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Q&A with Jack Roush on new Ford engine

FR9 Engine
Tuesday, June 08, 2010

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Jack Roush, who comes to Michigan International Speedway this weekend tied with the Wood Brothers for the most NASCAR Cup owner wins at the track with 11, was subject of the weekly NASCAR teleconference. The Michigan native and resident brings three of his four teams to MIS in the top-12 of the latest Sprint Cup points standings.  Plus, all of his teams – and five others in the Ford camp – will be running the new FR9 engine this weekend..  Roush talked about all those issues and more with members of the media.

JACK ROUSH – Owner, Roush Fenway Racing –VICTORY THIS WEEKEND WOULD BE EXTRA SPECIAL WOULDN’T IT?  “All of our wins at MIS have been special. It is in front of our home crowd, our Roush Industries associates, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler and GM. Detroit is still the motor city, despite rumors otherwise. It is good to race in front of the home crowd where all of our friends and people we like to have supporting us are paying attention.”

FAN QUESTION:  WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR HATS?  “My hats came from a Canadian source. I started buying them in 1994 when I had multiple road race cars and multiple NASCAR cars at the time. I had so many sponsors at the time that I didn’t know which one to wear. So I made the decision then that I would get a straw hat and whatever happened from my shoulders up would be personal. I have worn the straw hat ever since.  When I left Pocono last weekend, I left my hat on the transporter because I didn’t realize I had this obligation and it would be filmed, otherwise I would have my hat here. Now I am in North Carolina without my traditional hat.”

WHAT ARE YOUR OBSERVATIONS WITH BEING WINLESS, WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO FORD’S COMPETITIVENESS, WHY IT HAPPENED, WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO TO CATCH UP AND WHETHER CATCHING UP IS EVEN IN SIGHT?  “We were very competitive last weekend at Nashville with our Nationwide car. We had been missing something in the suspension of the car all year and we found last week that there had been an unintended change made in some of the front suspension components. We rectified that and went to Nashville with six of our drivers in our cars. The problem that had been there primarily – the car not turning in the middle and loose off – went away for all six drivers that drove throughout the weekend. I am sure we are on our way to re-establishing ourselves in that series.  With Carl Edwards finishing second and Paul Menard finishing third at Nashville, with neither one getting into the cars for practice, is a good sign.  I think the difference there was that Brad Keselowski making the trip and practicing made it seem like we left something on the table there.  With the split schedule with the Cup drivers, we wanted to make sure those guys were well rested, and that is why they didn’t go.  If you look at the Sprint Cup programs of Richard Petty Motorsports, Wood Brothers and Roush Fenway, and ask ‘What is wrong with the Fords?’ the teams are getting it done. Fords support is as good as it has ever been. The monetary support has been equal to prior years. The technical support has improved and a greater commitment was made over the winter to support the team than has been in the past. We started off 2010 with hopeful results at Daytona, not as good as last year when we won, but good results there, at Fontana and at Las Vegas.  NASCAR has a no-testing policy this year at the race tracks that has put a great premium on the software that is used to do the predictors and simulations. The data analysis part is extremely important right now. We have third-party vendors that are engaged in our data analysis and simulations and, quite frankly, we haven’t gotten the results this year that we expected. Certainly the results aren’t as good from a simulation and data analysis point of view as it was in 2008. Combine that with the fact that we don’t have testing and it has been a handicap. We are looking at additional third-party vendors and taking more things inside to look at ourselves. The Petty organization is looking to Roush Fenway and doing some things on their own. We are trying to fill that void that wasn’t expected.
“Where the rubber meets the road is what happens on race day.  This year, we have arrived at the race track and unloaded with simulated strategies and set-ups that have not been as good as our competitors.  That is what brought us to the point of looking at what we were getting and seeing that we didn’t have the correlations we expected on many of the simulations.  We are starting off with not as good a set-up in the car based on the simulations and are looking to fill that void.  I hope we will be able to break through at MIS and win again. I would love to get Ford’s 12th win there (as a car owner). Hopefully we could win twice there this year.”
“I am really excited about going to MIS.  I fly one of my World War II airplanes there at least twice a month.  I have watched the reconstruction of the hospitality area on the inside of the track. It is going to be great to get out there and see what it looks like on the ground.”

YOU DON’T THINK THAT POWER HAS BEEN AN ISSUE? HAS THE FR9 ENGINE BEEN MORE OF A STRUGGLE THAN YOU AND FORD ANTICIPATED?  “No, the FR9 engine has been wonderful. We haven’t broken an FR9 engine part. We have gotten marginally better performance out of the engine. It is all encouraging. We haven’t had a new engine in several decades and Ford took the time to make sure they had it right. Doug Yates and the guys at the engine shop took the time to make sure they had it right. We had to qualify many new vendors for castings and for internal components. We had to go through the prototype parts and work our way into production. We had four cars with the engines at Pocono and they performed well. We had four cars at Talladega with the engine and they performed well. The engine is without a flaw. It has marginally more power, has a very fuel efficient cooling system and a very fuel efficient combustion process. It gets marginally better fuel economy and is more tolerant of trash on the grille and is more stable in its drivetrain. There is nothing about the FR9 engine that has slowed us down in terms of the ability to win a race or be competitive. We have had our share of top-10 finishes and have three cars in the chase out of our four. It has not been a bad year, we just haven’t won yet. That is the one thing we lack. I think as we continue to make our simulation better, and take more responsibility for the data analysis that goes with that internally, that we will gradually see the cars improve. We will have less stressful weekends, I believe, as the year unfolds.”

FELIX SABATES WILL BE AT MICHIGAN AND HE HAD SOME UNSAVORY THINGS TO SAY ABOUT DETROIT AND THE MIS RACES. DO YOU THINK MIS DOES DESERVE THE TWO RACES A YEAR AND WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THE MOTOR CITY? “Well, Detroit is on the rebound. Ford has certainly turned the corner with not having to go into bankruptcy and being able to stand on their own two feet. I think Ford has done a great job not having to take the bailout. General Motors has gotten sales that are improving and Chrysler is doing remarkably well in the marketplace. All three of the Detroit-based car companies are doing as well as they might given the circumstances. They are building more cars and trucks than a year ago. There is more employment as well.  Detroit has a lot of new technologies that are expanding as well. Roush Industries in particular has a life sciences area where we make tools for the pharmaceutical industry. All over town there is robotics and other high-tech things that are employing people and that is great for Detroit and the entire state of Michigan.  As far as Sabates and the comments he made about Detroit and MIS, I hope that he was a little too much in the spirits that day and said things that he regretted. He hasn’t told me that he regretted saying those things, but certainly I think that under any circumstances they were ill-advised. I don’t know what prompted him to make those statements, but I doubt that Felix truly feels the way he indicated about MIS or Detroit. MIS has been one of the best race tracks and I think it deserves to have two races. They don’t have a problem selling tickets, no more so than anyplace else in this economy, and I certainly enjoy racing there because it is where I call home.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE LOGISTICS OF THE DOUBLE-DUTY BETWEEN CUP AND NATIONWIDE THE NEXT FEW WEEKS AND WHAT YOU GIVE UP WITH A GUY LIKE CARL IN THOSE SITUATIONS?  “Well, first of all I won’t give up a whole day at a Cup track. At Sonoma, Carl will make that and Paul Menard will use his father’s Citation 10, which is the fastest means of civilian transportation that is possible, and they will make that trip together. I will hunker down in Sears Point and help the guys as much as I can.  Weekends like we had last weekend where the drivers can physically participate in the major part of both programs are best.  If I am close enough and I can get back and forth fast enough I am anxious to travel and be in both places as I did on Saturday night. I was ready to go on Friday, if I could have talked the drivers into it. They just felt they needed to stay in Pocono and not lose another full night’s sleep. They made a good decision. We would have made the trip if it suited their purpose, but the end result was a good one.”

WHAT DO YOU GIVE UP BY CARL NOT BEING THERE ON SOME OF THE DAYS THOUGH?  “He will do what he can. He won’t miss all of practice, just some of it going between Sonoma and Elkhart Lake. He will give up Happy Hour but will get the morning practice at Sonoma.  Road racing is different than the normal races we have on the schedule. We have been to practice in Atlanta and Virginia in preparation for Sears Point, and I think we will be in better shape preparation wise because nobody has had a chance to practice there. The result may be that the amount of qualifying practice that’s done Friday will be less for Carl than his focus on race setup. It may impact his qualifying time a little bit, but I don’t think it will be a serious handicap to overcome. I am real excited about the road course race. I think our Ford Fusions will be very competitive. They tested well at Road Atlanta and I can’t wait to get to Sears Point. I think Carl will make a great effort to win the race, in spite of his double duty.”

COULD YOU SPEAK TO THE NATIONWIDE PROGRAMS WITH THE PROGRAM CHANGES YOU HAVE MADE AND TALK ABOUT WHERE THEY ARE AND WHERE THEY ARE GOING TO BE?  “We have two things going on, maybe three in the Nationwide program. First, we have Carl running for a championship. He has had a consistent criticism of the car throughout the year, that the car doesn’t turn well enough in the middle and are too loose off. All four cars did not have that problem, to the degree that they’ve had it, at Nashville. We have made a change that we think will fix that. We think Carl will stay on track for a championship. I am very happy with his crew chief Drew Blickensdorfer and I am happy where that is going forward. Paul Menard is racing in the Nationwide series as a full-time guy. He and his father felt that the experience he would get and the opportunity he would have, particularly when the series are both on the same track, that he would have more time on the tire to get experience with that and to practice the line. It would be nice for him to win a championship, but his effort is to primarily get experience in the car and capitalize on that in the Sprint Cup program.  Colin Braun and Ricky Stenhouse are both youngsters that don’t have a lot of experience. They have great potential and we are real excited about their future. You never know with a young person what they are going to need to experience before they have the maturity to go on and do what they might. Colin and Ricky have both had more wrecks and problems this year that were self-induced that were associated with their lack of experience. We have had them in the cars, out of the cars and tried different crew chiefs as we tried to figure out what we could do to accelerate the maturing process. It was unfortunate that Ricky spun out trying to qualify at Nashville because speed-wise he was probably better than he has been all year.  He didn’t qualify because he was outside the top-30 in points, but the reason he was there is because he has had so many wrecks.  We have had a lot of things that we have tried to do to encourage the guys to mature at the absolute fastest rate so we can finish the races and let the crews have a chance to work on the cars and the crew chiefs develop strategies to compete effectively with the cars.  We are going to see a totally different result in the second half of the year than we have in the first half, I guarantee that. Stay tuned, it is going to get better.”

WOULD IT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE TO HAVE MORE CARS RUN THE NEW ENGINE EARLIER IN THE YEAR? WAS IT A QUESTION OF INVENTORY OR DID YOU GUYS JUST WANT TO TEST A FEW EARLY?  “As we developed the engine, it was primarily Doug Yates and Dave Simon and the other support group in Dearborn, they did a nice job defining the engine. The last test that NASCAR did to see where the engine was in relation to one another was this spring. They took engines after Atlanta and tested them in the research center in Concord and saw that the Ford engine was as good if not better than all the engines being competed in the Cup series. The old engine did a nice job and was durable, but there was an opportunity to get better fuel mileage and better performance in the cooling area that the old engine didn’t have. As we went toward the new engine, we saw that the design met NASCAR’s parameters; it includes the science we could bring to bear in regard to water flow and oil flow, a lot of the engineering tools that didn’t exist when the old engine was developed 25-30 years ago. It is a nice package and what we want going forward for Ford with all the parameters NASCAR wants.  We addressed some issues in prototype parts with castings and shifting some of the coils and other things. We addressed those in production tools. Then we had a different set of problems that occurs with the second set of tools. We worked our way through those and then had to get enough miles on it to make sure we didn’t miss anything like a gasket or anything like that. That is why we rolled it out slow. Once we started to get positive results, which came from information coming from the Wood Brothers, who were using the engine, then we started to speed up production of the components so that we had enough quantity to make this for all the teams. After MIS, to the best of my knowledge, the only time we plan to run the old 452 engine is at Sears Point or possibly Watkins Glen.  Sears Point will have the old engine for sure. We think we have sufficient quantity and we have the success in testing to indicate the FR9 is the engine to run the rest of the year. I cannot imagine a scenario where by Chase time, we don’t have enough quantity of engine that we feel comfortable in to take our three, four, five or six Fords that are in the Chase and go try for a championship.”

ARE YOU STILL ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN FLYING?  “I had an airplane accident in 2002 on my 60th birthday. People ask me if I have recovered from that and if I still fly. My response is that I don’t fly any more, but I don’t fly any less either. Any time I get a chance to get in an airplane and experience the miracle of flight I do it. Last Thursday I flew over MIS in my 1943 P-51 B Model at about 5:00 pm.  I could see that not everybody was gone and that final preparations were being made on the track for the upcoming MIS race. I fly over the track as part of my normal tour and checking on some of my friends about once a week in the summer time, twice a week if I am lucky.  I try to do it a couple times a month even in the winter time.”

IS FLYING YOUR RELAXATION TIME, THE WAY OTHERS GOLF OR GO BOWLING?  “Well, I have a bad rotator cuff in my right shoulder, so that took care of my bowling. I don’t know if I could swing a golf club, I haven’t done that and at my age I am pretty sure that I would be worse at that than the other things I have tried to do in life from a sports point of view. I have done a lot of fishing. My father was a fisherman and we did a lot of fishing. My recreation is aviation. My company is a repair station for the Rolls Royce design Packard built P-51 engine of the forties.  I work closely with other enthusiasts of that and I enjoy being a pilot and a test pilot. I flew over Lake Norman last evening here out of Concord and that was a test flight for my P-51. It was at an air show over the weekend and they reported a radio problem, so I had to go and check the radios out. It gave me my excuse to go flying at sunset over Lake Norman, it was wonderful.”

WHEN YOU GET TO DAYTONA FOR THE 400, IT WILL BE THE LAST RACE ON THE OLD SURFACE. DO YOU HAVE A SENTIMENTAL BONE ABOUT THAT RACE TRACK AND THAT SURFACE?  “Well, we haven’t won as many as we would like to there. In NASCAR, I have won only three times there, once at the 500 and two at the Coke 400 in July. I did win 14 times in road race cars there though. I have enjoyed the race track, both the road race track and the high banks. The thing I get from my drivers is that they like the track when it doesn’t have a lot of grip. They like when you have to fight traction and it does some slipping and sliding. If the track has a lot of grip, if the tires have grip, you can be off on your set-up and there is not as much to separate you from the entire field. I think that most people don’t look forward to the new surface; they would rather have an old surface to race on. It is no fun to have it deteriorate like it did in February. I think the result of some of the cars was impacted by that, whether it was running through the bumps on the suspension, or aerodynamics. On one hand you would like the track to be smooth, on the other hand you would like it to have enough challenge to it that drivers could display their wares and skill and strategy to separate themselves from everyone in the field. The next race we have, if the track doesn’t come apart again, will be one of the best in recent memory at Daytona because it will be hot and the tires will slip. As we go to a new surface, it will be smoother and there will be great apprehension on Goodyear’s part regarding tires and a concern from the drivers that if they miss the set-up a little bit, cars will be right there with them on the corner and hard to pass.”

WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE A PIECE OF THE OLD SURFACE?  “That would be interesting. A piece of the old surface would be good. If someone would put a piece in plastic for me I would find a place for it on my wall of treasures. I would enjoy that.  I wouldn’t have as much interest as I would for a piece of the original Indy 500 track, but a piece of asphalt from the Daytona track would be good.”

HAVE YOU NOTICED HOW CARL HAS MAINTAINED CALM THROUGH THIS LOSING DROUGHT AND NOT GOTTEN FRUSTRATED?  “I think everybody is doing a nice job of not getting frustrated. Carl has matured in the last four or five years he has been with our program. He has gone from being brash and over-enthusiastic with some of his actions on the track, to being a card-carrying senior guy now. Anybody that stays in this business understands you can’t be at the top all the time. If you have a problem, you fix it before it becomes serious. If you don’t anticipate it, then you fix it when it comes up. You have to have confidence in the people you are with and the organization that supports you. Matt has been a good soldier and Greg Biffle has done a nice job as well. David Ragan has done a nice job too. They all look forward to winning races, maintaining their Chase positions or getting David in the Chase as the case may be.”

HOW DO YOU WALK THE FINE LINE OF WHEN TO MAKE CHANGES?  “Let me tell you how it was in happier, easier times. I would spend one day in North Carolina doing administrative things I had to do. Two days in Michigan bouncing grand-babies and recharging my batteries. My schedule now is two days, sometimes three in North Carolina, looking guys in the eye and asking what we are missing and seeing if they have any ideas that will make us better. We reviewed the spy pictures off satellites from Pocono and saw some things that will be reflected in our cars at Michigan. The thing that we need, that the guys are being patient for, is for us to get our simulations to the point where we can arrive at the race track with our set-ups close. They have not been yet due to lack of testing and uncompetitiveness of our testing. We think we see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have talked to NASCAR about letting some of the testing come back. Right now, if you don’t have a simulation as good as the next man’s simulation, it does not matter how good your driver, crew chief or engine is, you won’t get around the race track. Until you sort out what you need at that track, you are playing from a point of disadvantage. I think we should have less reliance on simulations and we would do that if we were able to go test on the tire and race track in close proximity of the race.”
“I would propose something between eight and 10 vouchers to test per team. If a team had those vouchers, it would give you a chance to test on all the different types of tracks -- the short track, restrictor tracks and road race tracks -- it would give you a chance to test all those with every driver in every car so that every crew chief would have an idea of what he needed and not just rely on the simulations.”

IS THERE MORE EDGY RACING THIS SEASON OR ARE ALL THE CONFLICTS BETWEEN DRIVERS PAR FOR THE NASCAR COURSE?  “What NASCAR wants to do and what fans want to see is the most absolute contentious circumstance between people that have passion and ability and motivation to be able to get the prize, to make the chase, win the championship, or win a race, or get a pole. When people care enough then there are hurt feelings and aggression displayed. There are many times consequences go beyond a person’s expectation and imagination. For instance, with AJ Allmendinger, if he had realized that by blocking Kasey Kahne at Pocono that he would cause Kasey to wreck and half the field behind him, he wouldn’t have done that. Because he cared so much and wanted to have that eighth or ninth-place finish, he went down and blocked and something bad happened.  They didn’t wind up in the hairball and Foster Gillett didn’t wind up in the NASCAR trailer like other incidences this season. It is real though, it isn’t staged. This isn’t the WWE, it is real. When people care as much as they do and try as hard as they do, then their emotions spill over.”

SO THE “HAVE AT IT BOYS” PHILOSOPHY IS GOOD FOR NASCAR?  “When NASCAR looked at what they needed to do to stimulate more interest with the fans, sell more tickets, better TV ratings, they thought they should let the drivers take the gloves off. They wanted them to be more free to express themselves and willing to make a decision on the race track that might result in something that is questionable. They wanted that as opposed to having to sit a race out when they caused a wreck.  They wanted to take the oversight aspect out of it and give the drivers every opportunity to win and not tell the guys they couldn’t do certain things.  In NASCAR racing and the competition that goes with it, it needs to be good wholesome family entertainment. We aren’t going to make a brawl out of it.  To show your frustration is not something I think is a bad thing. I think it is okay.”

DO YOU SEE DAVID RAGAN MAKING PROGRESS OR HAS HE STALLED?  “David showed great ability early on. After the race at Pocono on Sunday, David flew with me in the co-pilot seat as we traversed the storms coming back to Charlotte. I had a couple of hours with David in the car and airplane to talk about what his frustrations were and what his hopes were for the year. David is extraordinarily skilled, patient and mature beyond his years. He deserves better. We will achieve better success for him than he has had. He has not yet been able to pass Carl or Greg or Matt. When we have a problem like we do with the simulations right now, David is more susceptible to that than the others. As we get ourselves straightened out and that aspect of the program strong, I am hopeful that David can compete for a spot in the chase as he did two years ago and win a race this year.”

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