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DEARBORN -- This Sunday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Brooklyn, Mich., home of Michigan International Speedway (MIS), for the first of two races at the track this year. The 2011 Ford Mustang V-6 will serve as pace car – a first for Ford at MIS. Jamie Allison, director of Ford North America Motorsports, discusses progress to date in the company's four key North American racing series with @Ford Online.
Q. What is your evaluation of Ford's North America racing program at this point in the season?
A. I am pleased with the fact that we are delivering our messaging, and we are where we want to be in terms of competitiveness in three of the four key racing series we support. But we're working hard on improvement in our Sprint Cup program.
Q. What is Ford's challenge in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series?
A. We need to address the handling of our cars. Given the fact that there is no testing in NASCAR, it puts a lot of emphasis on teams that can come up with simulation models and tools that will predict how a car will behave on specific tracks. Those race teams that do well in simulations are performing well on race day. It's taken us longer than we planned, but we're working hard to improve this area and we'll get it.
We also were using an older engine – the oldest in NASCAR - that didn't cool as efficiently as the others. However, beginning this weekend at MIS, all cars with Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, and Wood Brothers Racing will have the new FR9 engine going forward. The new engine will allow our cars to run a little better because we will be able to tape up the front end more and get more front downforce, but ultimately it's about the handling.
We have not yet won a race this season. As the person ultimately responsible for Ford's participation in the sport, it pains me, but I am guided by the fact that we now know what the problem is and we're working to correct it. We will get there.
We have time. There are plenty of races remaining. Even with our challenges, we have three Ford drivers in the Top 10 – Matt Kenseth (4th), Carl Edwards (9th) and Greg Biffle (10th) – and the top 12 make The Chase for the Championship playoffs. We're working hard to fix our issues. That's priority number one for me.
Q. Ford looks strong in NHRA Funny Car with John Force Racing drivers Robert Hight, John Force and Ashley Force Hood running their Mustangs 1-2-3 in the standings.
A. Our Mustangs have been dominant. There has been a John Force Racing driver in nine of 10 finals this year. And the other final involved Bob Tasca III and Tim Wilkerson, who also drive Ford Mustangs.
It wasn't that long ago that John Force Racing was struggling a bit because of the (fatal) crash (of Eric Medlen), the weakened economy, and John had four cars to worry about. He has since parked the fourth car and runs three now. It has allowed him to better focus on his team.
Our program in NHRA is working on the driver front, the technical support front and we are activating (fans) at every event because we are the official car and truck of NHRA. The multi-year agreement allows us to provide support vehicles for NHRA trackside. So, the program is working from a marketing perspective, too. It’s been an A+ grade in NHRA this season.
Q. What kind of season is Ken Block having?
A. Ken won the second Rally America event of the season last February in the Monster Energy Drink Ford Fiesta. But he's also had some disappointing finishes. He's eighth in the driver standings, and I know he's working hard to be more consistent.
Ken has a lot on his plate this season. You have to remember that he switched teams in Rally America, he switched cars, he's running a limited World Rally schedule in a Ford Focus, and he's working on a new Gymkhana THREE program and video. Ken finished one World Rally event, rolled in three other races and also was forced to retire in another event. But he's racing the best of the best in that series, and he knows this will be a valuable learning experience. This was always seen as a development year for him.
Q. Is Ken meeting Ford's expectations from a marketing perspective?
A. As far as our affiliation with Ken Block this season to date, I'd give it an A+. He is helping us reach a set of fans – a generation of people – who really don't buy Fords and consider Fords because they tend to follow action sports – West Coast style – for whom we didn’t offer a product, except for Mustang and F-150. Now we have a very stylish, fuel-efficient new Ford Fiesta, and Ken is – as he says – "stoked" about it. He has awakened people to a new, exciting car from Ford.
And when the Gymkhana THREE video comes out, it will be a seismic shift online when the video is revealed because he is going to be doing all kinds of stuff in it. He's shooting it soon, and it will be in a Fiesta. Already we have had a million views of all the Fiesta videos Ken has done to date.
He also helped with the Fiesta media launch program in San Francisco, and launched the Gymkhana Fiesta there. There's no doubt that Ken Block has been very effective in getting the message out about how cool and how much fun it is to drive a Fiesta.
Q. In addition to NHRA, Ford also has a Mustang presence in the Grand-Am series. How is that going?
A. Pretty well. Grand-Am is kind of a sports car, road racing series in which we have two types of Mustangs entered: the FR500C, which is based on a past model, and the new Boss 302R. The latter is an undertaking using a production engine from today's 5.0-liter Mustang in a racing environment to prove out the powerplant. It's working, it's holding up. Our best finish with the Boss 302R is second and the FR500C has won twice, so we're pretty pleased.
Q. Tell us about the big news next month involving Mustang and NASCAR's Nationwide racing series.
A. Over the July 4th weekend at Daytona International Speedway, Mustang will race for the first time ever in NASCAR when it competes in the Nationwide Series night race. NASCAR has approved Ford's switch to the Mustang for Nationwide races next season, along with Dodge's switch to the Challenger. There will be four Nationwide races for Mustang this season, including the August 13 race at MIS.
We're already starting to see the benefits of that. The Mustang buff books are picking up NASCAR because of Mustang's involvement. We're seeing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm and fan outreach because they can identify with the car. We’ve gotten great feedback from the fans, from the industry and from NASCAR on how the car looks.
Q. Will GM race the Chevy Camaro in the Nationwide Series?
A. No. Personally, we think they're missing out. There is a lot of excitement over this. We've seen a lot of positive fan and media reaction. In fact, Ford is pushing and asking NASCAR to consider racing cars with even stronger brand identity in Sprint Cup – especially our Mustang.
Q. How does ONE Ford affect Ford North America Motorsports?
A. As the Ford brand goes global, so will every part of the company, including motorsports. That involves the Ford Racing brand as well as our performance offerings. For example, we have performance packs for Fiesta. I will be traveling soon to coordinate that with Ford of Europe. Anything we develop can be used on any Fiesta sold anywhere in the world. There will be one Ford Racing set of modifications, coordinated in the U.S. and distributed around the world – that's ONE Ford.
Q. What is Ford's racing plan for the next-generation Focus?
A. Fiesta is taking over for Focus as our entry in the World Rally Championship in 2011. We see a role for Focus in touring car type of racing, whether it be local or national championships around the world, or maybe in the alignment with what we do in Grand-Am.
So, Focus likely will have a touring car application, Fiesta will compete in rally, and Mustang will continue in sports car racing and in NASCAR.
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