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Unified effort bridges gap between showroom, track

December 14, 2012, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Unified effort bridges gap between showroom, track
Collective collaboration may become norm for NASCAR

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars -- known as the Generation-6 car and consisting of the Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry -- will have a vastly different look when they appear on the race track this year. But the effort that got each of them there was surprisingly unified.

It’s that effort, some believe, that will change how quickly NASCAR is able to adapt to innovation and advances in technology for years to come.

“It’s a paradigm change in the way competitors deal with an organizing body,” said Lee White, president of Toyota Racing Development. “I’ve do­­­ne this 40-plus years, and I've never seen this before. It’s truly remarkable.”

On the surface, the idea behind the Generation-6 program was simple: bring together each of the manufacturers, provide the group with a set of baseline aerodynamic parameters and then give them free rein to re-establish brand identity.

How that would be achieved, however, was radical.

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Never before had the groups willingly shared information and documentation related to their respective products on the track. Secrecy was the norm. Yet for this project, officials with each of the OEMs spent nearly a year meeting behind closed doors at the track each week in an effort to come up with a common “greenhouse” that will help maintain a level playing field while still satisfying the individual needs of each automaker.

Because no manufacturer wanted to stray too far from what it rolled off the production line, the design of the area -- which consists of everything above the base of the windshield and rear glass, extending back across the rear deck lid to the base of the spoiler -- had to be tailored to be acceptable across three very different models.

Before this latest new push, the automakers “had never sat down together,” said Pat DiMarco, Ford Racing NASCAR program manager, noting there were initial concerns about the sharing of what had for years been closely guarded information. “Now, it’s a great relationship and I think it’s a model we’re going to use going forward for any other projects that come up within NASCAR.

“At the beginning of the project, the first thing that we decided we needed to do was to work on the greenhouse, to make sure (it) worked for everybody’s design and their (passenger) car. So we met weekly for months … overlaying drawings and taking them back to our designers … bringing back overlays of what we proposed as the common greenhouse.

“It was one step at a time. Then, from there we moved to the tail and the nose and the sides. There were a lot of CAD (computer aided design) drawings, a lot of interaction with our designers and aerodynamicists. A big feedback loop for every part of the car.”

To allow the groups to bolster brand identity, NASCAR opened up a sizable portion of the car below the greenhouse, and the various design teams went to work. As a result, body-specific indentations and style points previously only seen on passenger cars can now be found on race cars. No longer are a race car’s sides flat, or the front and rear portions differentiated only by the placement of manufacturer-specific decals.

The showroom, it seems, has taken a huge leap forward toward the track.

“We have bio fuels, fuel injection and now we have a car that is closely tied to its production counterpart,” said Mark Kent, director of Chevrolet Racing. “The new car is an example of how the manufacturers working hand-in-hand with NASCAR resulted in a product that we are very proud of.”

There were hurdles to cross as the process moved forward, but NASCAR President Mike Helton said officials were confident the groups could find a common ground.

“It wasn’t absolutely a slam-dunk from day one,” Helton said, “but I think the timing was right for that effort, for all the manufacturers and NASCAR to get together and look at it a little bit differently. I think we all realized we needed to do that. And I think that’s what drove the mission -- the understanding (of), that’s where we needed to get to. And we were only going to get there if we all agreed on doing it.”

While manufacturers and teams will continue to support their own research and development behind the scenes, the combined effort on the 2013 models will make it easier for NASCAR to work with the auto makers as a whole when implementing new ideas.

“Look at how easy it was for manufacturers and builders to implement (electronic fuel injection); I think that spirit of cooperation followed not only this … new car program but also EFI, and potentially into the future,” White said.

“I think this changed the way we all look at competition, and as new projects come forward … I’m looking forward to this cooperation continuing and being good for all of us, and being good for the fans, and being good for business.”

It could also ease the transition for auto manufacturers looking to integrate a model change as well as provide a more attractive blueprint for those outside the sport looking to perhaps test the competitive waters.

“I think now, because of this process, we’re better positioned than we’ve ever been to entertain other manufacturers,” NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said. “Even though they’ve wanted to come in (in the past), the timing wasn’t right for them. I think now we’re better prepared just by the process that we have now for bringing a new car on line, having the ability to bring something new and have it be competitive right out of the box.

“I think a few years ago we could have been at risk of a new vehicle comes in, and all of a sudden they can’t make a go of it because they can’t make the right parts or pieces or can’t get it to line up with what they have.

“Now … we’re better suited to make sure that somebody isn’t handicapped by their own styling cues."