLE BIT?

Allison: “Certainly the latter. The best analogy I can give you is that it’s family. We live with our teams. We eat, breathe and wake up with our teams. When you bring another member into a family you have now a blended family and we all know in real life what happens when you bring new members into a family. It just takes a little time for the family to act cohesively.

“Obviously, we are dealing with a foundational understanding and adaptation of the new Gen-6 platform in terms of what the NASCAR package was and the fact that we have new bodies on these cars as well as the acclimation and integration of adding another voice into the great team that we have assembled. It’s just going to take a little bit of time. I know there’s not a lot of patience by the fans or by us and there’s not a lot of patience by the teams. Everybody expects immediate results and that’s our expectation.

“I tell you, we have the makeup of greatness. We have the makeup of great teams, champion drivers and crew chiefs and great engineering pedigree. We will address the issues we have identified and advance our program more cohesively.”

Q: CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT SOME OF THE ISSUES ARE THAT YOU HAVE IDENTIFIED?

Allison: “Obviously, we’re talking competition terms here and everybody wants to understand specifically what the details are. This is not really a forum to get into the level of detail that we get into with our teams. Literally as recently as yesterday we convened with each of the drivers in a meeting and had a meeting with Jack (Roush) and Roger (Penske) and the leadership teams from both ends and identified projects based on the analysis we have done and based on the gap that exists and the opportunities in front of us.

“I know I’m giving a lot of generalities but you’ll have to please accept that because getting into the specific areas we are tackling in a world that relies on competition is just not conducive. I’m sorry on that level but we can’t get into that level of detail on these forums.”

Q: WHERE DO YOU EXPECT PENSKE AND ROUSH TO WORK TOGETHER AND WHERE DO YOU EXPECT THEM TO WORK SEPERATELY?

Allison: “If you generalize it we kind of say that Monday through Friday is a lot of the preparation and analytical modeling that goes into understand and preparing for what happens on Saturday and Sunday. That’s a place where there could be a joint effort. I can maybe give a couple layers of detail on that. When it comes to aerodynamics, obviously the cars have a common body and all the teams run the Ford Fusion. When it comes to some of the aero models that exist and some of the aero work that exists, those are opportunities for collaboration.

“When it comes to engine development, they all have the same engines and we’re all powered by the Roush Yates Ford engines. When it comes to the development and input and feedback and some of the advance work, that’s another area for collaboration.

“I think the area that stays for teams to manage on their own is the racing, making the calls, the setups that are prescribed by crew chiefs and things like that along the way. What happens on Saturday and Sunday are the responsibility and the autonomy of the teams. The third part – I talked about engine and aero – one of the core foundation technical tools that is a critical need for all the teams is in simulation. That’s an area that Ford Motor Company leads in offering to the teams the tools and software to develop analysis that guides them in establishing what setup to run in various conditions. That’s another area for collaboration. So, aerodynamics, engine development and simulation are three common areas.”

Q: HOW DO YOU FEEL THE ROUSH AND PENSKE CAMPS HAVE WORKED TOGETHER?

Allison: “I addressed it a little earlier but honestly, the analogy I gave earlier really applies. I live, breathe, eat and sleep with our teams and we understand that and we’re talking about that we’re so close that we are like a family. You can’t just have an addition to a family and expect everything to operate as it did before.

“We really do need to just give it a little bit of time to allow for the blended, broader family to come together a little more cohesively and get comfortable with each other and then allow for more synergy coming out of working together. It just takes a little time. Those are not really the things that are the reasons for where we are. There are more pragmatic, foundational platform relational elements that we are addressing.”

Q: HOW HAS FORD STEPPED IN TO TRY TO ENCOURAGE THE SHARING OF INFORMATION BETWEEN PENSKE AND ROUSH TO GET THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION A LITTLE MORE OPEN?

Allison: “There is a time and a place for everything and obviously coming out of the gate as I had talked about earlier, you have to let the circumstances shape you and direct you to the right place to add new processes. Coming out of the gate was certainly not the place to start with that.

“I talked about it earlier and I need to repeat it for the third time. We added a new member into a family that was accustomed to doing certain things. When you add a new member to a family you have to give it some time. If you look at the season, there were moments and times where the performance of one team versus another was not directly related to a common cause.

“We needed to let the season proceed and I think over the last two weeks the time was right for us to convene as we approach the halfway point and then agree on what the teams have gone through and what the opportunities are for them to work together a little more and the processes that we at Ford can lead around the platform and the package of the Gen-6 car. It’s a long way of telling you that there was a time and a place for it and the time is now to address some of the gaps that we had.”

Q: IS IT ACCURATE TO SAY THAT YOU FEEL LIKE MAYBE PENSKE HAS SHOWN A LITTLE MORE SPEED AND AERO ADVANTAGES THAT COULD BE A BENEFIT TO ROUSH RIGHT NOW? IS THERE ANYTHING ROUSH HAS GOT THAT YOU THINK CAN BENEFIT PENSKE RIGHT NOW?

Allison: “You know, we don’t look at it that way. If you break down what you need to succeed in terms of both mechanics and tools that exist, I think that if you look at it there’s the area of aerodynamics and power-train and handling and there’s the area of race craft, what happens at the race, and operational execution. Those are the five areas that we look at.

“Obviously, when you are at the top of the heap, you’re hitting on all five of these. We’re very fortunate in that we have a blend of teams where opportunities present themselves to work together and lift the Ford performance overall. It really isn’t a case of one team versus another, it’s a case of all the Ford teams looking at those five areas and finding how we can bring together all that we understand and know and lift the performance of all our teams.”

Q: CAN YOU GIVE ME ON A SCALE OF ONE TO 10 THE FIRST PART OF THE SEASON WHERE THAT COMMUNICATION RELATIONSHIP WAS AND WHERE YOU FEEL IT IS AT NOW?

Allison: “I would say we were on a scale of six to seven at the beginning of the season. This season we have been progressing and based on the meetings we had literally yesterday, I can see that things will be in the area of 8-9 now.”

Q: HOW LONG CAN YOU REMAIN PATIENT IN WHAT THE RESULTS ARE? PEOPLE SEEM TO ONLY WANT TO LOOK AT WHERE THINGS ARE NOW, NOT TWO MONTHS DOWN THE ROAD.

Allison: “That is spot-on. In any form of sport, not just NASCAR but any sport, when you watch ESPN you get the results of who won and who lost. That happens in NASCAR every weekend. It‘s who finished first and who didn’t finish first. At Ford, the move that we made to raise our ability to win a manufacturer championship in this sport, we absolutely made the right strategic move by strengthening the caliber of championship-capable teams and drivers in our organization into the lineup that we have. Greatness is not built overnight and championships aren’t won overnight. There is mechanically what you can do and there is teamwork and working with people to establish processes and a framework that gives you a platform to build a championship platform on.

“Yes, every weekend we are measured on if we won or if we contended to win but also my responsibility as the leader of the organization is to make sure we have the foundation in place that could be the basis for longer-lasting, championship-caliber lineup of teams. And to put a process around them to allow them to survive.

“Yes, there is impatience. I am impatient. Every member of our executive team is impatient. Every driver is impatient. The fans speak the loudest and truest and rawest. I read the Twitter page and I see Facebook posts. I’m founded on the fact that we are architecting a process and an organization and set of teams that over time will consistently deliver championship-caliber performance more consistently than we have in the past. That is what we are architecting.”

Q: TOYOTA IS GOING THROUGH A SITUATION WHERE THEY TALKED ABOUT DE-TUNING THEIR ENGINES _TAKING A STEP BACK TO TAKE A STEP FORWARD. FROM A LEADERSHIP STANDPOINT, WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF LOOKING SHORT-TERM AND LONG-TERM AND HOW DO YOU CONVINCE PEOPLE TO TAKE A STEP BACK TO TAKE A STEP FORWARD?

Allison: “There is one thing that’s fixed and that’s that our goal is to win a manufacturers’ championship. A championship is earned from the performance of our teams and our drivers every weekend. Then you look at the role of Ford Motor Company to enable that success by our teams. The toughest part to talk about and to actually communicate to the fans who, all they care about on Sundays, is did you win and were you in contention to win?

“It’s so clear what their expectation is and it should be. The toughest part from a leadership standpoint is to create a process and create a way for our teams to basically serve in that cohesive teamwork. The teams really are ultimately where this thing resides. They take the information, tools and analysis and then they have to show up with a plan and drive and perform to win. To have those capabilities in the hands of our team and to have us at Ford to be able to orchestrate a teamwork across our teams _ because when you have three championship-level caliber teams and then you add a couple more and a couple more _ now the synergy is greater.

“Having our teams see that broader synergy takes a little time. You go through a scenario where teams were largely independent and successful to one where they are together and successful takes a little bit of adjustment. Team adjustment and us, Ford Motor Company, our accountability is to make sure that they have the technical tools and technical acumen to give our teams the tools they need to make the best decision to build great and fast cars.”

Q: THE SEASON BEGAN WITH A PRETY AGGRESSIVE MARKETING CAMPAIGN BY NASCAR TO CONNECT THE GEN-6 CARS FOR ALL THREE MANUFACTURERS IN CUP TO THE SHOWROOM. ARE YOU FINDING THAT FANS ARE MAKING THAT CONNECTION?

Allison: “Yes. We sat down with NASCAR and did fan research. I don’t have the numbers in front of me but I know directionally what I’m going to tell you is accurate. There’s certainly higher awareness among the fans that there is a new car being raced. The next level is that there is higher awareness that the product being raced is relevant to the cars on the street. The third and most important (factor) to us at Ford Motor Company and I’m sure all the OEM’s is that because of the showcase of relevant product on the track there is now higher intent to purchase the cars that they see being raced on the track.

“We have other data that corroborates this and those familiar with the data I just shared can confirm there’s a lift from past years with the COT (Car of Tomorrow). The delta is higher and it shows that the Gen-6 move was the right one for NASCAR, the manufacturer and fans. Now we need to do our job at Ford Motor Company to go win races so that when we win on Sunday we can sell on Monday.

“If I just may say one last word, we all know how sports work. Sometimes momentum has a way of changing the future and we’re excited about our momentum and look forward to better performances in the second half of the season. Thank you.”

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 12 2013
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