Ford chief: NASCAR Next Gen car "a very big step forward"

Jim Utter

A non-manufacturer specific version of the car has been tested on-track twice now with another test scheduled in January at Homestead-Miami Speedway. An updated engine is expected to follow in the 2021 season.

In an exclusive interview this week, spoke with Mark Rushbrook, the global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, on a variety of topics related to the ‘Next Gen’ car, including its importance and relevance to manufacturers, the future of hybrid technology and how manufacturers and their teams work on future development but also prepare to race under the current rules again in 2020.

Q: Last month, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said the goal of the Next Gen car was to ‘put the stock back in stock car.’ What does that mean to you?

We’re very excited about Next Gen – full stop. We want to be able to race a product that is similar to what we sell on the street. That doesn’t mean it’s the exact same parts but the architecture (is similar). So, being able to update the chassis or the suspension architecture, the steering, the tires and wheels, the body dimensions – all of those things in the Next Gen car are taking a very big step forward in those areas to tie the relevance from our race car to our road cars. 

That allows us tell a better story but it also allows us to have real and meaningful technical innovation and tech transfer about those different architectures. We can then take what we know about our street cars and apply it to the track with the same tools to optimize that performance and then we’re going to learn about that hardware performance on the track, how our tools perform and then we take that back and make our road cars better. 

Now, that’s what’s coming with the car in 2021. But we’re even more excited about what’s to come and what’s being projected in terms of the architecture in terms of hybrid technology in our road cars. That is something that is very important for us. The Next Gen car will have the ability to bring hybrid into the sport as well.

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Q: The word ‘hybrid’ brings up a red-flag to some NASCAR fans. Can you explain why that is important to a manufacturer like Ford?

Where our entire world is going, the plan across all manufacturers across the world, is everybody’s cars and trucks will be shifting toward hybrid and electric. It’s not going to happen overnight but it’s going to happen over the next several years. For us, the great thing about hybrid is you still have an internal combustion engine and you have an electric motor. That’s why it’s a hybrid. A lot of people hear ‘hybrid’ and think ‘electric’ but they’re not whole electric, they’re just partial electrics. You still have a fantastic internal combustion engine in your hybrid street car or hybrid race car and you can add some excitement and performance to it with an electric motor providing even more assists as well. 

Knowing that’s where our road cars and trucks are going in the future, the ability to tell our customers about it is important. We know there are people out there that fully embrace hybrids already and there are those who don’t. But it’s an opportunity for the people that already do, to reinforce that story as well as those who don’t embrace hybrids, it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate sound fantastic with the exhaust making the same sounds. The hybrid only adds to the performance and makes some exciting racing. 

Q: We’ve seen our first glimpses of the Next Gen car in recent tests, including a better look during the text at ISM Raceway near Phoenix. While no manufacturer-specific designs have been used on the cars, what have you taken away from the recent tests?

The two tests, at Richmond and Phoenix, have been very successful to prove out the architecture and design work and it’s been a very collaborative approach between NASCAR and the manufacturers to get the design but also in terms of the test plan, the tests, the results and the learning from it. We’re excited about what we’ve seen so far but there is still a lot of work to do, for sure. We believe we’re in the right place, going in the right direction for the sport.

Q: Assuming you have seen at least a mock-up of what Ford’s 2021 Next Gen entry will look like, what do you think reaction will be when fans ultimately get to see the final product?

My answer earlier about the relevance – a lot of that is about the underneath of the car like the chassis and suspension – things fans don’t see. Ultimately they’ll know it’s there but immediately everyone will see what the cars look like. There is a lot attention being paid to the proportions of the car, putting symmetry in the cars. Today’s cars are asymmetrical with off-sets and we don’t sell street cars like that. The whole idea of ‘putting the stock back in stock car’ is about the optics, how the car looks. It’s about the right proportions, the symmetry and more opportunity to put brand identity back in it. I think if everyone is patient, once they see the product and once they see the racing on the track, I think everybody will be happy with it.

Q: Do you feel your Cup teams will be well-positioned to make the transition to the Next Gen car and remain competitive in the current environment?

There’s a lot of work to do because we and our teams are focused on winning races in 2020 – that’s why we’re here, right? – while developing, testing and preparing to win races in 2021. It’s going to be a lot of work for the entire industry. A lot of people are going to have a lot of long days and sleepless nights. But, it’s all for a good cause I think and it’s going to be great for the sport. 

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