On Tuesday, Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development participated in a teleconference to discuss changes to the Gen-6 rules package for the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season. Those changes include elimination of pre-race and post-race front height rules and inspections through statically set race car ride height, a square leading edge on the splitter, side skirt and rear fascia changes, an eight-inch rear spoiler and a 43-inch X 13-inch radiator pan.
Here is what Stafanyshyn had to say about the changes:
Q. For those of us that are not the most mechanically oriented, it appears that you’ve pretty much added front and rear downforce, overall front and rear downforce and tried to do some work as far as ability when the cars are side by side?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: Yeah. I think it’s important to set the expectations here. We did this very late. We’re here in the middle of December running these tests, and we have to get things out for, obviously, the ’14 race season. So the things or the dials or the things we could do for the ’14 race season were somewhat limited on by timing. So it shouldn’t be construed that this is the final solution. The amount of flexibility we had given timing was not as great as we have say working on the ’15 season, we’ve got a whole year ahead of us.
So this is really the first installment in a journey towards a continual improvement process in regards to our race product.
So, yeah, what we did is we did play with downforce on the car, the amount, and we did play with the balance of front to rear. So we did do those things. For ’15 we’ll try some other things.
One of the things that I think everybody felt most comfortable with was the chassis set-up that we’ve got going into the ’14 season. Our past chassis set-up has had some pretty light springs in the front, and those springs were essentially springs that were used to put the car back to inspection height. We’ve now eliminated that. So now we will be having heavier springs in the front end which will enable the teams to essentially be not running on the bump stops or having the whole vehicle totally loaded on the suspension system. We’ll have some dampening between the mass of the body and the suspension which will give them more mechanical grip.
What this should translate into is a car which feels more stable and predictable. The drivers feel very good about the car. But they do indicate that sometimes when they get into heavy traffic, the car does get a bit unpredictable and less stable. So we’re hoping that this will, in fact, provide the drivers with more confidence in these type of very, let’s say, congested environments to drive harder and be willing to pass.
Q. What was the decision on deciding not to go with the tapered spacer?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: Well, I think there is — there are timing issues here. This is definitely something that we are entertaining for ’15, but we want to take a more holistic approach to when we solve it. We’d like to be able to do perhaps three things at once, and we think come up with a more robust solution that can serve us better in the longer run. So this is something I think we are going to definitely look at for ’15.
Q. You touched on the — you just touched on the topic, but for us who are not engineers, can you explain what statically setting the race car ride height is and how does that eliminate the need for inspection pre- and post-race?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: Right now, the way we do this is we take the car and we put it on the laser or in the past we’ve put it on blocks. We actually put the car at a set height, and we block the frame six inches in the front and eight inches on the rear. When the car is set at that height, what we then do is we’d be measuring things like the key dimensions of the car.
What this does is put all the cars at the same attitude in the same position so that we can measure specifications such as camber, track, wheel base and all these things. This is how we make sure that the cars are all equal and will be competing fairly.
Then what we do today is when we drop the car off those blocks, the car stays at that height. The height there at the front is 4.25 inches. So today what we block the car at we inspect it at, and we take the block so it stays at that height.
What we’ll be doing in the future is we’ll still be inspecting the car on the blocks, because this is absolutely key for us to ensure that we have fair competition, but once the car gets off the blocks, we’ll let the car go to race attitude. That is the attitude that the teams pick. So if they want to drop the front end of the car down to half an inch, they’re able to do that. If they want to drop it to 1.5 inches, they’re able to do that. So we’re actually letting them put the car in more of a race position.
Because what happens when the car is sitting there statically at 4.25 inches, as soon as it gets on the track, the downforce on that car drives the front end down towards the track anyway. But then what happens is that front end tends to bounce and load and unload, and this is how you get some of the instability.
What we’re just saying is, hey, this has really been an inspection thing that’s served us well. It’s time to move on. Let’s put the car more in a race mode. One of the benefits of this will be for the teams. It will be more predictability in the car, but when they pull in the pit and they go to put in wedge or to put a couple of turns in or something, they’ll actually be able to really affect the car in a bigger way.
We think some of the teams, if they start a race and haven’t quite gotten their set-up right, they can dial it in very much more quickly than they can today, so it will give them a chance to kind of get into the racing groove. So that is some of the thinking behind all of that.
Q. For those listening on Sirius XM maybe some were not there for the test or the news conference, and there were some things you were going to go back. You said the whole picture would form after you looked at the internal data. My question as we now discuss it leading up to the next time we see cars on the track, how much different will this be for drivers? As we talked about coming into the Gen-6 car, who would feel comfortable with it. How much of a difference will this be and how much will fans as a result of this total package for now, see on the racetrack any difference in ability of drivers to excel or particular drivers to do better or just the visual racing on the racetrack in your thoughts?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: Well, that’s a very good question. Obviously we wouldn’t be undertaking all these things if we did not think it was moving us in the right direction to improve racing. So we are quite confident that we will see the field get closer together. When you get the field closer together, they should be able to compete and race better, and also be able to set up for a pass. So we think we’re moving in that direction. As you well know, there are many different opinions, and if you sit there and listen to them all, some people say no downforce, some people say more downforce, and it’s kind of all over the place.
So it is a bit–you’ll find some people that agree, and some people disagree. We think we’ve got it right. We’ve looked at the data and it all seems to be pointing in this direction. We also need to understand that our average speeds have gone up by somewhere around 35 miles an hour, and our tire patch essentially or the amount of tire we have on a track has not changed. So we do have certain dynamics that have occurred over history that we’re managing.
Q. When you met with the drivers in groups which was really interesting, and most of them responded they enjoyed that. But you pulled them together after they did the mock runs and that sort of thing. But what really stuck in your mind about what the drivers and crew chiefs had to say?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: I think the thing I got is they have a lot of fun because they like beating me up. That’s what I got out of that one. No, they can be quite — and I appreciate it because we told them, hey, don’t sugar coat anything. Just tell us what you think and the way it is, and they did.
I found I think the thing about that that’s very good is everybody who is in the sport hears everybody else’s opinion, then they begin to see the diversity of opinion, then they understand themselves there are many other opinions and their opinion isn’t necessarily right and they become a bit more open-minded. Then they also begin to get appreciation of the task we’re dealing with and what we’re trying to do. So we all share the same goal. We may have differences of opinion how to get there.
But I think they’re all on the journey with us, which I think is very, very important. Because if people do not have the information and do not have a full view of everything, they start to create things in their mind. Not because they’re bad people, but because that’s what they do as human beings. We fill the voids, right? So providing them with as much information to see what we’re dealing with paints a better picture to understand what we’re dealing with, and it enables us to work together on continuing to improve our sport.
I feel very proud to be part of the NASCAR organization. I think the Gen-6 car is a wonderful step forward. We’ve raced it for a year. Now we’re starting to collect a lot of data and beginning to take the car to the next level. So this is all about a journey of continuous improvement, and continuing to make it better year after year after year.
Q. Do you have any idea how these changes will impact speeds on the racetrack? Also, what do you have to see to say this move is a success? Are there hard numbers or anything out there in particular that you guys are looking for?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: Some of the changes here, we do see some speed increases. What we’re going to look at the gears, generally, as you’re probably well aware, we’re always monitoring and usually at the end of the year we begin to make some rule changes. The RPMs have been creeping up. So we’ll take this opportunity given with the package we introduce here to bring the RPM ranges back down. That will attenuate some of the speed we’re dealing with.
When we did try the chassis package back in October, it was interesting. The guys did drive faster, but they also drove closer, which, to us, was an indication that there was more feeling and confidence and an already well-handling car made it that much more confident. So that was an indicator. What we’ll be looking for as our measure, we have data, but we’ll view it as our customer or a fan will view it. We’ll view it as are the cars closer together, and are they getting in a position to challenge each other and pass more often? So we’ll view it through the eyes of the fan.
Q. I’m here in Daytona. What is the package going to be like for speed weeks? Can you kind of make it in layman’s terms?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: The package essentially for Talladega and Daytona will — the things we’ve worked on here won’t affect those two tracks or those venues. So those will be, for the most part, unchanged from ’13. There may be some slight things, but they won’t be major in magnitude. So most of the changes we’ve done here will be changes that will be implemented on our intermediate tracks or small ovals or our road courses.
Q. These new rules for next year, generally there are a handful of teams that sort of get it before the other teams get it. Are you kind of expecting that at the beginning of the year next year?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: Yeah, this is a very good question. And I appreciate it because anytime you make a change, there are always people that are more prepared, more eager, and some people will get an advantage. Then you discuss it and say, well, maybe you should make a change because somebody might leap ahead. But then you will never, ever change in life. So we understand this is a part of the natural process of developing.
So the beautiful thing that I think we had here, we had 30 cars; we had all the teams represented, essentially. So they’ve got a pretty good head start or understanding of where we’re going. They’ve been able to put their cars on the track here already. I know some of them are doing testing, and we’ll provide them an opportunity before we go to our first intermediate track.
So hopefully we’re giving everybody big teams and small teams, hope we’re helping the small teams here to begin to get a bit of a head start so everybody can start off on equal footing.
But that’s something we’ve always considered and talked about, and in the end you try to do it the best way to make sure everybody kind of get the same start at the starting gun as it were.
Q. If there is going to be more downforce and presumably higher cornering speeds, are you going to have to do anything different tire-wise?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: We actually before we even went to the track, we looked at our speeds, our corner speeds and looked at corner one-two at Charlotte, which tends to be the higher corner, looked at the apex. We viewed that with the respect to what Goodyear is doing with tires for other series and all of that, and from what we can see at the moment, we do not foresee an issue. We’re not going somewhere where we haven’t been before.
So we’ll continue to work with Goodyear. But at the moment, I would say that we are — and we took temperature data and that was a bit of a cool day. We took wheel force loads and such. So we’re feeling that we’re in a good spot.
The other thing about that will help us a bit is the chassis package. Because the teams tended to have very light springs, they tended to ride on the bump stops, so you would get a lot of peak forces driven in the chassis. Now when we get a spring there between the suspension and the body, we won’t have the same peak forces translated into the tires. So that’s our thinking.
Q. A quick follow-up, you said you’d be throttling back RPM. Can you give us some sort of baseline or general guide for that? Are you cutting them 5%, 10%?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: Yeah, we’re looking at the moment, we’re looking to be somewhere landing between 9300 to 9400 RPM range maximum. I haven’t quite done the math, but I suspect that’s translating into something like a 4 to 6%, I think. We’re going to go through all the runs and go through and do the calculations and our gear sets and try to determine where we should be on that. We’ll be communicating that to the teams early in the year.
Q. Last year the radiator pan was optional. This year is it optional still or would you just — or will it be required?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: Well, we’re going with the 43-inch wide by 13-inch long radiator pan. So that’s part of the rule package for this year.
Q. And the spoiler, it appeared that you were using or maybe you were using it to differentiate a clear portion of the spoiler. Will the spoiler be clear at all?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: Yeah, what we decided to do was while we were working on this, some of the drivers were talking about rear visibility. So we actually decided to create a composite base for the spoiler. That is, as you know, our spoiler today is 7.25 inches. So we’re creating a composite which is six inches, and then we’re putting a Lexan blade into that. So we’re actually — it was with an eye to giving our drivers better rear visibility than they have today. So that was part of the thinking in there. That and it gives us the ability to quickly change the Lexan in and out.
But it was with an eye to give the drivers a bit more visibility. We were looking at it saying here’s something we can do to help them. Was when we first did it, some of the drivers said we can see better. So we thought, why not, it’s a good idea.
Q. Just watching the test from the stands and from pit road, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of difference when I was watching it compared to trying to think back to watching the race in October. Can you maybe tell me something maybe that you saw or some things that the drivers said that they felt that maybe we wouldn’t know just by watching it?
GENE STEFANYSHYN: Yeah, I think you listen to what the drivers say, then we look at each of the individual cars from previous races and how much ability they have to run better, more consistently and things like that, and we clearly see that some of the teams are further or have thought about this or maybe not. Maybe they’ve all thought about it the same, but there are some teams that are kind of dialing into the ideal situation quicker than others.
So that is something we also when we look at this, we say what we’re looking at right now and the data we’re looking at is not necessarily the way it’s going to be. Because once the teams start to dial in the packages, we think they’ll be coming closer together.
Now what we were looking for were things like what was the time gap between the first and fifth car, the first and tenth car, the first and 15th car? Did we bring the group closer together? So there is a question like you could look at those groups. Did we bring that group closer together? If we did bring that group closer together, were there battles within that grouping?
So, again, it’s kind of we need to — if we don’t bring them closer together, how are they to battle and pass? So this is one of the key things we were looking for. Can we bring them closer together? Then we think over time as they all begin to understand, iterate, perfect and really hone in on their final solution they’ll all get close to that, because generally they all migrate to what is best, and we should see some better battles on the track there. So that was our thinking.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR