"There are a lot of areas where we take advantage of what we learn on the track with information that migrates back to the production side," said Greg Specht, Ford's manager of racing operations for North America. "The race environment allows our engineers to test parts to extremes and gives them a fast turnaround of information."From basic principles of balance and engine drivability to details such as innovations in lightweight carbon-fiber materials, race programs and production programs are dramatically intertwined.
To capitalize on all the possibilities of technology transfer, Ford has structured its engineering departments in a way that allows experience on the race track to move to the production side and back again.
"We have a core of people that stay with the race program for continuity," Specht explained. "Other engineers rotate in for a limited number of years and then return to the production side."General Motors has a similar program.
"The people that work in the racing group also spend time on the production side," said Doug Duchardt, GM group manager for oval track racing. "It is a great way for the engineers to apply all they have learned on both sides."The results have been significant for both manufacturers.
"For GM, we've made a large investment in push-rod engines for the future," Duchardt said. "They are in our Corvettes, Camaros and passenger trucks. NASCAR is a great avenue to test the limits of these engines."Cylinder-head designs also have benefited from race engineering, but both Ford and GM agree, it is the experience gleaned by its engineers that makes the difference. Both have examples to back it up.
For GM, Ron Sperry came out of the racing program and went on to help design cylinder heads for the '92 and '97 Corvette V8 engine, as well as for all Ford passenger trucks since 1996.
Ford's NASCAR Winston Cup Program Manager, Jay Novak, is a vehicle dynamics engineer who was on the cutting edge of chassis and body design. It was Novak that invented a tool to accurately measure a vehicle's center of gravity -- a system now used by all manufacturers.
"It's definitely a two-way street," Specht said. "Experiences from both sides are important to the other."
"Once we get a set of rules from NASCAR, we use whatever tools and technology we have to make the best race car we can under those rules," Duchardt explained. "As those tools and technologies evolve, we will apply them as we see fit."The improvements are coming across the board, from simple changes in the process to complex developments in computer capabilities and data acquisition.
"Our racing engine has 50 more horsepower than it did when I started doing this," Duchardt said. "That has come from people getting smarter and trying new things. Sometimes you look under a rock and find something and sometimes you don't."
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