Ford Boss Says New Engine On Track Soon
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Indianapolis – Brian Wolfe looks very much like the engineer that he is, except maybe for the nice haircut. So when Wolfe, the director of Ford Racing Technology, talks about his company and NASCAR, you get the feeling that here is a guy who knows his product and is not just pushing his product.
Last weekend, in the rear recesses of the giant, bright, glassed-in media room at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Wolfe talked about Ford Racing; its past and its future in NASCAR.
As with the global economy, he said, there is concern and optimism at the same time.
Some of the hope for the near future resides in the new engine that Ford is about to start using in Cup.
Wolfe said the engine will take to the track in anger very soon. Before the Chase begins. The exact timing of rollout will be determined by the teams which will use it.
He is promising no miracles for those teams.
“We’ve really struggled this year – you know that better than I do – after the first two races. Some bad luck, then probably some missed setups and we got some issues going and we haven’t had the wins.
“A lot of people would like to say find the silver bullet and, hey, with the new engine there, (people think)it’s going to be great and wonderful. Well, when you look at our performance right now, you look at fuel economy, you look when we get to long straightaways its not like everyone is pulling away from us and we catch up in the corners. So, we are not really off base in power and fuel economy right now.”
Plus, he said, “We’ve got a lot of a lot of current stock, current engines and then what do you do with them?”
So, “We are going to phase (the new engines)in…we just got to make sure that as we phase that in, are these things reliable and perform as good or better than the current engines and also that its not going to do something to the chassis that we didn’t fully account for.”
While the engine has tested well and appears to do what Ford wants it to do, teams will have to figure out how it affects other areas of performance. Areas like aerodynamics.
Its improved cooling capabilities will allow teams to tamper with front downforce by using less tape on the nose.
“We’re excited about it,” Wolfe said. “It’s definitely going to help us and I believe the aerodynamics of our cars will improve with it. As far as the team’s maintenance and reliability, the valve train is much better so its going to cut down wearing on parts and where it is going to help the engine builder is there is less machining involved with the blocks and that is going to mean lower costs for them on an on-going basis. We just got to walk slowly so we don’t break the bank.”
Some in the Ford camp have balked about using the new engine this year. Those would mostly be teams which appear headed to the Chase.
Wolfe said he understands their concerns and will not pressure those teams to use the new engine.
“There are always what I call unintended consequences where the motor’s all set, everything’s all set and then sometimes the fuel pump doesn’t work because that’s a new system and maybe it didn’t get the same scrutiny as the valve train did,” he said. “There might be something you might have missed no matter how much due diligence you did.
“And since with the motors, (from a) fuel economy and power perspective aren’t what is causing not winning, races, they might say, ‘Let me go with what I know is going to be fine and I don’t want to lose a race because of something simple.’ How would things have looked different last year if we didn’t have two ignition boxes fail on Carl Edwards’ car in that one race and he came in 32nd in one of the Chase races. Something happens like that in the Chase and you’re done. So, I respect that.”
The 2009 season looked like it would be a monster for Ford back in February.
Matt Kenseth of Roush Fenway Racing won the first two events of the season, including, of course, the Daytona 500, in a Ford.
But after that, zilch.
And in a year when big things were expected of Roush drivers like Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle.
Wolfe took a deep breath.
“We had that bad luck with some reliability in the motors which is so uncharacteristic in a team like Roush Yates,” he said. “We had those valve problems in the beginning of the year. Then we had those problems on pit road (and that) just really hurts. And I think that at a few tracks we just might have missed the setup. So its a combination of a few things where one thing rolled on the other and rolled on the other and now we just kind of need to dig out of that.”
Wolfe would love to see that all reversed. He would like to see teams and drivers using Fords reclaim positions at the fronts of race fields.
He would like those things for the obvious reason and some not-so-obvious reasons.
Wolfe said he would love to lure more teams into the Ford camp.
Right now, just the five Roush cars, two from Yates Racing and one part-time car from the Wood Brothers, are in that camp.
“It would be nice to see more guys running Fords,” Wolfe said. “I’ll talk to anybody any time.”
Some of those “anybodys” could come from a place like Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, which has had money from General Motors cut this year.
While Ford will not be able to give a team like that money, it will be able to supply help.
“There isn’t cash on the table,” Wolfe said, “but there are other places other than cash where we are more than willing to work with them with our computer-aided engineering tools, which we have an enormous amount of money invested in and which work pretty well. We can lease engines from Roush Yates, so you don’t have to put a big engine development program together and we have very competitive engines.
“We have seven-post rig time, we have, K-rig time, wind tunnel time. So we want to make sure that these are available to them. Also, we’re keeping our contingency program going as well so you know if you’re going on the track there is a reward for that as well.”
Finally, Wolfe talked about the thing that everybody in racing talks about, the Car of Tomorrow program.
What Wolfe does that many others do not do when they talk about cars with wings and splitters, is whine.
He calls himself, in fact, a “lone voice” in endorsing the COT.
He said that one of the things he likes most about it is the job it has done with brand identity.
“You look at the front end of it on TV, it looks like the Fusion,” Wolfe said. “You look at the old, previous car and its got the big hole in the grill where you can see the radiator, but it didn’t look like anything. The big sloping fenders. It doesn’t look like a Fusion.
“You talk about loss of brand identity, I lost it after those big Thunderbirds and Monte Carlos out on the track (disappeared). They were tweaked a little bit but they looked like real-world cars. The cars now, are more race cars. They are more aerodynamically advanced and that’s what they are about.
“So, the COT didn’t offfend me as much as it did some others. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the people that bitched the most about it were the guys that didn’t like NASCAR in the first place so they just wanted something to bitch about, to cause controversy.”
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment