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Ford To Add Muscle To Cup Series

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 19 2018

Ford will race Mustangs in the NASCAR Cup Series next season.

Those of us fortunate (and now old) enough to have experienced the original “Muscle Car Street Wars” of the mid-1960s to mid-1970s might recall these lyrics from a 1968 Ford Mustang TV commercial:

Only Mustang makes it happen, only Mustang makes life great

Mustang moves you, Mustang grooves you

Mustang, Mustang ’68.

Only Mustang makes it happen, let it happen it’s your fate

Mustang’s callin’, have a ball in

Mustang, Mustang ’68.

Fifty years later, Ford’s “Better Idea” (…insert light bulb-on-a-chain here) is to take the Mustang nameplate and emblem to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series beginning with the 2019 season.

Stock car racing’s most brand-centric rivalry will return to those storied “Muscle Car” roots on NASCAR’s premier tour when the ‘Stang will run head-to-head against the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 beginning with the season-opening/point-paying Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 17, 2019.

This will be Ford’s fourth different Cup model in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-present), following Thunderbird, Taurus and the current Fusion and the first true two-door since the T-Bird last competed in 1997. The Camaro ZL1 is in its first Cup season, having replaced the four-door Chevy SS as General Motors’ marketing platform.

Mustang has competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series since 2011, winning championships in all but one season. Mustang has taken Team Penske to four owner’s championships in the last five years and carried Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to consecutive driver’s titles in 2011 and 2012.

Ford has six organizations and 13 teams in its current NASCAR lineup _ Wood Brothers Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, Front Row Motorsports and Go Fas Racing.

Mustang is going through initial testing and will formally be submitted to NASCAR officials for approval this summer. A public unveiling of the finished product will follow.

Meanwhile, Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, discussed the decision Tuesday during a national teleconference. An edited transcript follows:

QUESTION:  What are your thoughts on the announcement that Mustang will come to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2019? 

MARK RUSHBROOK: “We’re obviously very excited.  It’s something we’ve been working on for some time.  There’s been a lot of speculation out there about it, so we’re happy that we can put that to rest.  We’re excited about going to that nameplate specifically because it’s very much Ford.  When people hear Mustang they automatically think of Ford.  It’s a big nameplate for us, especially with how that car is performing around the world with global sales. But it’s something that we think, even with the success of Fusion so far this year, we think we can make an even better body as well for 2019 with the Mustang and we’re really looking forward to getting the car on track.”

QUESTION: Along those global lines, Mustang also is going to Australia and the Supercars Championship, correct?

MARK RUSHBROOK: “That’s really exciting as well. The Falcon has been running over there for several years and it’s an opportunity to freshen up our participation in that series by working with the team builders there _ DJR, Team Penske and Tickford Racing _ to homologate a Mustang into that series as well.  So as we see the street Mustang being sold globally, and leading the sales for sports cars globally, we’re doing the same thing with racing the Mustang globally.

“We already have it in Xfinity (Series).  We already have a Mustang GT4 that is sold globally.  We race the Mustang Funny Car in NHRA and now here we are with the new Mustang for Monster Energy Cup and the Australia Supercars series, so it’s really exciting to be extending the global reach of the Mustang even further.”

QUESTION: Is there a lead team as far as working on developing the Cup body?

MARK RUSHBROOK: “As we’ve been approaching many of our big projects in recent years, we try to leverage the assets and the skills and knowledge across all of our teams, especially on a big project like this. 

“So we have had participation, very active engaged participation, from Roush Fenway, from Team Penske, from Stewart-Haas Racing.  They’ve been the main contributors to this in terms of very regular meetings between the aero leads from each of those teams with our Ford Performance aero lead Tommy Joseph, and have been reviewing all of the results that we generate from our aero CFD program, getting inputs for ideas and then going and testing that in the scale tunnel using our model shop at our Tech Center and the TPG Penske Technology Scale Tunnel and then also running full-scale cars at the Windshear Tunnel.  So it has been a really good cooperative effort.

“It’s great to see the input and enthusiasm from the teams.  They’re anxious to get the best car that they can on track in 2019, so they’ve been very active with us from the beginning of this program.”

QUESTION: Beyond your normal preparation, how do you make sure you hit the ground running early next season?

MARK RUSHBROOK: “It’s really understanding the car that we have today, the Fusion that we’ve been racing, and really understanding what are its strengths and what are its weaknesses and what would we want to improve on for the rules as we know them for 2019.  So we sat down again with all of our teams and got that input.  We know where the current Fusion is strong and we’re gonna maintain those strengths.  We know where it is weak and we want to address those weaknesses, so it’s really having the trust in our people and in our tools that we can do that.  It’s always a moving target.  There are potential rule changes, but we think we understand what we’re gonna have for 2019, so we’re designing to that and really optimizing and using our tools to do an even better car.”

QUESTION: How much carryover will there be from the current Xfinity Mustang?

MARK RUSHBROOK: “That car was designed in 2011 around a previous iteration of the street car, so even the starting point of the street car is a different point.  The character lines from a styling perspective that we want to put in to make it truly look like a Mustang are a little bit different, and the rest of the rules package that goes with it are different. We’ve obviously got that learning in our database, but it’s really more based upon what we know about our Fusion today and walking from there to the new Mustang.”

QUESTION: When do you anticipate the finished product will be submitted to NASCAR?

MARK RUSHBROOK: “NASCAR has a really good process that continues to get better every year.  It’s been stable the last couple years now, but it’s a very well-defined process with timing of what do we need to do when and the checkpoints with NASCAR and the submission.  The submission will happen through June of this year and then depending on how things go with that initial test that will lay out the rest of our timeline in terms of the tools to build the 2019 bodies and when we’re going to do our official unveiling of the final product and everything like that.  But it’s really nice that NASCAR has a good process in place, a disciplined process in place, that helps us meet all of those defined dates.”

QUESTION: How big of a deal is it that you don’t have the actual track time, like previous years, to test out a new product?

MARK RUSHBROOK: “We do have a lot of confidence in our tools, just like we do in our production cars. We’ve gone from using prototypes for all of the testing before we have production cars we’ve got advanced analytical tools we’re applying in racing as well in terms of the aero CFD or the vehicle dynamic simulation in the simulator. 

“We’re able to take data from aero CFD or even aero maps that we’ve had or the scale tunnel or full-scale tunnel and put those into our vehicle dynamic simulation model, and drive it on the simulator with our actual Cup drivers to get the feedback.  We’ve got pretty good confidence in those tools at this point.  Obviously, we’re always more comfortable with hardware testing, but we have the confidence and tools now that we think we’re going down the right path and we’ll have the right product to go race and win in 2019.”

QUESTION: Will there be any radical design change to the 2019 Mustang compared to today’s version?

MARK RUSHBROOK? “I can’t comment about future products. But what I can say is what you always see in the Mustang lineup is there are so many different variances with styling even in the same production year between the V6 Mustang, the GT Mustang or the Shelby GT350.  It’s a very dynamic product line that we have in the company that is really driven by the passion of customers to have their own individual Mustang.  That gives us even when we go to Mustang an opportunity to select from that lineup on what is the right thing for racing on track in terms of performance and relevance to our customers.”

QUESTION: Is there any reason from a timing standpoint to do this for 2019? Fusion has been around for a long time and the other manufacturers seem to be doing their freshen-ups a little earlier than you Ford guys…

MARK RUSHBROOK: “We’ve had this Fusion racing on the track in Cup three years now.  We started racing it in 2016, so this is our third year and that was based on a 2017 Fusion street car.  I think Toyota has been on a higher frequency in terms of their freshening of their (Camry) Cup cars.  Chevy was a little bit older than ours as we were racing last year and they had the opportunity to freshen-up with the Camaro.

“I think this is good timing for us, especially as we look at how Fusion is still performing with four race wins so far this year early in the season, that we felt we didn’t want to bring out a new car until we knew we could do it right and make a good step forward. We think we’ve got the tools and the team in place now that we can deliver that for 2019.”

QUESTION: Are you surprised at how well Ford has competed in Cup this year, only because some series observers seem surprised?

MARK RUSHBROOK: “I would say that one of the advantages is we know that body very well and with the rules that were changed, reinforcement and a few other small changes that were made for 2018, it gave us the ability to adjust with a body that we already knew really well.  We’ve been able to get four wins with all four of those coming with Stewart-Haas. But if you look across all of our teams _ Penske, Wood Brothers and Roush Fenway _ they’ve been really strong, too.”

QUESTION: Ford has been on the record saying there is a plan to look at narrowing the number of nameplates for its passenger cars. By going to Cup with Mustang, is that a safe move for you guys, knowing Mustang is an iconic car that people now can have confidence will be around for a while?

MARK RUSHBROOK: “What I can say is that our future cycle plan was not a factor in this. It was based on two things _ the excitement that comes with Mustang and the relevance to have the product in the top series in NASCAR _ and we also felt we could get the most competitive car out.  We had started our new Mustang before Chevy came for submission with their Camaro and we were actually very happy when we saw that Chevy was bringing the Camaro because we knew with our Mustang it would be great to have those two nameplates on track at the Cup level racing each other.”

QUESTION: Is the plan still to run Mustang in Xfinity, or are there plans to change that nameplate?

MARK RUSHBROOK:  “No plans to change at this point.”

QUESTION: Are you phasing out the Fusion? Is that part of the game plan?

MARK RUSHBROOK: “Our cycle plan for the road car did not play a factor in changing to the Mustang.  That was driven based upon the excitement of that car and the performance that we think we can get out of it, so it does not signify or signal anything about the Fusion’s road car future.”

QUESTION: Has Stewart-Haas Racing been leading the way from an aerodynamic perspective with this new car?

MARK RUSHBROOK: “No, it’s been a combined effort.  All of the teams have been contributing, especially Roush Fenway, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas.  They’re all contributing ideas for speed and performance, but also each of them contributing different parts of it in terms of obviously with Penske having their scale tunnel as we’ve been testing our scale models there is more involvement from Penske in that area. Or, with the Stewart-Haas’ relationship with Windshear we’ve had more involvement from them, but every single test is attended by all of our teams.  All of the aero CFD results are shared with all of our teams and they all provide feedback on all of those results, so it truly has been a cross-team effort.”

QUESTION: Tommy Joseph has been leading the project with Ford Performance. Can you expand upon his background and role?

MARK RUSHBROOK:  “That was a big part, I think, of getting our program to where we were ready to do this car for 2019.  Tommy Joseph, we hired in about a year-and-a-half ago.  He came from Formula One well-versed in the latest aerodynamic techniques, so we gave him a little bit of time to get familiar with our NASCAR teams and the NASCAR series and he’s a very smart aero engineer, a very good leader who is good in terms of inclusiveness with all the teams.  So, he’s been leading the program overall with the active engagement from all the teams.

“He’s been really good at getting them all together on a weekly basis, keeping everybody aligned on where the program is going, getting all of their input on what else we need to be doing that we may not be doing, and then putting things in place.

“I don’t think we could have done this program to the level that we are prior to Tommy joining our team. And we couldn’t do it without the active engagement from all of the aero leads at all of our teams and a lot of depth that we’ve added within our Ford Performance team in terms of the aero CFD tools that we have and that we’ve made even better, and the new scale model shops that we put into our Tech Center at the end of last year. All of those people and all of those tools have come together to get us where we are today with this project.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 19 2018
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