Mark Rushbrook , Global Director of Ford Performance Motorsports, talks with Detroit News sports reporter Gregg Krupa. Dale G. Young, The Detroit News
Brooklyn, Mich. — As he sat in the Ford Performance Tech Trailer in the infield of Michigan International Speedway Friday, Mark Rushbrook, the global director Ford Performance Motorsports could feel content.
Despite concerns in nearly all forms of automobile racing that it is declining in popularity, Ford remains firmly invested and participating in North America and around the globe.
And, it is winning.
Ford Motor Co. is powerful in the NASCAR Cup series, entering the FireKeepers Casino 400 Sunday.
Winning four of the first six races and seven of the 14, so far Ford has mastered pace and handling.
With five wins, Kevin Harvick is carrying the Blue Oval to dominating performances.
In qualifying Friday for the Cup race at MIS, Ford won the pole with Kurt Busch driving for Haas Automation.
Brad Keselowski, driving for Team Penske, took second.
Ford also powered five other top-10 qualifiers, at the expense of Toyota and Chevrolet.
“For us,” Rushbrook said, “it’s been a tremendous start to the season. There’s strength across all the Ford teams, all the Ford drivers.
“We would love to get a win on our home track.”
There are a lot of secrets in racing. And, if anyone says they are whispering one to you, do not believe them.
Rushbrook proved no more talkative than most.
“But the main secret is, it’s racing and you’ve got to pay attention to everything,” he said.
“So, it’s the engine program, with our Ford team and Roush-Yates engines.
“It’s optimizing the body that we have, through our computational fluid dynamic tools (a branch of mechanics in which numerical analysis and data structures solve and analyze fluid flows), wind tunnel work, the vehicle dynamic simulation and simulator and attention to all the details,” Rushbrook said.
“So, there’s definitely no one secret to do it.”
Ford believes racing still sells cars and, even more importantly, contributes significantly to manufacturing better ones.
“It’s important for us to tell our customers how we use the same engineering tools on our road cars and our race cars together,” Rushbrook said. “Because we are in racing, legitimately, to make our road cars better.
“It isn’t necessarily the exact same part on a Ford Fusion on the track and a Ford Fusion on the road. But the same engineering tools are used to do the design, the development and engineering.”
As for the diminished popularity of auto racing, Rushbrook said that fans remain dedicated and NASCAR numbers are still relatively strong.
“Candidly, there are some declines in numbers that we see,” Rushbrook said. “And, it’s across all forms of motorsports, but also all other forms of sports.”
In addition to NASCAR, Ford races the GT in the IMSA sports car series and the World Endurance Championship.
It also participates in NHRA drag racing, rally racing, off-road truck and drifting.
It continues to eschew Formula One, where expenses are enormous while gaining global exposure in other competition, including the endurance series, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, June 17-19.
“We’ll be back at Le Mans to hopefully win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, again, as we did in 2016,” Rushbrook said.
“And then, beyond that, this weekend, I just talked to our M-Sport team that’s racing in Sardinia. The last stage, it took over the lead. So, we’re excited about that.”
M-Sport races a street-based Ford Fiesta on a global stage.
The returns from motorsport, are constantly monitored by a team of Ford executives, he said.
They make the decisions about participation.
The Tech trailer itself, now two-years-old, represents a significant commitment, in both the NASCAR and IMSA series.
A communications hub, with as many as eight or more engineers in a control room that looks like something NASA developed, the semi-trailer provides critical information to racing teams, said Pat DiMarco, NASCAR Program supervisor for Ford Performance.
“Depending on the situation it could be anything from race strategy to handling,” DiMarco said.
Detroit News motor sports reporter Gregg Krupa talks to NASCAR driver Erik Jones of Byron, Michigan about the FireKeepers 400 at MIS on Sunday. Detroit News
In NASCAR, where no telemetry may be communicated to drivers, there is a heavy reliance on multiple photographers stationed around the track.
Their photos help engineers make judgments about how cars are set up, based on appearance.
The pictures and observations of drivers are often the best information crews receive during races.
When asked what happens behind a couple of black doors at the end of the trailer, DiMarco smiled.
“I can’t show you back there,” he said. “That’s where all the magic happens.”
NASCAR at MIS
FireKeepers Casino 400
When: 2 p.m., Sunday
Support race: NASCAR Xfinity Series LTi Printing 250, 1:30 p.m., Saturday