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DEARBORN - Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing, shares his thoughts on the Penske announcement, Daytona 500, the new strategy in NASCAR and the 2012 Ford Racing season.
Q. Regarding today’s announcement on Penske Racing switching to Ford in 2013 for NASCAR, what does that mean to Ford?
A. We are focused on excellence – on the track and in our fan outreach. Our goal has always been to fortify our racing program and to build it to last with an emphasis on excellence. An opportunity such as this to bring into the Ford team the excellence that Penske Racing has represented for many decades under the leadership of Roger and have that be joined with our great program that exists today in NASCAR under the leadership of Jack Roush and all the Ford teams is a seminal moment for us. It’s a commitment that our company is showing for the importance of our motorsports programs to support our business, to support our outreach to the fans and to support excellence on the track.
Q. How do you think fans will react to the news?
A. Roger has been with Ford in the past and we feel that this is just Penske Racing returning to Ford. I think the fans will see what we intended to do and the Ford fans will welcome it because it will strengthen and fortify the Ford program by adding the excellence of Penske.
Q. Tell us about Daytona. There was a rain delay, a huge fire on the track. What was it like?
A. There was rain. There was fire. There were wrecks. There were delays. But that did not distract us from what we were there to do. All of the Ford teams were very prepared, and we continue to show the progress we’re making in the sport by capturing the Daytona 500 for the second year in a row and for the third time in the last four years.
Q. What goes through your mind when unexpected elements come into play, such as the rain delay?
A. I take my cues from the drivers. Drivers report that during the delay they just find ways to occupy themselves because there is nothing you can do. They were just going about business as usual. I really think it’s a predictor of how you deal with any form of distraction or any form of stress. It’s all about focusing, and our drivers were focused when they needed to.
Q. After Trevor Bayne’s win last year, what were you thinking going into this year’s race?
A. There were variables coming into this Daytona 500 with a new technology: electronic fuel injection. It’s an important new development for NASCAR because it makes the racing more relevant to the production technology we have in cars. We’ve had fuel injection in production cars for a while, so it was high time that it came into the sport. But that variable brings with it an immense need for preparation and a lot of testing just to be ready for what is eventually going to take place on the track.
The good news is that all the manufacturers’ teams were facing the same challenge and the great news to report is that no manufacturer reported any issue relating to fuel injection, which means that all the teams did their diligence. Our Ford teams also really continued to apply some of the advantages that they had earlier last year in finding a more efficient way to cool our FR9 engine. Daytona is all about power, cooling, drafting and finding the right strategy, and our teams were prepared for those elements despite the fact that they had to deal with the introduction of a new technology.
Q. Tell us a little bit about the winner of the 2012 Daytona 500, Matt Kenseth?
A. Matt Kenseth is a champion. He was the 2003 NASCAR champion. He is methodical. He is calm. He is cool. He is purposeful. And he’s one that when the chips are down and he’s in front he will find a way to stay in front – especially in Daytona.
In Daytona there were three restarts late in the race, and our teams with Kenseth and Greg Biffle were 1-2 on the front row for those starts. Under normal circumstances, it’s a race for the lead, but what happened here was that there was a lot of cooperation, a lot of teamwork and a lot of learning from what had happened earlier in the week. Biffle was running second and Matt was running first and there was a lot of work to coordinate and make sure that at the end of the day a Ford team won. We are pleased with the fact that teamwork resulted in a successful Ford win in Daytona.
Q. Can you put into words how you felt about the victory on behalf of the Ford team?
A. We have fans, employees, partners and other friends out there who just feel so much joy when a win happens. Winning is no different in motorsports than it is in any form of sports. It brings with it such an outpouring of goodwill from the fan base and the employees. So the joy that we feel when a Ford wins is the joy of all employees and all fans.
Q. What thought crossed your mind at that winning moment?
A. At that moment two things came into my mind. One is that a year ago we celebrated our 600th victory at Daytona and at our side for half of those victories was Jack Roush, our loyal and trusted partner. And he was about to celebrate his 300th victory in NASCAR. So the first emotion is a lot of joy and excitement for Jack celebrating his 300th. And then the other joy for us is that ‘WOW,’ this is another Ford victory in NASCAR’s grandest moment, the great American race. All the eyes were shining and you just feel joy. I don’t know how else to describe it!
Q. Were you disappointed that the race got shifted to Monday due to the rain delay?
A. I’m not being cliché, but I think you take what life throws at you and you get prepared for it. The fact that it moved to Monday made it primetime television at 7 p.m. So now you have Monday night NASCAR instead of Monday night football. And it meant that the cars weren’t running in the middle of the day when the heat is high. It’s cooler at night. So it really was being prepared to take on the next challenge rather than dwell on the disappointment.
Q. Can you help explain the new strategy in NASCAR with pack racing versus two-car tandem style racing?
A. In NASCAR – specifically only at superspeedways in Daytona and Talladega – we saw the emergence of tandem racing last year, which is when two cars literally connect and one pushes the other. The idea is that two cars are faster than one. Tandem racing was not very well liked by the fans because it sort of took away from the excitement of watching your driver go for the win. And there was strategy involved in terms of who was going to hook up with who to push.
So NASCAR worked hard to break the two-car tandem and return what is called pack racing. Pack racing is where the majority of the cars run in a pack to get in to the slip stream of aero because when you run in a pack the front car is breaking through the wind resistance and everybody just kind of slips through the stream. So you can run a little bit faster if you’re in a pack. The danger of pack racing is that when one car goes off, volatility erupts and 10 to 15 cars could get caught up in a melee. That’s exciting for the fans though because they like to see wrecks. At the end of the day, we are here to serve the fans. If the fans love it, then we love it.
Q. Aside from the Daytona 500, Ford has had other racing wins already this year. Can you give us a roundup?
A. Ken Czubay always talks about how in these moments you’ve got to focus on the progress you’re making. And we’re here to report that we’re making great progress in racing. In all forms of racing that we participate in, we’ve had a great start. In fact, we have won nine of the 10 major races so far. In NHRA, there have been two races and Ford teams have won both races. They were both won by the John Force team, so we’re happy to be running at a 100 percent clip in NHRA.
In Rally, there have been two Rally America races won. Ford captured the 2WD class win in both races. And Ken Block captured his sixth win in a row and the overall title at the Rally America event in Missouri this past weekend.
In Grand-Am sports cars, there has been one race and Ford Mustang won the Grand-Am Continental Tire Grand Sport Race in Daytona. Also on that same weekend, Grand-Am held the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It was the 50th running of that event and Ford powered teams finished 1, 2 and 3 at that historic race in the Daytona prototypes.
We were 1-2 qualifying for the Daytona 500. We won one of the qualifying races and we won the Daytona 500.
And it’s important to mention that our Ford colleagues in Europe have won one of the two World Rally Championship events as well.
Q. How would you sum up the 2012 Ford Racing season so far?
A. It’s really been unbelievable. We’ve had a strong start to racing in 2012 and we’re excited to carry that forward. It’s important to note that while we will celebrate the initial success we are experiencing, they don’t hand out the hardware – which is where the prizes are – until the end of the season. So we are celebrating the victories because we have to celebrate success, but our eye is on the grand prize, which is to go out and win the Manufacturer’s Championship and the Driver’s Championship in all of the series that we participate in. That’s our goal. We are focused on that year-end prize, and we are on the right path.
Q. Remind us why racing is so important to Ford Motor Company?
A. We are a car company and we are involved in car racing for the same reason Henry Ford himself got involved in it. It is in the context of what we do as a car company, and it helps showcase our great products and technologies. Racing is also where the fans are and we want to be where the fans are. In NASCAR and NHRA there are a hundred million fans and fans have emotional bonds to what they see on the track. And when the Ford brand wins on the track, it wins in their hearts. And when it wins in their hearts then the old cliché comes true: When we win on Sunday, we sell on Monday.
The other reason we participate in motorsports is because of our technologies, our engines and our products. It’s about going out and showcasing our capability versus our competition in series like Grand Am with Mustang Boss302R and FocusSTR, SCCA with Boss302S and B-Spec Fiesta, and NHRA with our CobraJet. When we win, it shows the great engineering that goes into the development of our products.