UPS Game Changers: Ford Technical Support Center
May 21, 2014, Mike Hembree, Special for, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- As part of its new Ford Technical Support Center, Ford Racing boasts a state-of-the-art racing simulator, a complex machine that allows drivers and engineers to turn laps on NASCAR tracks in virtual reality. And with banks of monitors and computers watching and recording their every move.
The simulator is the centerpiece of the new 33,000-square-foot center, located a stone's throw from the NASCAR Research and Development Center and in the same neighborhood as Roush Fenway Racing and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The center will serve both the Ford Racing community (drivers, crew chiefs, engineers) and engineers working in product development for Ford street vehicles.
The Ford investment in the new center is substantial, particularly for the huge simulator, but Ford Racing director Jamie Allison said it's part of the process to develop better race cars -- and better passenger vehicles.
"This is a sport," Allison said. "In any sport, you have to win. Our pursuit of winning and championships is primal. Are we spending cubic dollars to focus on winning? At the highest level of the company, there is a direct correlation between the tools on the track and supporting the higher objectives of the company -- building great cars that people love.
"When those two things come together, that's the epitome of it. Are we investing in both the advancement of our tools to benefit our company and to go faster? You better believe it."
The simulator takes the racing simulators fans might have experienced at an arcade to the highest level. The driver sits in a mockup of a car on a moving platform. The platform moves from side to side and from front to rear and reacts to bumps on each track surface.
A huge wrap-around video screen gives the driver the feel of being on the race track.
Ford teams can use the simulator to test setups for individual tracks, and drivers can use it to familiarize themselves with track grooves and corner turn locations. It should be particularly helpful for new drivers who have had little or no time on certain tracks.
There is room both behind and above the simulator for engineers and crew chiefs to watch the driver, and a bank of monitors will record the smallest details of each lap.
Allison pursued the installation of the simulator after seeing similar models during tours of several Formula One shops in Europe. The F1 facilities are linked to tracks on the circuit so that changes can be recommended immediately. NASCAR strictly forbids the use of live telemetry of that sort, but the simulator nevertheless will be both a useful tool to enhance racing performance and tweak street-vehicle design.
"We want to bridge the gap between Ford Racing engineering and our mainstream product development program because there are a lot of good tools and people in one place that aren't being used in the other," said Mark Rushbrook, Ford Racing motorsports engineering manager.
"We want to be able to take a younger mainstream production engineer and bring him over to Ford Racing for a two-to-three-year assignment where he can bring his skills and talent to help Ford Racing."
The simulator is still in development mode. Allison said it should be fully on-line in 2015. "This is going to be a bridge between production and motorsports," he said.
The center also will serve Ford teams in other racing series, although the initial effort will be heavily NASCAR. Ford also competes in the TUDOR United SportsCar series, IMSA, Rally and Global RallyCross and NHRA, among other series.
The Ford facility also includes a kinematics machine to test and measure suspension elements, a chassis torsional twist rig that measures the torsional stiffness of the car, a vehicle center-of-gravity machine to make measurements on finished cars and a coordinate measurement machine to determine how closely cars fit NASCAR regulations and measurements.
Leading teams have some of these machines in-house at their shops, but the Ford center will provide a one-stop shop for all devices -- plus the unique simulator.
"Motorsports and product development at Ford are interlinked, and this new center will house advanced tools that will serve both our race teams and the development of future Ford performance vehicles," said Raj Nair, group vice president of Ford global product development.
Courtesy: Ford Racing
Courtesy: Ford Racing
Courtesy: Ford Racing