Manufacturers give Gen-6 debut high marks
November 25, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Editor's note: This story is the first of a weekly series about the Gen-6 debut.
Officials with the three automakers entrenched in NASCAR say their companies have been pleased with the move to the Generation-6 car, and none expect major changes to their entries as development of a 2014 rules package continues during the offseason.
The return of manufacturer identity was one of the key elements of the Gen-6 car, which debuted in 2013, with Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota groups given more leeway in addressing the appearance of their respective vehicles.
General Motors teams introduced the new Chevrolet SS for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition in 2013 and will continue to field the model next season. Ford teams will once again field the Fusion while Toyota teams continue to compete with the Camry model.
"The biggest thing … that we were able to accomplish was that it really stays true to the look of the production car," Pat Suhy, NASCAR group manager for General Motors, said of the new look for the cars on the track. "Now the focus has shifted from being about the common elements of the car -- how do they fit my design -- … to 'OK, we're testing new packages for 2014; here's what we think we need to look at.'
"It's evolved from creating a car to evolving a car."
Part of that evolution involves working with NASCAR to develop a rules package that will provide close, competitive racing. The 2013 package might have been a step in the right direction, but it was just a step.
"I think … we've fixed some problems that were inherent in the Gen-5 car, but at the same time some new problems have cropped up," said Andy Graves, vice president of chassis engineering for Toyota Racing Development and Toyota NASCAR program manager. "All the manufacturers and teams are working with NASCAR to try and solve those problems and make it better racing yet. We think there is still some work to do. It's not a major overhaul, just fine-tuning."
Graves said the response to the look of the Gen-6 car has been "overwhelming."
"We were able to put a ton of character in the cars and get the looks of the vehicles that, if all the cars were painted in gray primer, you could easily spot what cars are the Camrys," he said. "And at the end of the day, that's the goal. We're really happy right now in that balance of performance versus character.
"When you look back at photos of all the cars in 2012 versus what we have today, it's unbelievable the amount of character that we're able to put in cars and still keep a level playing field amongst the three manufacturers."
From a competitive standpoint, 17 drivers won one or more races this past season. Chevrolet teams won 16 of 36, the Toyota camp won 14 times while Ford teams registered six victories.
Track qualifying records took a beating, with 19 of 32 qualifying sessions (four qualifying sessions were canceled due to weather) resulting in new records.
"Performance wise … we're not that far off," said Pat DiMarco, Ford Racing NASCAR program manager. "We're not the top of the heap right now, but I don't think we're that far off. With all the due diligence that we as OEMs did with NASCAR … I think there is enough in the engine and in the aero and the underbody and the setups and tires … that any little gain in any one of those areas will put you at the top at this point.
"I think (the Gen-6 car) did what it needed to do as far as the look; I think we have a good process in place with NASCAR."
DiMarco said he expects the 2014 season to be "a game-changer" with the rules package undergoing alterations in an effort to improve competition on the series' 1.5-mile venues.
"It's not … going to be a body change that will be different … everybody won't be focusing on that one thing," he said. "There were a lot of things that did change from 2012 to this year with different camber rules, changes in weight, things like that. What really is the difference between the teams as well as the manufacturers out there? I think all in all we could be better every weekend. And I think every other team out there that doesn't win would say the same thing."