A TWO WAY STREET
Ford is proving the technology transfer between its race cars and passenger vehicles is a two-way street.
At first glance it seems unlikely, but Ford’s new seven-passenger crossover, the Flex, is an example.
Louis Jamail, Flex vehicle dynamics engineer, developed NASCAR chassis for Ricky Rudd. “One of the things I’ve transferred from racing is trying to put a driving dynamic into the Flex that’s exciting and fun so it’s not just another crossover... I wanted it to not drive as big as it looks,” Jamail said recently.
The old Detroit mantra of “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is a classic PR slogan. But THIS has always fascinated me: What was learned on Sunday to make cars on display in dealer’s showrooms better on some future Monday?
“A lot of what you learn in racing and can transfer to production cars is not the pieces and parts aspect,” explained Jamail, who occasionally tests the NASCAR Fusion at Ford’s Michigan and Arizona proving grounds. “It’s the engineering fundamentals and process that we do in racing.
“Racing is a fast-paced world. You’re trying to get the car to be the best it possibly can for the driver and as fast as possible. In production, it’s getting more and more cut-throat now. We’re trying to get cars to market as quickly as possible and stand out from the crowd.
“One of the starting points in a race car is setup, from a chassis tuning perspective. Springs, shocks, things like that. It’s the same in a production car. You don’t tune it exactly the same, but the process of going through it is. We use a lot of computer modeling to speed that up. In racing you’re trying to maximize the vehicle’s potential at an individual track. For the real world, I’m looking at the safety aspects the customer needs, and the intuitive driving character and connected feel that we want to deliver in the vehicle.
“We use a lot of Computer Aided Engineering. We’re creating a virtual car. We can input spring rates, all the various tuning parts into the vehicle, and I’m able to look at the output or result of that on the computer. I can look and see if my front or rear roll-stiffness bias, which is how much understeer or oversteer the vehicle has, I can look at that on the screen and weed-out setups that would not be safe for the customer or just would not give us a good shot at being balanced.
“It’s kind of like a bilateral path going back and forth. A lot of what we do, process wise, we try to learn stuff in racing to use in production, and vice versa. The computer part of it is one big one we use in both.
“Aerodynamics is another. We try to minimize drag at some tracks. We use aerodynamics a lot now in production to get better fuel economy. That’s a big thing on the mind of the customer right now. Also, from a wind noise perspective, to make the vehicle as quiet as possible. We spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel with the Flex, trying to reduce the wind noise. We can show photos of the Flex in the wind tunnel to the customer, with the smoke around the front end, and say: ‘This is what we’re doing to make your vehicle quieter.’”
In NHRA, Ford stepped forward to help after last year’s Eric Medlen and John Force accidents. Patrick DiMarco, Ford Racing Technology’s vehicle dynamics/electronics supervisor, has worked with Force’s Mustang crew on design improvements. The information is shared with all teams.
“The (Funny Car) chassis were designed 25 years ago when they had as much power as they have about a third of the way down the track now,” DiMarco admitted when I interviewed him six weeks after Force’s crash. “We need to bring the chassis up to standard where they can handle an estimated 8,000 horsepower. To do that, we need to stiffen-up the chassis around the driver, but provide flexibility for the driveability of the car. If you had it with the stiffness of a solid piece of steel, and you took off from the line, the car would just turn over. You need the flexibility for the performance as well as some of the safety stuff.”
Ford provides nitro-class teams, at no cost, with an NHRA-mandated data-gathering device. The Blue Box was on Scott Kalitta’s car. It worked. The data was downloaded. NHRA has that information to assist in its accident investigation.
“What we’ve done is applied what we learned and developed in Champ Car in the late 1990s and the core of it is the data-gathering techniques of the crash boxes we have on-board,” said DiMarco, who is based at Ford’s Dearborn, Mich., safety office... “It measures accelerations on the chassis and inside the ears of the drivers. That’s what we need in order to do our job. We need data.
“We’re looking at G-loads in which acceleration, five Gs makes you feel five times more than what you weigh. As well as the frequency of the loads. If you’re going over a hill like a roller-coaster, that’s a low frequency event. If you hit a bunch of pot holes right next to each other, that’s high frequency. We’re trying to line up what all those frequencies are between the chassis, the driver and the driver’s head.
“The ‘shake’ instances they have (is) because it is such a violent sport. The driver, touching anything around them, does cause temporary blindness or blurred vision. The data recorders are helping us (understand) that.”
As Kalitta’s accident sadly reminds us, safety is – and always will be – a work in progress.