Ford's latest race car combines the best ideas with the latest technology
The 2004 NASCAR Ford Taurus represents Ford’s most synergistic effort in race car design to date. For more race news, visit the Ford Racing Web site.
DEARBORN -- When the 2004 Taurus makes its debut in the 2004 Daytona 500, it will represent Ford’s most synergistic effort in race car design to date. This synergy comes from all corners of the Ford empire and includes solid representation from not only the NASCAR ranks but also the real world production side.
The prior version of Taurus, originally presented to the public in the 1998 Daytona 500, provided excellent results. But its humble beginnings came after public, and, at times, cantankerous battles between various team entities that wanted to leave their mark on that specific iteration.
“A lot of times you can build a car that just suits one team’s purpose,” said Ford Racing’s NASCAR Field Manager, Robin Pemberton, on a pitfall of this type of engineering exercise. Pemberton is in a position to know, as he was one of the principals of a three-team entity that worked on the ’98 Taurus while working at Penske South Racing.
“I think the last couple times we had Penske doing one version, Yates doing one and Roush doing one,” recalled Pemberton shaking his head. “During that (’98) project, NASCAR would cut templates off of cars and they were different cars that were constructed in different ways and not all the templates fit all the cars at the same time.
“It was almost impossible.”
With lessons learned from 1998, Ford Racing’s North American Operations Manager, Greg Specht, knew that he wanted to approach the car design issue differently. With a heftier engineering staff at his disposal, all he needed was word that the production staff wanted a new car developed for the NASCAR circuit.
The call for a new Taurus came approximately 20 months prior to its first on-track experience and included conversations between Ford Racing and Ford production. The result is a race car that is representative of what consumers see on the showroom floor.
“What we have in ’04 is a re-freshening of the Taurus, so that kicks off a process,” recalled Specht. “After the decision was made, we say to the production guys, ‘OK, what are your thoughts? Show us your sketches and drawings,’ and so on and so forth.
“With their ideas and goals in place, we went back and started looking at the race car and say, ‘OK, now what do we need to do to the race car to have it look like the production car?’”
Having the production car designers more intimately involved from the start is also something new to the process, as the value of the NASCAR fan base becomes a key factor.
“In the recent past, racing considerations haven’t influenced their (production’s) thinking a lot anyway,” explained Specht. “Even going back to the Thunderbird, what they did in the design studio was not affected that much by what was happening on the race track. However, it is starting to change in that they’re asking for [Ford Racing’s] input a lot earlier on in the process and some ideas that will actually improve the production car and truck.
“That happened with the new F-150, in fact, because since aero was such a big thing on the race track, we spent a lot more time in the wind tunnel with our race trucks than the production engineers do with the production truck,” continued Specht. “So we know a lot more about balance and downforce and drag and the subtle little things that you can do to increase those characteristics.
“So, yes, we’re getting drawn into the process earlier on and they’re kind of picking our brains and saying, ‘What do you think of this?’ or ‘How can we improve the rear downforce on the truck?’ That’s getting fed back down to the car side of things and they’re saying, ‘Gee, the next time we do one of these we’d like to bring you guys in early on in the process so we can take advantage of what you know about the aerodynamics and what other sensitive areas of the car we can work with.’
“Our expertise has come up to a level now where we’ve got people that really can go in and make a contribution on the production side of things,” added Specht. “In the past we haven’t had the depth in our aero group that we have today, so I think that’s part of the reason that we’re able to provide more input than we have in the past.”
Once the basic design concepts were developed, then the aero process began. This is the playground of Ford Racing’s lead aerodynamicist, Bernie Marcus, who spent a considerable amount of time working out the nuances of the new car by using hand sketches and computer modeling before any consideration was given to forming actual metal fenders, hoods and decklids.
Marcus didn’t have a wide open field in which to draw from because of NASCAR’s “aero-matching” rules, but he closed in on the starting point for the new car by using electronic models and 40-percent clay models.
“I think with the responsible aero people at Ford, Brett Andrews and Bernie Marcus, and with their experience with working on 40-percent models, the approach was to try to come up with the best car using the model program,” explained Pemberton. “It’s probably one of the first times there’s been an effort to use the models to develop something new instead of just trying to enhance something that’s out there presently. As far as the stock car world goes, it’s probably one of the first times or very few times that a new car has been done this way.”
Once the new Taurus was close to complete in the modeling process, a facility needed to be found where a full-scale metal car could be constructed.
“We were contacted by Greg Specht to see if we would build the submission car,” said Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood. “We didn’t really know what was involved, but since it was Greg that asked we said we would do it. It was as simple as that.
“I’ve never been involved in one of these before and we didn’t know how the process went,” confessed Wood. “It was a much more detailed process than I ever imagined as far as what NASCAR required. They designated where to put the nose, the roof and the deck. It wasn’t like you just built it like you wanted it. You’ve got to build it like they want it built.
“You don’t want to build it and have to build it again. You wanted people to say this is the way they wanted it as it went along. It’s kind of like building a house. When you get the walls up, come look at it. When you get the roof up, come look at it. When you get the plumbing in, come look at it. So it was kind of a stepped process that went pretty well.
“It was a group effort. Hopefully it yields the results that everyone wants. I feel good about it.” Specht feels equally good about the final product. “The Wood Brothers did a marvelous job providing the hands and arms and muscle to actually do the fabrication and get us to the point where Robin and Bernie can go and start rubbing on it,” he said.
While Ford did spearhead the ‘04 Taurus project, it was not done in a vacuum. Team input was solicited and used, but it was not in the free-for-all format that made the ’98 car contentious at times.
“The new car went pretty smoothly,” Pemberton admitted after NASCAR accepted it. “We started with the Wood Brothers because it was easier to work with a single team. That way we didn’t have these big committee meetings all the time. Big things run very slow, so it was easy to work with the Wood Brothers.
“We had and took input from the other Cup owners. The Roush group, they had some interest in it and [they had some] input. The same with Yates, but it was mainly refereed by Bernie. It was all channeled through him and that was different than what has been done in the past. I’ve been involved with the Ford thing many different times and it was nice that it came from the manufacturer out instead of the teams.”
Expanding on that thought, Specht said, “In the past we’ve handed it over to a team and said, ‘Go do this for us,’ and we gave them some ideas and they went and did it. That didn’t happen this time. We were very much taking the lead in this. We involved all the teams, but we certainly led the process because we had people on board like Bernie and Robin.”
One more item that helped the new Taurus come to life quickly was the intimate involvement of the sanctioning body -- from start to finish.
“One other thing I should say is I think the reason everything went so well is because we also included NASCAR early on and that was very different from the past,” Specht offered. “The previous programs that I’ve been involved in, we’d go off in the corner and do our jobs. The day it was due, we handed it to NASCAR and said, ‘OK, here’s our car. Can we have your approval for this?’
“We took a very different approach this time around and before we started fabricating the car and after we went to the teams and had an idea of what we wanted to do, we brought NASCAR up to Dearborn to our design studio and they met with our production car designers and walked NASCAR through, ‘Here’s the production car. Here’s what we’re thinking of doing with the race car to match to the production car. What do you think?’
“That kicked off the interim process with NASCAR where every step along the way they knew what we were doing. So there were no surprises for them and that resulted in no surprises for us throughout the process.”
So, how many people does it take to design a new car for NASCAR racing? The easy answer is lots and lots. Explaining this aspect of the project, Specht said, “Within my group alone there were probably about a half dozen people that were working on the project, not all full-time. Then we also had suppliers that helped us out like Roush Industries and their composite shop. We had outside people doing scans. We had people building scale models for us, so it’s a sizeable effort. I couldn’t count up heads on the outside people, but within our shop probably a half dozen people. It’s no small undertaking.
“Everything went pretty much according to plan,” Specht continued. “We had involvement of our three key race teams, so it was very much a group effort and that is very gratifying. Even up to the submission test that we did at Atlanta. We had the Wood Brothers there with the car. We had Roush there with their engineering support. We had Yates there with their driver, and Dale Jarrett got in the car and drove it. I’m glad that when he got out of it he said, ‘It’s great!’
“It was like that all along the process. The first few meetings were with production guys representing the production side, and then we had representatives from all our teams come in and talk about what we were planning on doing. In that regard it’s been very gratifying that there’s been no competition or backbiting amongst the teams. The piece that we’re ending up with is a very good race car and it goes to show that two heads are better than one.”