For Ford Performance engineers, the Sports Car Showcase at Belle Isle is an opportunity to be hometown heroes as the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley DP looks to break into victory lane at one of its most important events.
The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship heads to Ford’s home turf this weekend, with Detroit’s Belle Isle not only playing host to some of the most technically advanced sports cars on the planet, but also serving as a crucial proving ground for the industry’s leading engineers.
For the folks at Ford Performance, it’s also an opportunity for some of the engineers behind Ford’s bid for a championship title to be hometown heroes as the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley DP looks to break into victory lane at one of its most important events.
When Ford decided to take EcoBoost into endurance racing, it brought together a crew of its own knowledgeable engineers, some of whom are racers themselves, from both the production and racing sides to help it succeed. Many are young talent hoping for the big break they’re getting now.
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According to Mike Nienhuis, 28, a Ford Performance test engineer and SCCA racer, seeing the advancements made with the twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine has been a personal highlight of his career.
“The best part of being in Ford Performance’s racing program is having a direct hand in what I see on the track,” said Nienhuis, who has been involved in the durability testing since Ford’s factory efforts in sports car began last year. “Seeing the No. 02 Ganassi car pass the finish line leading at the 24-hour mark at (the Rolex 24 at) Daytona this year was one of the proudest moments of my short career. I know I had a direct hand in making sure that engine was proven before it ever left for Daytona.”
Nienhuis, who joined the motorsports program last year in time to see its breakthrough first victory with the EcoBoost engine at Sebring, shares the same passion for excellence as race engine engineer Victor Martinez, 30, who got his start with Ford in the global engine engineering department.
“I felt that this opportunity would enable me to immediately apply and build upon the tools and knowledge that I had been acquiring while performing turbo development on our consumer EcoBoost engines,” Martinez said. “I have a lifelong passion for working on high-performance applications and have always tried to take on projects and assignments that would teach me the necessary skills to fulfill my dream. I would have never guessed that such a fantastic opportunity would become available to me within five years of starting my career.”
John Kipf, 27, a vehicle dynamics simulation engineer, gives real-time recommendations on car setup from the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost prototype pit box.
John Kipf, a vehicle dynamics simulation engineer, took a slightly different career path than Nienhuis and Martinez to get where he is today.
The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor graduate went to college to compete in track and field, where he served as captain for the school’s 2008 Big Ten championship, prior to getting his degree in aerospace engineering.
“Ford Performance is a natural fit for me, I think, and it has been great to work with such a high-performing team steeped in the tradition of motorsports stemming back to Henry (Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company) himself,” Kipf said.
“It’s awesome to be able to work side by side with some of the best powertrain, calibration and aerodynamics engineers every day. It’s a great opportunity to learn, and it’s especially fun when we all get to celebrate in victory lane together like we did at the Rolex 24.”
Though they come from different backgrounds, the three engineers share the same passion for success you’ll find across the board at Ford, which is needed both to win the battles on the track and to build the production cars of tomorrow.