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.
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.
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.
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.
“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…
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.
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.”
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.
“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.