Ford continues to work on ’13 entry

Ford Motor Company isn’t afraid to embrace change.

And neither is Ford Racing.

On Monday, Ford released images of its restyled grille, which will grace the front of the 2013 Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The 2013 Fusion will be on display at Michigan International Speedway this weekend.

After NASCAR introduced new cars to the Nationwide Series in 2010, it was quickly revealed that those vehicles would pave the way for a design that is more fan, consumer and manufacturer-friendly design. Basically, a truer “stock” car would race on the track.

Ford was the first among NASCAR manufacturers to unveil next year’s model at Charlotte Motor Speedway in January. Since then, designers and engineers have worked with the sanctioning body in an effort to create additional brand identity with more distinct character lines and details such as an actual grille as opposed to simply decals slapped on the body.

Why the change now? First impressions are everything. When the cars roll out for 2013 Speedweeks, the sport as a whole wants to ensure the sleekest, sexiest bodies to date — within the aerodynamic bounds of NASCAR.

“Since January, when we introduced the car, us as OEM’s (manufacturers) were in the final stages of defining what the parameters around what the car might be,” said Pat DiMarco, Ford Racing Operations NASCAR program manager. “At that point, there were no targets, per se. With everything NASCAR has done in the past, they’ve set an aerodynamic target to keep the competition at the level it is today. They don’t want one car to have a lot of drag and one car to have a lot of downforce because the competition wouldn’t be there. So, the competition at Homestead was probably the best it’s ever been.

“So that’s what our target is. It’s not parity. It’s not communalization. It’s competition. So how do we keep the competition where we had it so we don’t go back to where we introduce a car and the drivers don’t like to drive it, they can’t pass, the fans don’t like it. You have to keep the competition where it is and make it so we reach our goals of brand identification.”

After extensive track and wind-tunnel testing, the sanctioning body distributed the target numbers for the new cars and manufacturers are currently in the process of preparing their 2013 models for final submission sometime in mid-July. Track testing with those cars is likely in September. However, no hard date has been set.

Until then, the sanctioning body and manufacturers will continue to tweak the cars. A bulletin NASCAR sent out the second week in May with changes to the side skirts, shark fins and wheel wells was evidence of that.

“We’re still working with NASCAR to define a plan,” DiMarco said. “We don’t even have sheet metal yet for the teams to put together. What you see for all the reveal cars are one-off prototypes. But we’re close. The latest (photos) are very close to what the production Fusion will look like.”

“We all hope that the new car will be as good or better (than) the current car (aerodynamically). We expect that it will be but we don’t know what the final package is. We know what we’re working with today, but that can change. There’s enough adjustment in the car itself with the splitter, the spoiler and the sideskirts that NASCAR can take liberties to define (where) the aero package is at any given time. They have ways of swinging it one way or another — way more downforce, way less downforce. But that’s up to them to decide.”

DiMarco is very encouraged with the latest phase of the new car. He doesn’t expect much a learning curve “if the manufacturers have done their jobs.” For that, DiMarco credits NASCAR.

“We couldn’t have done this in 2007, going from a common template to the grid (template),” DiMarco said. “Safety was a big step for NASCAR. They needed to learn how to inspect and template the (new) cars.

“It definitely looks better. A lot of what we’re doing now is more of a reflection of working with our design centers and refine as we go. Inevitably, that will benefit everyone.”