Ford Performance NASCAR: Mark Rushbrook OEM Transcript

Ford Notes and Quotes
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Ford 400 (Homestead-Miami Speedway; Homestead, FL)
NASCAR Cup Series Owners Press Conference
Friday, November 16, 2018

Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports was part of an OEM press conference this morning at Ford Championship Weekend in which he discussed this season’s success and the possibility of winning two titles in tomorrow’s Ford EcoBoost 400.

MARK RUSHBROOK, Global Director, Ford Performance Motorsports

Mark, 18 wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Ford, two playoff drivers, and current leader in the manufacturer championship standings in the Cup Series. I believe it’s if the top finishing four finishes 15th or better, you guys lock it up. Clearly an outstanding chance to win that. Maybe talk about your 2018 season.

MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, it’s been a great season for us. Really happy to see the performance on track. I think there was a lot of talk this time last year or before the 2018 season started that we were entering the season with the oldest body, with Toyota having a new body last year and Chevy having a new body this year. Our focus has been to give a lot more technical depth and support to our teams, and with such strong competition against Toyota and Chevy, that’s been a long process for us. It’s really been three years or more in the making to improve our game in every area that’s important for the performance on track, with the engine program, the aerodynamics, the body program, simulation, tire modeling, everything, drive line. You’ve got to have strength in every area to perform on track. It’s been a long process for sure.

And even having the oldest body by design, we still were focused on using our advance aerodynamics tools to improve the performance. And I think that is starting to ‑‑ that has paid off for this year. With the 18 wins across different teams, different drivers, and showing up here with two Ford drivers in the Championship 4, it certainly means a lot, and definitely the position that we have in the manufacturer’s championship, although it’s not locked up, is looking pretty good right now, knock on wood.

That means a lot to us and to our company and to our executives and to our employees. Hopefully we can get the manufacturer’s championship, and look forward to a good battle on track tomorrow for the driver’s championship. It’s been a good, competitive season. Definitely enjoyed competing against the other manufacturers on track and what we were able to do with our teams.

Q. Mark, you hit on it in your opening there about this time last year, there was the consensus, I think the word was “drubbing” that Ford was going to get with the body. How do you explain what has been the difference this year? I know some drivers have said, well, the inspection process was tightened up and that’s kind of evened the playing field, but how do you explain how you go from some people having no confidence at all coming into this year to the domination that we’ve seen from many of the Ford teams?

MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, you’re right, “drubbing” was the right word that I think was used. And it is a focus that we had. So I’m certain that the inspection process is ‑‑ that changes part of it because any time you go through a big change like that, it does affect how the teams prepare the cars and bring the cars to the track.

But I think the biggest part is the advanced tools that we’ve developed over the last couple years have really matured to the point that they were able to help us, especially in the area of CFD, where we use that advanced computational fluid dynamics tool, the same tool that we use on our road cars and road trucks to make them better. We have turned that and applied it into racing starting two years ago, and it took a little bit of time to adjust those tools, test those tools in this environment to make them even better, and now that is paying off on the performance on the track with the Fusion with what we’ve seen, hopefully contributing to the Mustang to come strong out of the box at Daytona next year. I know it’s a new car and it’s going to take some time to fully mature it, and there’s some risk with that, but we did apply the tools to the Fusion this year, and I think that’s part of what is paying off with the performance.

Q. The difference in the truck engines, that’s been a controversy or comments for the past couple, three weeks now, ongoing before that. Can you elaborate on what that is and what your guys’ philosophy is? Have you guys had any issues with that?

MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, so we’ve always had the position that what makes it a Ford on track, the most important parts are the body and the engine. And originally we were not in support of the alternate engine being made available in truck, but after going through the different financial business cases with our teams and with NASCAR, we understood that it makes sense.

That’s not the story necessarily that we want whenever we hear a truck race is OEM engine of ‑‑ we do want to hear about Toyota versus Ford versus Chevy, but when an alternate engine comes into the discussion as much as it has, that isn’t necessarily what we want. But we understand the benefit to the sport of having a lower cost option. I think longer term it may make sense to either go back to OEM engines or across the board, but at this point we’re learning, NASCAR is learning, and we’ll make together the right decision for the sport, I think.

Q. I have two for Mark. Yesterday Walt and Tony were talking about when they brought SHR into the fold and how that didn’t just bolster SHR but all the Ford organizations, including Penske. Would you agree with that? And are you worried about a learning curve with the Mustang next year similar to the Camaro this year?

MARK RUSHBROOK: On the first question, I will say that I agree with that. The way we approach a lot of what we do inside Ford, we’re still a family‑owned company, and to work there at Ford Motor Company, it’s like working for the Ford family. That means a lot for us as employees of the company, and that’s the same way that we approach our partnerships with our teams on the track. We work together directly with Ford on each team, but then there are also certain areas where we will have our teams work together and share and collaborate.

They need to race against each other. Ultimately they can’t share everything, but there are some efficiencies from that. For sure there’s strength, more strength across all the Ford teams because of having Stewart‑Haas there with Penske, with Wood Brothers and Roush Fenway and Front Row. We all work together to deliver that.

As far as your second question, we’ve definitely seen what’s going on with the Chevrolet this year, and as Jim said, bringing anything new to the track is always a difficult challenge, whether it’s a new body or a new block for the engine or cylinder head or even a chassis component. So there’s no guarantees. We realize that it’s going to be a learning curve, and again, using our advanced CFD tools, hopefully we’ve gone through and got the best body that we can through the homologation process, the approval process, and since gaining that approval, we’ve been focused and it’s been the difficult challenge, right, to keep our tools and our people focused on delivering wins and a championship this year with the Fusion to send it out the right way, but also hopefully enough focus being paid to the new Mustang so that we can hit the track fast when we get on in Daytona in February.

Q. Mark, no manufacturer’s title since ’02, but you’re in great position to claim that tonight, and the last driver’s title was ’04. Is that kind of a drought as a manufacturer for you guys? Is that frustrating, or when you look at the gains you’ve made and the position you put yourself in now, is it one of those where if you can cap it off tonight, it makes it more worth it for what you’ve had to fight through to get back to this point?

MARK RUSHBROOK: I think for sure it’s a drought. Everybody will see that from the time ‑‑ Mr. Ford sitting to your left will tell you that, as well, as well as everybody at Ford Motor Company. It’s a huge pride point for us as an automotive company, as with Chevy and Toyota, but especially with our roots and Mr. Ford’s family’s roots in terms of what racing did to create the company and part of who we are today.

For sure it’s a drought, and it’s been a very motivational point that we definitely want to get that manufacturer’s championship. Since ’02, that’s a long time, and a driver’s championship since ’04. That’s what motivates us every day and our teams and why we’re here today.

Q. I know this is a really basic question, but I really am looking for the answer. What does winning a championship mean to a manufacturer, and what does not competing in the championship mean for the manufacturers, for selling cars, for the attention you get, for what it means for all of you?

MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, just a lot of what Jim talked about is very similar to Ford, and obviously in NASCAR at the Cup level, we’ve had the experience in the last 14 years of not knowing what it’s like to have a Cup driver’s championship, in 16 years to not have a Cup manufacturer’s championship. But it is very motivational. I’ve been in motorsports now, this is my fifth year with the motorsports team, so I’ve gone through coming here before with drivers in contention or not, as we had two years ago or three years ago. But it is how you respond, so it’s just when we didn’t win it, we just went back and dug deeper and sharpened our tools and approached with our teams to come back so that this year hopefully we’re in the position and with two drivers certainly not guaranteed but going to look forward to the race tomorrow.

But in other series, as well, so we were able to last month secure the manufacturer’s championship in the IMSA GTLM, which means a lot to us as a company, as Jim says, to connect with our customers, our fans, with our employees. It means a lot to them to come in on Monday morning and to see that we’ve won a race or won a championship.

And on a global basis, as well, so the WRC, World Rally Championship, is going on in Australia, and we’ve got a driver, Seb Ogier, in contention for a championship against Toyota, actually. I think Tänak is leading the event with one day to go, but Seb Ogier is in position to hopefully secure the championship. It means a lot on a global basis, as well, to compete in these different series and show what we can do with our technical tools and point of employee pride.

Q. For all you guys, as the automotive industry is changing, we talk about SUVs selling and stuff, one of the things that I’m curious about is the proliferation of hybrids in the market. They’re coming, and that will be a time when most of the vehicles we drive with hybrids. Do you ever envision a time in NASCAR when we’re going to use like, à la Formula 1, where we’re going to have hybrid‑style race engines?

MARK RUSHBROOK: I’ll say yes. But the question is when, right, because our ‑‑ all of us, our road car cycle plans are all changing, both in the body shapes, the styles, and definitely the power trains, and the relevance always has to be there, whatever series that we’re competing in.

So those are always active discussions when we have OEM council meetings as partners, so we compete on the track, but we have to work together as partners off the track with NASCAR and our track partners. And that is something that we always talk about is when is the right time to change the car and to change the power train, and there are ‑‑ there’s definitely some potential for hybrid in the sport, not necessarily at a track like Daytona 500 where you’re wide open throttle for the entire time. The hybrid just doesn’t work. It doesn’t make any sense for that. But certainly for short tracks and road courses, there may be some potential there in the future. The question is when.

Q. For each of you and since you brought this up and the OEM council, we’ve talked here about other OEMs wanting to come into the sport, things of that nature. I don’t expect you to tell me who or what, but are you all still open to that, and are there still active discussions with other OEMs wanting to be in NASCAR?

MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, I can just mirror that exactly the same, that the more OEMs the better for us because that’s what we want. We want to compete against the best in the world and demonstrate our performance on the track.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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