Click here to visit the Motorsports page for all the latest news and information.
CHARLOTTE – While at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Sprint All-Star Race, Jamie Allison, director, Ford North America Motorsports, discussed Ford Racing’s NASCAR effort so far this season. His overriding message is that the overall performance of Ford teams is better than the results and what has occurred the first three months of the season is “unacceptable” in terms of victories.
Q. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE HIRING OF ANDY SLANKARD AS YOUR NEW NASCAR OPERATIONS MANAGER?
A. I’ve worked with Andy Slankard for the last five-and-a-half years. He knows the discipline from inside the company in terms of experience in program management, vehicle dynamics, and the personal experience of having been an instructor at race schools. So, Andy has a lot of great skills that come to bear to an important job as the operations manager. He has a good mix of skills.
Q. WHAT DOES THAT JOB ENTAIL?
A. The role of the NASCAR operations manager, as the title indicates, manages the operation and serves as the interface with all the teams. We have nine cars with varying demands and needs as far as engineering, support and testing, so there is a variety of needs that all channel to the operations manager. Aerodynamics is an area. Vehicle Dynamics is another area and then powertrain, obviously, with the Roush Yates development.
Q. A LOT HAS BEEN MADE ABOUT FORD NOT HAVING A GOOD YEAR SO FAR. WHAT IS BEING DONE TO ADDRESS THAT?
A. When you’re there on race day over the last 10 or 11 races, I know we’re all measured by results at the end of the day and it doesn’t matter what the circumstances were or what could have happened, but if you just look at the summary, it doesn’t indicate the progress that we’ve made. We’ve come off a very tough season a year ago, where there weren’t the results we wanted to see. I am measuring progress this year, not necessarily by wins, but by improvement. There have only been a couple of races out of the 11 that have not met our expectations, but I would say in the other nine we’ve had improvement over a year ago, and it’s significant improvement over a year ago. We’ve been in contention in four of those. (Greg) Biffle at Daytona was half-a-turn away (from a win), and I can point to Matt Kenseth down at Martinsville when he ducked underneath going for the win and got taken out. I know everyone can tell those stories, but to us at Ford, the fact that we’re in contention, which we weren’t a year ago, is, to me, a measure of progress. But it comes down to we’ve got to get a few wins, and we will.
Q. IT SEEMS TEAMS LIKE RCR AND GIBBS AND EARNHARDT GANASSI HAVE FOUND SOMETHING TO IMPROVE AND WIN RACES SINCE LAST YEAR. IS IT AS SIMPLE AS FINDING A WIDGET THAT YOU PLUG IN OR A BUMP STOP OR SPRING RUBBER THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE?
A. We’re looking at it as a system, and I think we’ve isolated the fact that since the ban of testing in NASCAR, which was two years ago, our performance has really lagged. We know that and the emphasis on simulation and vehicle dynamics is an area that, although at one point in the ’06-’07 seasons we had been leading, now the advancement of simulation, where a lot more complex variables go into it, other teams, we believe, have had a better predicative correlative simulation than we have. And the way you can tell is you show up on Thursday or Friday and unload, and out you go and you’re just dialing, versus other teams that unload and you’re chasing the setup. You don’t practice well, you don’t qualify well, and you’re certainly not going to race well. It’s a series of systems and symptoms that chase itself to making sure you have a correlative, predictive simulation so when you show up, you’re dialing and not chasing.
Q. JACK ROUSH SAYS THEY’VE BEEN OFF ON TIRES.
A. There are a variety of inputs – tires is one, the change from the wing is another – you can isolate so many items and at the end of the day the way we look at it as the engineering team at Ford is, ‘Have you been able to be more correlative and predictive when you show up on Thursday or Friday when you unload? Are you able to just run with the setup you predicted?’ And I think the answer is, ‘Not as often as we like.’ In some cases, yes. When you see us qualify well, that means we’re able to dial in the right setup. But certainly the changes in the tire is a major factor because that’s the contact to the track for the car.
Q. YOU GET TIRE DATA DON’T YOU?
A. Everybody participates with the tire tests that Goodyear has, so everybody has the same access to the data. It’s what you do with the data. It’s what you do around a simulation system. That’s one area. The other is we have the oldest engine. We are carrying the engine while our competitors have had the opportunity because it was presented in ’07, ’08, and ’09 – Toyota, Dodge and GM have a new architecture. Well, it’s on our shoulders. The FR9 has been a long time coming and we believe that will provide an advantage versus the outgoing engine in efficiency and other factors. So the combination of the engine coming on stream, and knowing that we need to find better predictive tools to help us with the fact that there’s no testing available to iterate. Spending more time on those two is the way to ultimate success.
Q. WHEN IS THE FR9 COMING ONLINE?
A. I don’t know what part of the rollout plan has been publicized by Doug Yates. I’d like to defer a lot of the questions on the rollout of FR9 to Doug Yates because he has to manage the availability of engines across nine teams – four Roush, four RPM and the Wood Brothers. There is a rollout plan. It was promised for the middle of the season and we are approaching that part where we’re going to start seeing it.
Q. WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN TERMS OF STRENGTHENING THE SIMULATION PROGRAMS? CAN YOU PUT MORE RESOURCES INTO IT?
A. We’re going to put more resources internally. When it comes to simulation tools it’s not necessarily about people, it’s about correlations and making sure that the tools are predictive. So more correlation to make sure that the tools are predictive, and make sure we have access to systems that have shown themselves to be more correlative in the past.
Q. THESE AREN’T FORD SIMULATIONS. THIS IS GOING OUT AND PURCHASING SYSTEMS, RIGHT?
A. It’s a little bit of both. We have internal simulations and then there is motorsports-based or other industry-based simulation that we’re looking at to make sure that the tools available to us can indeed help.
Q. DO YOU KNOW THE RIVAL SIMULATION PROGRAMS OUT THERE THAT YOUR COMPETITORS HAVE?
A. There aren’t that many. They’re out there and the teams are out there looking at them, but that’s what you do as a competitor. When you find out there’s a team that actually has an advantage, you try to find out what the advantages are and you try to tick them off. To me, that is the area you can isolate that, we believe, could be a way forward for us.
Q. DO YOU SEE A GROUP LIKE GIBBS AND HOW THEY’VE IMPROVED SINCE GOING TO THE SPOILER AND WONDER HOW THEY DID THAT OR IS IT JUST A COINCIDENCE?
A. We’ve been in on this from day one, obviously with our aerodynamicist Bernie (Marcus), but whenever you hear there is one thing – simulation isn’t the one thing – simulation is a factor, so it may be compiled into one word versus a spoiler which is one thing. It’s very rarely one thing. It’s usually a compilation of things that are manifested by one addition that made the whole system improve.
Q. BUT YOU CAN SEE THE IMPROVEMENT IN GIBBS.
A. You can see the one visible part, but you don’t know about the invisible parts that are unknown to us that were in the works and now on comes the spoiler and the system is better.
Q. IN SIMPLE TERMS, HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE WHERE FORD WAS LAST YEAR VERSUS THIS YEAR?
A. We track it race by race. When we look at top-five finishes by race in ’10 versus ’09, we are markedly improved by 10-15 places per race over a year ago. Clearly, we’re going from when we used to finish in the mid-teens to 20th, now we’re in the top 10 and in the last year we’re even contending for wins. A couple of things have come into play. Last year, there was the onset of the realization that the simulation wasn’t available to us to actually be more predictive, so that way when you were out there, you were basically iterating as you were racing.
Q. SO LAST YEAR YOU FELT THE SIMULATION PROGRAM WAS AN ISSUE?
A. It was needed and now you realize that this year we’re dialing in on that. Also, last year was basically just Roush. The addition of RPM with different insights and different perspectives on setup, that’s very healthy for the sport and very healthy for our teams because you cross-learn. The addition to RPM has been a benefit to all Fords because you bring in the caliber of drivers like AJ and Kasey, and the crew chiefs with their approach to setup, I think those two factors and the FR9 in a couple of races that we can attribute to our potential improvement as we see it rolling out later. Those are the three systems.
Q. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE ECONOMICS OF THE SPORT? THERE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE A LOT OF NEW SPONSORS COMING IN. ARE YOU CONCERNED?
A. We view our participation in NASCAR this year as a marked improvement, although on the track we haven’t won, which is very disappointing to us and to our fans, but we have also been involved with ISC whereby we now activate at every track. Ford, GM and Toyota show up and have like a mini auto show display available to 150,000 fans at any given race. We go out and showcase our products. We collect data through customer interfaces and our data capture is up almost 100 percent from a year ago because we are present in places and engaging our fans. In terms of return on investment this year, it’s a marked improvement over previous years. Our fans are seeing our great products. We’re in the sport for a couple of reasons. One, to reach to our fans and showcase our great products, and also to have our fans affiliate with winners. We are a winning company. We have been a part of motorsports for over 100 years. Ford Motor Company was founded when Henry Ford raced, so winning is very important to us because it’s part of our heritage, but it’s a marketing program. Are we out there reaching fans? The answer is, ‘Yes.’ Now, it would help if we could notch a few more wins.
Q. DO YOU SEE ANY PROBLEMS GETTING SPONSORSHIP RENEWALS BECAUSE OF THE PERFORMANCE OF SOME OF YOUR TEAMS?
A. Our commitment is unwavering. We are not backing away. Our commitment is not being impacted at all, and I think the sponsors realize that at the end of the day, although people are measured on results, most of those sponsors see their role in a specific race. You have Matt leading, you have Biffle leading, you have AJ leading, so the sponsors have gotten some of their money’s worth on the track and off the track. I have not been contacted, nor have I been aware of any of our sponsors are considering the fact we have no wins this season as an issue.
Q. WHAT EMOTIONS DO YOU HAVE WITH NO WINS SO FAR THIS SEASON?
A. First and foremost, I’m a Ford fan. I’ve been with Ford for over 20 years and it’s just gut-wrenching to me when I see us not having the results that we should. We are better than our results. When we’ve been competitive, it’s been a little heartwarming for me like at Daytona or Martinsville, where you get that feeling as a fan that, ‘Hey, my team is winning.’ But when I look at it at the end of the day, it’s 0-for-10 and that is unacceptable. This is not something that we’re accustomed to and the good news is we know what the issues are and we’re addressing them. This is a very competitive industry and a very competitive field. The margins are not very wide, but we’re giving it our best shot and I am sure that we will find a way to win.
Q. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MUSTANG FINALLY COMING TO NASCAR IN NATIONWIDE? HOW BIG IS THAT?
A. Edsel Ford was with me the other day and we were talking with Mike Helton and I have to tell you that I’m a Mustang enthusiast. I read a lot of Mustang magazines and publications like Mustang Enthusiast and 5.0 are covering NASCAR because of Mustang.
Q. DOES IT OPEN THE DOOR FOR THOSE FANS?
A. Absolutely, and I think it’s a step. We have to go a little further, but the car speaks like a Mustang and the Dodge speaks like a Challenger, so it’s the right step for the sport and the right step for fans to identify with the brand that is racing.
Q. ARE THE CUP CARS GOING TO LOOK LESS BOXY NEXT YEAR?
A. I honestly just read about that from what you guys write. I have not seen any of it. We have not been part of it from what I’ve seen. The position that we’ve always communicated to NASCAR is that we would like to see more brand identity in the cars we race. The fans want to see that there’s a correlation between the cars they buy and the cars they watch, so the more brand identity, the more we like it.
Q. HOW DO YOU DEFINE BRAND IDENTITY? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
A. Is it recognizable to Mustang. Are you able to look at and potentially see the grille, potentially see the lights, potentially see the decklid. Being able to identify. We all know a Mustang is a Mustang. A Camaro is a Camaro. A Challenger is a Challenger, so find those cues that allow somebody to identify it as it comes across.
Q. ANY WORD ON THE CAMARO?
A. When I see the Mustang and the Challenger it draws you in, but we’ll let GM make their own decision on that.
Q. TWO OR THREE YEARS AGO JACK DIDN’T DO ANY TESTING WHILE HENDRICK WAS OUT THERE. YOU DIDN’T GET CAUGHT BY THAT AGAIN, DID YOU?
A. No. The short answer is I don’t know what happened three years ago because I wasn’t there, but I can tell you that there is really no shortage of resources, opportunities or testing that is available for us to be competitive. It’s just one of those factors where somebody has it dialed in and somebody has something figured out. Our time will come with the engine and improvement in simulation.