Feature: Ford Performance Days

Ford Performance Days Featured

Speed Thrills

Ford showed the media it is committed to the engineering benefits of racing

By Steve Turner
Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Company

You may recall that I recently had the opportunity to ride along with a Ford engineer in a 2015 Ecoboost Mustang. Believe it or not, that was but a minor aspect of a much larger Ford media event held in and around the racing hotbed that is Concord, North Carolina. Yes, as cool as the first ride in a Mustang was, it was not the most amazing experience I had that day.

My trip down the Ford racing rabbit hole began with some seat time in an old friend—a 2014 Shelby GT500. With an all-new Mustang on the event horizon it was great to say a last goodbye to one of my favorite cars from the S197 era. The Trinity-spec Shelby is still a brute performer with a few ballet classes under its belt. It served as a great chariot to Penske Racing with my co-pilot, old friend, and mentor Tom Wilson and I trading seats at the mid-point.
My trip down the Ford racing rabbit hole began with some seat time in an old friend—a 2014 Shelby GT500. With an all-new Mustang on the event horizon it was great to say a last goodbye to one of my favorite cars from the S197 era. The Trinity-spec Shelby is still a brute performer with a few ballet classes under its belt. It served as a great chariot to Penske Racing with my co-pilot, old friend, and mentor Tom Wilson and I trading seats at the mid-point.

Now if you aren’t familiar with the concept of a media event, companies bring in various members of the media to show off their latest products. Obviously they want you to enjoy your time with these products. In our world, these events most often revolve around a new vehicle. However, this time around the message was all about Ford’s commitment to racing and its tangential benefits for production vehicles.

If you ever have the opportunity to tour Penske Racing South, take it! It is one of the most impressive racing facilities I have ever seen. It is as clean as an operating room, and filled with racing technology. Here the affable Michael Nelson, Vice President, Operations, gave us the overview.
If you ever have the opportunity to tour Penske Racing South, take it! It is one of the most impressive racing facilities I have ever seen. It is as clean as an operating room, and filled with racing technology. Here the affable Michael Nelson, Vice President, Operations, gave us the overview.

Fortunately for us, Ford wanted to make this message fun, so they brought out cars and drivers from nearly every discipline to show just how wide the company’s commitment is to Ford Racing and performance. This meant getting to ride with top drivers in real race cars.

Yeah, this is the race shop. The entire floor at the Penske facility is tiled. It is one of the largest tiled buildings around. And, this is where they work on the race cars, building and rebuilding them in an impressively organized assembly line. All of Penske’s teams share knowledge and work for the good of the team. On our tour was driver Brad Keslowski, and he wowed us with his intimate technical knowledge of the entire racing program. That sort of insight from a driver has to offer some advantages.
Yeah, this is the race shop. The entire floor at the Penske facility is tiled. It is one of the largest tiled buildings around. And, this is where they work on the race cars, building and rebuilding them in an impressively organized assembly line. All of Penske’s teams share knowledge and work for the good of the team. On our tour was driver Brad Keslowski, and he wowed us with his intimate technical knowledge of the entire racing program. That sort of insight from a driver has to offer some advantages.

Any one of these rides would have been a dream come true for a performance enthusiast, but I got to take several in a row. Between those endorphin-pumping rides the events also included the aforementioned rides and drives in production performers, which are a significant revenue generator for Ford.

After an impressive evening, my Tuesday began with a run through another racing juggernaut, Roush Fenway racing. Not quite as sterile as the Penske shop, Roush Fenway is all business. It too was loaded with cars, parts, technology, and a commitment to winning that Jack Roush and Ford have shared for many years.
After an impressive evening, my Tuesday began with a run through another racing juggernaut, Roush Fenway racing. Not quite as sterile as the Penske shop, Roush Fenway is all business. It too was loaded with cars, parts, technology, and a commitment to winning that Jack Roush and Ford have shared for many years.

“Performance is a critical and growing business for Ford,” said Jim Farley, Ford executive vice president, global marketing, sales and service and Lincoln. “We recognize our customers want vehicles that offer great fuel economy, leading technology and a great driving experience. Our new technical center is another tool that will help us continue to grow our performance vehicle business around the world.”

Here’s a look at how it helps that process…

I was even able to witness a practice pit stop. Seeing the over-the-wall gang honing its craft was quite impressive. These pros measure their performance in seconds.
I was even able to witness a practice pit stop. Seeing the over-the-wall gang honing its craft was quite impressive. These pros measure their performance in seconds.

Additionally, I was able to peek behind the doors of several of Ford’s incredible racing partners in and around the Charlotte area. From the pristine halls of Penske racing to the horsepower laboratories at Roush-Yates Racing, it was incredible to see how broad Ford’s racing reach really is.

I will not get my ponytail caught in Vaughn’s roll cage. I will not get my ponytail… Oh, yeah, even the media have to sign away our lives on release forms before we strap in for a ride in competition machine. I was more than willing to sign up for some drifting.
I will not get my ponytail caught in Vaughn’s roll cage. I will not get my ponytail… Oh, yeah, even the media have to sign away our lives on release forms before we strap in for a ride in competition machine. I was more than willing to sign up for some drifting.

Of course all this culminated in a visit to the all-new, 33,000-square-foot Ford Technical Support Center just down the street from the NASCAR headquarters. Initially the facility will support NASCAR and its various branches, like trucks and the Nationwide series, but they look to expand its assistance to other racing disciplines as well as production development.

“This facility is an investment in advanced Ford Racing technical tools that will support our goal of winning races and championships,” Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing, said. “It also provides us with expansion capabilities as we support our broader array of Ford teams from NASCAR, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, IMSA, Rally and Global RallyCross, NHRA and other series.”

I will long recall Tuesday May 13, 2014 as one of my best days as a member of the automotive media. Media visited various stations in groups, and my group started by visiting a familiar driver—drifting superstar and my pal—Vaughn Gittin Jr. Now I have been around JR and his vehicles for many years, so I know all about his drifting program. However, he took the time to explain the basics of his craft to the media.
I will long recall Tuesday May 13, 2014 as one of my best days as a member of the automotive media. Media visited various stations in groups, and my group started by visiting a familiar driver—drifting superstar and my pal—Vaughn Gittin Jr. Now I have been around JR and his vehicles for many years, so I know all about his drifting program. However, he took the time to explain the basics of his craft to the media.

Equipped with high-tech gear like a Kinematics machine, a chassis torsional twist rig, a vehicle center of gravity machine, and a coordinate measurement machine, the centerpiece of this facility is an amazing driving simulator that accurately simulates any laser-mapped surface, from racetracks to streets. This amazing piece of technology allows drivers and support staff to simulate a race and make virtual adjustments to the simulator car so they are better prepared for an upcoming event.

Not everyone should throw the horns, but your hard rock and heavy metal loving scribe is uniquely qualified to do so, especially before having this much fun. If you aren’t sure if you qualify, please visit takebackthehorns.com. Now back, to the fun…
Not everyone should throw the horns, but your hard rock and heavy metal loving scribe is uniquely qualified to do so, especially before having this much fun. If you aren’t sure if you qualify, please visit takebackthehorns.com. Now back, to the fun…

“We have enhanced our vehicle dynamics simulation tools to lead the development of Ford Racing cars in NASCAR and IMSA, as well as our street products,” Raj Nair, group vice president, Ford global product development, said. “The driving simulator will help us to push handling optimization to the next level so that our cars can be fast right off the trailer, allowing our teams to focus on fine-tuning changes when they get to the track. I watched the simulator in action, and it looked like a driver running in a race, and the drivers raved about how realistic it is.

The idea of using this technology in developing production vehicles is equally tantalizing. It could really streamline suspension development for something like a performance variant of an existing vehicle platform. The possibilities are really endless.

Perhaps the most exciting revelation of our visit is that Ford plans to run some of its mainstream engineers through its racing program to give them experience on the front lines, where developing solutions in a short time is critical. I can imagine this really translating back to great product development at the mainstream level.

“Motorsports and product development at Ford are interlinked, and this new center will house advanced tools that will serve both our race teams and the development of future Ford performance vehicles,” Raj said.

Who needs coffee in the morning when you can sit in the passenger seat as Vaughn Gittin Jr. slides his competition Mustang across the asphalt mere inches away from Scotty Tuerck in one of Vaughn’s on RTR street cars. Watching Vaughn effortlessly control the car was a thing of pure beauty. My day was already made at this point, but the good times kept rolling like smoke off Vaughn’s Nitto NT-05s.
Who needs coffee in the morning when you can sit in the passenger seat as Vaughn Gittin Jr. slides his competition Mustang across the asphalt mere inches away from Ryan Tuerck in one of Vaughn’s on RTR street cars. Watching Vaughn effortlessly control the car was a thing of pure beauty. My day was already made at this point, but the good times kept rolling like smoke off Vaughn’s Nitto NT-05s.

This is my kind of classroom. Drag racing legend Roy Hill gives us a brief overview of Ford Racing’s Cobra Jets and his driving school before we suit up and go for a ride.
This is my kind of classroom. Drag racing legend Roy Hill gives us a brief overview of Ford Racing’s Cobra Jets and his driving school before we suit up and go for a ride.
Safety first. A driving suit and a helmet are mandatory. The headsock ensures you don’t share too much sweat with your fellow riders, but it takes helmet head to a whole new level.
Safety first. A driving suit and a helmet are mandatory. The headsock ensures you don’t share too much sweat with your fellow riders, but it takes helmet head to a whole new level.
I had to find myself in all the photos graciously supplied by Ford, so I decided to keep throwing the horns so I could easily spot myself. The automotive media are generally not a metal crowd. Here I am strapped in and ready to ride with one of Roy’s instructors.
I had to find myself in all the photos graciously supplied by Ford, so I decided to keep throwing the horns so I could easily spot myself. The automotive media are generally not a metal crowd. Here I am strapped in and ready to ride with one of Roy’s instructors.
As luck would have it I was out into one of the more modern, 5.0-powered Cobra Jets. That was good. Unfortunately it was a naturally aspirated automatic. Not that there is anything wrong with that combo. It is quite effective—too effective, almost. With modest power and an automatic it simply hooks and goes with little drama. The other car had a blown 5.4. That would have been quite a ride. I would have liked to ride in one with a real driver. When I last tried to pilot one down the strip my shifting left much to be desired.
As luck would have it I was out into one of the more modern, 5.0-powered Cobra Jets. That was good. Unfortunately it was a naturally aspirated automatic. Not that there is anything wrong with that combo. It is quite effective—too effective, almost. With modest power and an automatic it simply hooks and goes with little drama. The other car had a blown 5.4. That would have been quite a ride. I would have liked to ride in one with a real driver. When I last tried to pilot one down the strip my shifting left much to be desired.
Some might view autocrossing a Focus ST as a step back, but as a proud Focus ST owner, I was pretty excited to have a little corner-carving fun in another ST. Besides, after riding shotgun for a while, it felt good to get behind the wheel and step on the gas. Ford performance comes in all shapes and sizes.
Some might view autocrossing a Focus ST as a step back, but as a proud Focus ST owner, I was pretty excited to have a little corner-carving fun in another ST. Besides, after riding shotgun for a while, it felt good to get behind the wheel and step on the gas. Ford performance comes in all shapes and sizes.

In fact, the Focus ST’s little brother, the Fiesta ST proved to have the upper hand on the tight autocross course provided for the two cars. Both cars are great fun in this environment, but the lighter Fiesta had a handling edge. That said, my personal preference leans toward the extra power and room offered by the Focus ST.
In fact, the Focus ST’s little brother, the Fiesta ST proved to have the upper hand on the tight autocross course provided for the two cars. Both cars are great fun in this environment, but the lighter Fiesta had a handling edge. That said, my personal preference leans toward the extra power and room offered by the Focus ST.
Twice before in my life I have had the unadulterated joy that is driving a Ford GT—once at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven Charter Township, Michigan, and once on the streets in Florida. Short of flying to Minnesota to visit Dan Shoneck, I didn’t think I’d ever be behind the wheel of one again—much less one owned by Raj Nair. I took it easy with this one, but it was still a blast to drive this special car again.
Twice before in my life I have had the unadulterated joy that is driving a Ford GT—once at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven Charter Township, Michigan, and once on the streets in Florida. Short of flying to Minnesota to visit Dan Schoneck, I didn’t think I’d ever be behind the wheel of one again—much less one owned by Raj Nair. I took it easy with this one, but it was still a blast to drive this special car again.
As much fun as the street cars were, the afternoon took things to a new level as I experienced my first ride in a stock car. With rising star Joey Logano piloting a Nationwide-series Mustang, we lapped Charlotte Motor Speedway at over 180 mph. Suffice it to say the experience was eye opening. You can watch stock car racing on television, but being in the car at speed is amazing. I was most amazed to see how much “driving” is necessary to get one of these car through the corners. The driver is constantly correcting and keeping the car on the edge. It must be insane doing in with a pack of other 200-mph race cars surrounding you.
As much fun as the street cars were, the afternoon took things to a new level as I experienced my first ride in a stock car. With rising star Joey Logano piloting a Nationwide-series Mustang, we lapped Charlotte Motor Speedway at over 180 mph. Suffice it to say the experience was eye opening. You can watch stock car racing on television, but being in the car at speed is amazing. I was most amazed to see how much “driving” is necessary to get one of these car through the corners. The driver is constantly correcting and keeping the car on the edge. It must be insane doing it with a pack of 200-mph race cars surrounding you.

Believe it or not, as cool as all the race car rides were, this was the moment I was waiting for all day. Yes, the opportunity to take my first ride in the highly anticipated 2015 Mustang was the news of the day.
Believe it or not, as cool as all the race car rides were, this was the moment I was waiting for all day. Yes, the opportunity to take my first ride in the highly anticipated 2015 Mustang was the news of the day.
As you read previously on SVTP, riding in the 2015 Ecoboost Mustang was a good time. This car isn’t going to scare owners of Coyote ’Stangs, but it does feel like a fun option for those that want to have their cake and eat it too.
As you read previously on SVTP, riding in the 2015 Ecoboost Mustang was a good time. This car isn’t going to scare owners of Coyote ’Stangs, but it does feel like a fun option for those who want to have their cake and eat it too.

Capping off my day of adrenaline I strapped into Scott Pruett’s Daytona Prototype to see what Ecoboost power can do in a race car. Well, it can blast in around Charlotte Motor Speedway like a rocket ship.
Capping off my day of adrenaline I strapped into Scott Pruett’s Daytona Prototype to see what Ecoboost power can do in a race car. Well, it can blast in around Charlotte Motor Speedway like a rocket ship.
Now, it came as no surprised that the Daytona Prototype was fast and handled well, but the g-forces I experienced in it were more dramatic than those of the stock car. The setup for these rides placed a chicane right in the middle of the straightaway, and this really showed off the grip and braking force of the car, not to mention Scott’s skill behind the wheel.
Now, it came as no surprised that the Daytona Prototype was fast and handled well, but the g-forces I experienced in it were more dramatic than those of the stock car. The setup for these rides placed a chicane right in the middle of the straightaway, and this really showed off the grip and braking force of the car, not to mention Scott’s skill behind the wheel.

After a day like that it didn’t seem the least bit strange to close things out by having dinner inside Jack Roush’s hangar. If you know about Jack, you know he loves planes as much as he loves cars, and his hangar might just be the ultimate man cave. Believe it or not, I wrote and posted my Ecoboost Mustang ride impression on SVTP after all this took place. It was a full day!
After a day like that it didn’t seem the least bit strange to close things out by having dinner inside Jack Roush’s hangar. If you know about Jack, you know he loves planes as much as he loves cars, and his hangar might just be the ultimate man cave. Believe it or not, I wrote and posted my Ecoboost Mustang ride impression on SVTP after all this took place. It was a full day!
23 Ford Performance Days (Ford Racing tech center) With a good night’s sleep under my belt to let the adrenaline levels return to normal levels I hopped in my 2014 Ford Escape and headed to Roush Yates Racing to see its impressive engine building laboratory, which services races teams from NASCAR to Formula Drift. No we didn’t get any photos from that top-secret locale, but it was impressive. From there we headed to Ford’s new Technical Support Center, which displayed one of Roush Yates Racing’s impressive Ecoboost 3.5-liter V-6s in its lobby.
With a good night’s sleep under my belt to let the adrenaline levels return to normal levels I hopped in my 2014 Ford Escape and headed to Roush Yates Racing to see its impressive engine building laboratory, which services races teams from NASCAR to Formula Drift. No we didn’t get any photos from that top-secret locale, but it was impressive. From there we headed to Ford’s new Technical Support Center, which displayed one of Roush Yates Racing’s impressive Ecoboost 3.5-liter V-6s in its lobby.
The support center houses Ford’s new racing simulator that is the size of a small movie theater. It features a curved, wraparound screen that envelops the driver of the simulator. This tech tour de force not only simulates the look of any racetrack, but it even simulates the racing surface, thanks to laser-scanning technology. Certainly Ford hopes to get a performance edge at the racetrack via this simulator, but the possibilities of using this tech for myriad purposes, including production vehicle development, had us excited.
The support center houses Ford’s new racing simulator that is the size of a small movie theater. It features a curved, wraparound screen that envelops the driver of the simulator. This tech tour de force not only simulates the look of any racetrack, but it even simulates the racing surface, thanks to laser-scanning technology. Certainly Ford hopes to get a performance edge at the racetrack via this simulator, but the possibilities of using this tech for myriad purposes, including production vehicle development, had us excited.
So, in short, Ford is committed to performance and racing because it is profitable and good for product development. I couldn’t be happier to hear that message delivered. It seemed like the ideal first media event to attend as a representative of SVTPerformance. The future is indeed bright.
So, in short, Ford is committed to performance and racing because it is profitable and good for product development. I couldn’t be happier to hear that message delivered. It seemed like the ideal first media event to attend as a representative of SVTPerformance. The future is indeed bright.

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