GM Racing talks about COT development

On Wednesday, March 14 members of the GM Racing engineering staff and Team Chevy reviewed with members of the media an in-depth presentation on the Impala SS Car of Tomorrow. This is a transcript of the Q&A following the formal session talking about the development of the Impala SS Car of Tomorrow and its affects on aerodynamics and safety as well as the marketing strategy for the change in nameplate.

Participants included Pat Suhy, GM Racing NASCAR Group Manager, Jeff Chew, Chevy Racing NASCAR Marketing Manager, Tom Gideon, GM Racing Safety Manager, Kevin Bayless, GM Racing Oval Track Chassis/Aero Program Manager and Bobby Hutchens, Vice President of Competition at Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Bayless, GM Racing Oval Track Chassis/Aero Program Manager

DURING THE CAR OF TOMORROW TEST AT MICHIGAN, DRIVERS SAID THEY HAD DIFFICULTY RACING SIDE BY SIDE. WILL THE CAR OF TOMORROW ULTIMATELY LEAD TO BETTER RACING? "I think it's really a little too early to tell. There are definitely steps that NASCAR has taken to try to improve the ability to race side by side and nose to tail but you probably saw at Michigan, there wasn't a whole lot of time really spent in those kind of situations. Most of testing up until now has been single car runs, not a lot of running in the draft in a group. I think as with any change it's going to take a while for the teams to adapt and realize what kind of setup it's going to take to make the drivers comfortable. I think we saw that for sure at Bristol. The setups that the teams were running at the end of the second day, when it started raining on the second day, were considerably different than what they unloaded with and what they run with the current cars. So I think it's really too early to say how the competition will pan out until the teams have had more time to work with the cars. It certainly appears that the tools are available for the racing to be at least as good as what it is currently."

AT THE BRISTOL TEST DRIVERS WERE COMPLAINING ABOUT BOUNCING IN THE CORNERS. IS THAT AERODYNAMICS? "I'd be curious to hear when you heard those comments because my observations were absolutely. At the beginning of the test that was apparent with just about every car out there. They were all really struggling with that. Most of the driver comments said they were bouncing off the left front and the tire was just hopping. By the end of the test the majority of the teams had figured out a setup to get over that. There are a number of bumps on the entry to both (turns) one and three at Bristol that were really throwing them for a loop on the first day. By the end of the first day and definitely the second day, I think the teams had figured that out. That gets back to where the setups reverted back in essence several years to what teams had been running 10 years ago at Bristol and a lot of that does come back to the limits on front suspension travel. They are basically going back to the times when they were running a full-length valance at the minimum height allowed by NASCAR rather than cutting them way up and allowing them a lot more front travel. I think a lot of it is just going to become an adaptation getting used to the new rules. I don't think there is any inherent issue with the Car of Tomorrow. I think it's just getting to know it and working through the setups to get used to it. I think by the end of the Bristol test, the majority of drivers were pretty comfortable with things and the cars looked like they were handling well as opposed to some of the evil things you may have seen the first day."

DO THEY FIX THAT WITH DIFFERENT BUMP STOPS OR SPRING RUBBERS? HOW DO THEY CORRECT THAT? "That was a mechanical suspension setup fix. There wasn't anything from an aerodynamic standpoint that they were really working with. Aerodynamically the car stayed pretty constant through that whole test. It was more a situation of tuning suspension to deal with the new range of suspension travel. The bump stops are also a new tool available to the teams again. They've had them in the past. They haven't been available for the last several years. So there's another learning curve there dealing with the bump stops again and how to tune those to work with the limits put forth by the four-inch splitter height."

Tom Gideon, GM Racing Safety Manager

IN YOUR OPINION FROM A PERCENTAGE STANDPOINT, HOW MUCH SAFER IS THE IMPALA SS FROM THE CAR NOW? "I think the car we have today is quite safe. You have to control the driver where he sits. We have the rigid seat in there. We'll have the six-point harness this year even in the non-Car of Tomorrow races. Those are very important things. From a percentage standpoint, I'd say this new car is going to be much better for side impact. I don't think it's going to change much on a right front hit which is what we're very accustom to having because everything is in the car today but for side penetration and car-to-car impact, we're going to be much better. I can't put a percentage on it but what we will eventually have to do is put a miles per hour on it. How safe will you be if another car impacts you at some speed?"

Jeff Chew, Chevy Racing NASCAR Marketing Manager

FROM A MARKETING STANDPOINT, ARE WE EVENTUALLY GOING TO SEE AN IMPALA WITH A SPLITTER AND WING ON IT? "For right now the closest we're going to see is the Impala SS with iterations on rear spoilers and things like that as it goes through its lifecycle but I personally don't think you'll see a splitter like that on a street car."

Bobby Hutchens, Vice President of Competition at Richard Childress Racing

RICHARD CHILDRESS SAID IN DECEMBER OR JANUARY THAT THE CAR OF TOMORROW COST ABOUT 1.6 or 1.8 MILLION PER TEAM. HAS THAT INCREASED? HOW MUCH EXTRA TIME HAS RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING PUT INTO THIS? "Those figures that you quoted were correct probably six months to a year ago. As we've gotten into this thing and as changes have evolved day to day from our testing as well as some of the changes that NASCAR has imposed, those numbers will probably go up a little bit. A couple of the interesting things about it, we have a group of guys here that we've kind of segregated to build these cars per se to keep our mainstream cars that we've run at the end of last year and the normal cars that we've run this year so that's not affected. What we're in the process of right now is merging some of those guys back in with our regular teams to build these cars and to be able to go through our systems. As they've mentioned, you've seen some of the deficiencies in some of the downforce areas compared to what we are running now so we're trying to pay a lot of details to these bodies. Of course we've been through the chassis side of getting those things approved. That's something that's been different for all of us in the beginning. I don't think we're any different than most teams. We've probably thrown away three or four cars chassis wise to get the first one approved to understand exactly what the limitations were. I'm not taking anything away from GM factories or anything but we're probably building these things to a tighter tolerance almost to anything they're building in Detroit right now. We failed a car for having a door bar that was 17 thousandths too low. Ford, didn't matter if it was within an inch or two. So the standards that we've had to put in place in our systems here to be able to have an end product to get to the race track, that's where the cost is coming from."

HOW DO YOU BUILD A VEHICLE TO THAT KIND OF A TOLERANCE? I'M TRYING TO VISUALIZE WHAT 17 THOUSANDTHS OF AN INCH LOOKS LIKE: "It's probably the thickness of a piece of paper. They've never measure anything like that before so once that happened to us not once but about three times, we had to stop and say 'Hey, we've got to do this a little different.' So you put more engineering time in it. You put more fault systems in place. You do an inspection before you send it down to be checked at NASCAR. The main thing is to get it in all the guys' heads that are building these things 'Hey, this is for real.' We have to build it to that spec, close enough is not good enough. That mentality I think took a little while but if we didn't start generating chassis you're going to have a car sitting here and we're not going to be at Bristol next week. For about a week or two panic probably set in on all these Cup teams. I mean not just this one but all of them because we're all talking back and forth having meetings with Terry (Laise, GM Racing) and these guys. It was tough because to go back into the shops and say those cars were junk and we've got to start over today and our next slot to be checked is next Tuesday and we've got five days to put one together. You've got to make it happen. You've never built one like that before and the first three you built were all wrong. So it's been a big challenge from that standpoint. I think we've learned a little bit about maybe some areas that we could have improved on before."

IS THERE MORE ADJUSTABILITY AT THE TRACK WITH THIS CAR? IN TERMS OF TUNEABILITY, WHEN YOU MAKE AN ADJUSTMENT ARE YOU ABLE TO GET WHAT YOU WANT? "I think from a tuning standpoint, the tuning tools we have with the splitter and the wing and the end plates, it's more defined adjustments. Before we pushed fenders in and out. We pushed valances in and out, that kind of thing, spoilers up and down. I'm not going to say that each car reacted the same. I think with the way these cars are built with everything more symmetrical you'll know more when you pull that splitter out an inch or you put an extra degree in the wing. You'll have a more defined number exactly for what you are doing with the balance. As you saw with what I call the egg crate (template), when you put that thing on there there's a lot of bets that go off at that point in time for however you're used to building cars and developing our aero package. I would tend to say that you may have lesser tools but the tools that you have will be more defined."

WILL THE CARS BE MORE FINICKY? "Well until we race them a little bit, even though we've done the Michigans and the Charlotte test and the Bristol test, the real pudding will be when we go to race this week. Unfortunately part of that is going to be guys knock fenders in today and now they fall back. What's going to happen when you knock part of that splitter off or knock it back? We haven't experienced any of those things yet. We're all building parts right now to be able to come in and if you back that thing in the fence you got to be able to have a wing on it. To do that you've got to put a deck lid on it too so we're all making systems in place for our cars to be able to almost have a module to slap up on there during the race to be able to keep going. So all those things are things we are going to be learning about in these next two or three races. Fortunately or unfortunately however you look at it, we've got to do it. We're doing the short track stuff right now. Next year I'm assuming we're going to a little bigger tracks where some of those things will be more important and we've got to learn to do it right as quick as we can. And the teams that are able to react to those things are the ones that will come out on top."

HOW MUCH HAVE YOU TESTED IF THE SPLITTER OR HALF THE SPLITTER WERE TO COME OFF AT THE SHORT TRACKS? "We didn't do it at Bristol. I'm aware of two other teams that took the thing completely off. From what our notes looked like, they slowed down from anywhere from three-tenths to a half a second lap. I don't know what their comments were as far as driving but just from knowing the numbers I'd have to say that'd be a tighter race car that'd be harder to drive. That's going to happen. It's just one of those things."

Pat Suhy, GM Racing NASCAR Group Manager

WAS THIS REALLY NECESSARY TO INCREASE COMPETITION? COULD WE HAVE DONE SOMETHING LESS DRAMATIC? "I think to achieve NASCAR's goals you're probably going to have to build all new cars anyway. Did it have to look like this? I don't know that it had to look like this but I think it was going to require an all new fleet by and large anyway. With that I think NASCAR's objectives of improving the tuneablity and giving the teams some elements to work with at the track that are different and even more effective than what they are used to doing, you might have ended up with this new formula anyway. I think a new fleet was going to be necessary. I don't know if it had to look like this. If you had to change all of the tuning elements in order to do that's certainly not for safety but to give it any chance of increased competition I think you had to do something radical. They played around with the current car for years and aero push has been a factor for as long as I can remember paying attention to NASCAR so hopefully that will start to address that."

ISN'T AERO PUSH MAINLY A SPEED ISSUE OR IS THERE MORE TO IT THAN THAT? "I think slowing the cars down was an objective and that's why the downforce is reduced and the drag is higher but I think the aero push is independent of speed. I'd give that to one of our aero experts to answer."

Bobby Hutchens

"If you go back in history, whatever they've changed – motors, tires, spoilers, whatever – we always get back to how we were somehow. That's part of the game. Unfortunately with the way this thing is set up, it's going to be harder to get there because everything is just in a narrower box. Another thing that we did at Bristol, we crashed probably one of the first one of these with the foam in the right side just to give you an idea. I was quite surprised when it came back because we figured we were going to trash the car but I think the foam actually possibly helped save the car from the chassis part of it from getting hurt and I would have never bet that before. It's just going to be a learning process these next two or three months to figure out how we get through this."

ON CLINT BOWYER SAYING HE WAS A LITTLE BIT SURPRISED AT HOW TORE UP HIS CAR WAS AFTER THE CRASH IN DAYTONA: "I think all of us thought it was tore up a lot worse than it was. We got it back, got the right side sheet metal off, the nose off of it and to our surprise the chassis was in pretty good shape. The biggest thing I think what we're going to have to worry about with these things with that egg crate situation is that any impact on that side we're going to have to cut the left side of the body off of it too because it shifted it. Now none of this stuff fits down on it where before if it moved a sixteenth or an eighth we probably would have left this side on it and fix the other side and we would have been done with it. So there's some pros and cons and that's just the things we'll have to work through." GM Racing

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