Charlotte test focuses on aerodynamic packages
October 14, 2013, Kenny Bruce and David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
Officials focused on 'continuous improvement' of current product
CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR officials and six teams (two from each of the three manufacturers) broke out their tool boxes Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to test various aerodynamic packages that may be put into play for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Gene Stefanyshyn, vice president of innovation and racing development for NASCAR, described the effort as "an exercise in continuous improvement."
"I don't want people to think this is some super special … event," he said during a break in on-track testing. "It will be part of our standardized work" as the sanctioning body attempts to hone in on a rules package aimed at improving the product on the track.
The focus of Monday's test was "seven specific changes we are trying that have been bundled into three specific configurations … all with an eye to try and work on the aerodynamics of the car," he said.
The six drivers that participated were: Jeff Burton (Richard Childress Racing/Chevrolet), Jamie McMurray (Earnhardt Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet), Brad Keselowski (Penske Racing/Ford), Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers Racing/Ford), Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing/Toyota) and Brett Moffitt (Michael Waltrip Racing/Toyota).
Moffitt, a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East regular and MWR test driver, replaced Brian Vickers, who was supposed to take part in the test. Earlier on Monday, it was announced that Vickers would miss the rest of the 2013 season with a blood clot in his right leg.
Although many of the configurations have been tested off the track through the use of simulations and wind-tunnel testing, putting six cars together on the track provides a more realistic picture.
In the Charlotte garage area, teams were experimenting with several variables including a static ride height, vents in the rear fascia, a strip across the roof, a larger rear spoiler, and a stepped-down front splitter. Burton had high hopes for the elimination of the ride-height minimum.
"It makes a lot of sense when you think about it, being able to hold the ride height more safe and more secure," the Richard Childress Racing driver said. "I don’t think it's night and day on the track. I don’t think it's going to be some crazy difference in how you drive behind other cars. But a little bit here and a little bit there adds up. I think it has potential to be better."
Travis Geisler agreed. The competition director for Penske Racing said the trailing car is at a deficit in terms of drag -- leading drivers to often hit a metaphorical wall when they try to pass on the straightway. Some of the packages being tried Monday seemed capable of alleviating that to a degree.
"What they’ve come up with, they feel, is in the neighborhood of a major impact from a drag perspective on the rear car," Geisler said. "You're not going to have an advantage, but you're at least not going to have the disadvantage that you’ve had. Hopefully that will take care of it. I know all of us want to see more passing for the lead. That’s what everybody comes to watch, and we're all here to do everything we can to make that a reality for us."
Geisler added that with the cars more equal than ever, the difference between one and another can often come down to position in the air. "To overcome that, you're going to have to defy physics a little bit," he said. "… I think that’s what they're trying to do with some of the packages here, trick the system and make it think the trail car has a fighting chance, I guess, of overcoming that disadvantage of the air position."
Toward that end, teams were also experimenting with vents in the rear fascia -- or in layman's terms, the back bumper -- that may allow more air to pass cleanly beneath a car, making for a less-disturbed path for the vehicle behind it. "The vents out of the back are sort of a no-brainer," Burton said. Geisler called the change a step in the right direction.
"I think it will allow for air to flow through better," he added as Keselowski and his crew chief Paul Wolfe looked over data from the No. 2 car. "Anything we can do to allow more underbody air flow to the car behind is probably going to help us, so I think that one's got a good shot at being an advantage."
Geisler said most of the potential changes being tried Monday would require only minor alterations on 2014 vehicles that teams are already building. That's a stark comparison to last year's first tests of the Generation-6 car, which teams undertook while body panels were still being stamped and rules packages were still being determined.
"I don’t think any of the stuff they're discussing from a body standpoint is a major impact," he said. "A bolt-on strip, you cut some holes in the fascia, you've got a different splitter. Now, what we do with our aero map and how Paul and Brad and all the guys figure out how to race with it -- yeah, it's a pretty big change for that. But that's what those guys do. That's what their job is. From a manufacturing standpoint, we're so far ahead sitting here now than we were last year at this point, I feel pretty safe."
Stefanyshyn said the packages tested were determined from a mix of ideas developed by NASCAR, the manufacturers (Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota) as well as various teams.
"We took everybody's ideas, put them together and came up with these configurations for the test," he said. "They are our ideas as an industry and how we can improve the product on the track.
"It's a complex problem. We do a lot of work in math-based analytical tools such as CFD, computational fluid dynamics; we can put one car, two cars in there so we do the theoretical piece. We also go in the wind tunnel.
"Because there are no wind tunnels in the world where you can put six cars in … we really need to put real-world testing into our partner solutions steps, so that's basically what we're doing here today."
While some form of the ideas have been discussed and even made it on the track for initial testing late last year, most were put on hold before the 2013 season as teams began preparations for the rollout of the new Generation-6 car.
The emphasis at the end of 2012 was on the '13 model and making sure teams were adequately prepared for the change. Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, said now that the transition to the new piece had been completed, the focus could turn to improving the current product.
"It was a big undertaking on our part, the manufacturers, the teams," Pemberton said. "As everyone knows, we did an unbelievable amount of miles last year testing many different configurations. And our goal was to hand the car off to the teams better than the one that they ended the 2012 season with. We feel like we achieved that goal; we feel like the cars performed well, the drivers like the way the car drives. From that standpoint, it was a successful year.
"One of the things we said … was that we will always continue to evaluate our competition … and this is one of those programs that's coming together."
Although rain delayed the start of the test, drivers were on the track making single-car runs by noon ET. Pack racing was expected to wrap up the session later in the day.
While the concern was on the 1.5-mile package, some of what was gleaned from Monday's effort could impact competition on larger or smaller tracks. While the bulk of the Sprint Cup Series' races are held on 1.5-mile tracks, teams also race on tracks as large as Talladega Superspeedway (2.66 miles) and as small as Martinsville Speedway (0.526 miles).
"Our focus is intermediate tracks. However, some of these learnings, if they make sense, we could apply to other tracks," Stefanyshyn said. "But I would say that is our focus. It's 50 percent of our products so we're looking at that first. Then … when we step back … does it make sense for any … road course, superspeedway, that type of thing?
"We have to look at the metrics at each of those venues and what they are telling us."