Will Auto Manufacturers Run or Ruin NASCAR?

The SuperCharged Ford Eco-Boost engine. At the top of Ford's NASCAR wish list?

The TurboCharged V6 Ford Eco-Boost engine. Could a Super Charged Version be at the top of Ford’s NASCAR wish list?

Dodge taking an unceremonious hike from NASCAR wasn’t anything new, after all they had done it before only to return with strong teams and alliances. The problem is that was a long time ago and the times have changed.

Brad Keselowski, after being asked about more manufacturers coming to NASCAR, was recently quoted as saying: “Gosh, we need all the help we can get there.” Yes Brad you do, unfortunately that kind of help doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the global horizon.

Manufacturers don’t just jump into multi-million, sometimes billion, dollar commitments without a good marketing reason and no one has made the case for any of them to do so.

Dodge left immediately after snagging a Sprint Cup Championship to the surprise of the racing world. They left global road racing last year in exactly the same manner. “Not with a bang, but a whimper”, to quote T.S. Eliot’s masterpiece, The Hollow Men.

Dodge is Fiat Chrysler, no longer an American company, but a multi-national company that sees more relevance in pouring huge, ridiculous amounts of money into Formula One, via Ferrari, in order to ride the Green Energy Train, truly one of the world’s great money pits. Noble cause, but hardly a short term answer in a waffling global economy. Hybrids sit on the sales lots of marquee manufacturers such as BMW in droves.

What sense does it make for Hyundai, VW or BMW to jump into NASCAR when the product they sell has no relation to the product that runs over 30 races per year with huge V8 engines that, save for the truck market and $70,000 and up luxury cars, aren’t used in the modern era? None.

The manufacturers that are in NASCAR now are there for the branding, but they would like to see that change. Branding is an exercise that matters to Mercedes, Ferrari and BMW, but to Ford? Hardly. Ford sells V6 and 4 cylinder engine cars and is moving towards the hybrid market with a vengeance.Brad-Keselowski1

Though no one will go on record, sources tell us that Ford is pressuring NASCAR to move into the V6 era, perhaps supercharged, thus moving away from V8 power. They simply don’t sell them.

According to Motorsports Unplugged Radio’s Bill Marlowe, a 20 year NASCAR engineer of numerous top teams: “They (NASCAR) have reduced the horsepower of the Cup cars for two reasons, the first is safety. The cars are going too fast and NASCAR has to mitigate the possibility that one of these cars could take off into the stands. No one will notice the difference between 210 MPH and 195 MPH. The second is that no one buys the big V8 engine cars from the domestic manufacturers today. They need relevance to the fans who would become buyers of their product.”

It appears as if NASCAR is taking a long view approach to what we may see in 5 or 10 years and that is a smaller power plant. Ford would love to see it’s Eco-Boost power plant utilized in a series that returns it to a “Win on Sunday to Sell on Monday” environment.

But is that change enough to attract other manufacturers? It hasn’t worked in Formula One so far. Only four manufacturers are willing to participate and Honda, the fourth, has yet to turn more than several laps before rolling to a stop.

It appears as if NASCAR’s efforts several years ago to standardize their chassis, the much hated COT, was an effort to manage (minimize) the manufacturers and their wishes to keep an identity recognizable to the fans, was a failure. The manufacturers have come back to the power table despite a marked improvement in the Gen 6 car. The drivetrains simply don’t match up with what they sell.

NASCAR seems to be unintentionally moving towards a Formula One scenario where the manufacturers have too much power. There simply doesn’t seem to be a balance that the two sides can reach without concessions from NASCAR over a period of time. Those concessions would have to be in the power plant department.

Would V6 engines with superchargers sooth both sides and more importantly, would that configuration be acceptable to the fans? Will the fans be accepting of high pitched screaming engines instead of the sound emitted from the V8’s we now here? Our sense is yes.

The current engines turn extraordinary RPM’s for push rod V8’s and emit a high pitched sound as it is, a v6 supercharged engine may be slightly higher pitched in sound, but not unappealing.

We sense that once that has taken place or some equivalent measure, then other non-traditional manufacturers will be looking harder at NASCAR as an American alternative.

Until then, it’s a tenuous relationship.

NASCAR Changing Again: Is it for The Fans or Manufacturers?

NASCAR CEO Brian France.

Is it now NASCAR’s turn to move towards a more eco-friendly type of racing or are the recently announced “Massive” changes coming to the sport economically driven? That’s a hell of a big question and not one easily answered. But let’s speculate, this is, after all, an opinion column.

Once again the manufacturers seem to be pushing an agenda in the United States. Forget about the rest of the motor racing world, that train has left the station. Just take a quick look at Formula One. It’s all manufacturer driven to showcase their technology under the flag of environmentalism and regenerative power.

In NASCAR’s case, it’s a reduction in horsepower and economics, so they’re saying.

According to Brian France, NASCAR’s CEO: “We’re going to make that happen, and that’s part of the overall rules packages that we design that hopefully control costs, hopefully make the racing better,” France said. “The engine is an integral part of that.

We also have to be in step as much as possible with the car manufacturers and where they’re going with technology and different things. It all has to come together, and that’s the next significant part of the rules package. The engine will get a significant change. I’m not going to say (for) ’15, but we are certainly sizing that up. It’s very important for us to get that right.”

The important code code phrase here is ‘be in step as much as possible with the car manufacturers’. The word deep behind the scenes is that Ford would be in favor of going to an Eco-Boost style of engine that could be a V-6 with a supercharger.

If this seems strange it shouldn’t. Not one manufacturer wants to be caught out of the fuel consumption, energy efficient game, even when it comes to motorsports. Is there a day when we might see NASCAR employ an ERS (Energy Recovery System) similar to Formula One and World Endurance cars? It’s not out of the question if that’s what the manufacturers want and it can be done economically. Yes, that’s an oxymoron.

Just when they seem to have the Gen 6 car about right, they float that famous trial balloon to see what the fan base is going to say. Or, more accurately, what the consumers are going to say.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition and Racing Development. 

Granted, it’s expensive to produce the horsepower that the modern Gen 6 car engines produce. Pushing 900 horsepower does seem to be a bit of overkill in these cars, but it certainly separates the cruisers from the real wheelmen.

According to Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition and Racing Development said::

“It’s some about economics, and there are some who think that if you knocked a little bit of horsepower out, it could put you in a position to make the racing better,” said Pemberton. “But there’s a lot of things that go into it.

There’s the mechanical grip and the tire grip and the aerodynamic grip and engine horsepower. Every one thing you change, you have to adjust everything around it to make it right. There’s some sort of balance in there. So, if you do a horsepower change, there’s a better than not chance that you will have to adjust aerodynamics, and that may give you the ability to adjust tires. So it’s a three-legged stool. You just have to work on them all.”

Ford’s EcoBoost engine.

To support the proposed changes the manufacturers chimed in:

“If it truly does potentially help the racing and then help durability on the back end, I think it’s not a bad thing to do,” said Pat Suhy, NASCAR Group Manager for Chevrolet Racing. “It’s probably going to be a fairly extensive change, a bigger change than first imagined. As you talk to the engine builders, it impacts everything from the oil pan to the intake manifold to the exhaust headers.

I’m in favor of change when it can make things better, so I’m hopeful that it can actually make things better.”

Says Ford:

“We are actively involved with NASCAR on strategic competition and business considerations and support NASCAR’s efforts to work with the manufacturers to continually evolve the sport,” said Jamie Allison, Director, Ford Racing.

Change is inevitable and almost always for the better, in the long run. But what to do about the Nationwide Series? Will we see 400 horsepower V8’s or will we go back to the V6 era.

From the manufacturers point of view, if they can get smaller engines in, all the better for Green living and good government.

Don’t be surprised that a regenerative power plant will become the norm in NASCAR in the next decade.

It’s what the manufacturers want.

 

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