Cars Motorsport

THE BLUE OVAL RISES

FORD ARE BACK. Newly re-engaged by the sport of Supercars racing, the Blue Oval kicked off their 2019 campaign in a big way at the Superloop Adelaide 500. Dale Rodgers charts how the brand returned to the main game in Australia.

STORY: @DaleRodgers27 IMAGES: @MarkWa1ker, Ford Performance

Ford has a distinguished motorsport history in Australia. However it has been punctuated by withdrawal followed by dealer involvement and then periods of partial or full factory funding. In 2014 Ford Australia ended its ‘factory’ backing of the then named Ford Performance Racing. This meant that recent years have seen the Ford Supercars teams running with some individual dealer support but no official factory status.

In April 2018, this all changed.

Ford Australia announced an ambitious plan to return to the tracks with its Ford Mustang GT built to conform to the Supercars rules. Ambitious, as it would be the first two door coupe to be built on what effectively was a sedan based chassis platform. But this was more than Ford Australia returning to motor sport.

The development of the Ford Performance brand globally is a key marketing and product strategy for Ford and the Mustang project was given the full might of global Ford resources. Behind closed doors Roger Penske had been slowly but surely working on bringing this to fruition to ensure his DJR Team Penske Supercars team would continue its 50+ year association with Ford.  

Fast forward to March 2019, and six Mustang Supercars rolled out of the garages to contest the Adelaide 500, the first round of the 2019 Virgin Australia Supercar Championship.

Mark Rushbrook – Global Director, Ford Performance Motorsports was in Adelaide to witness the debut and spoke to The Race Torque about the structure and process that led to the on track debut of the Mustang

“Ford Performance Motorsport is a team that is based mostly in Dearborn (Michigan USA) with engineers also in North Carolina and Dutton in the UK. This team is involved all of our global motorsport programs whether it is NASCAR, GT’s in the WEC or Fiesta’s in the WRC and now Mustangs in the Supercars Championship. As we got more serious about our global motorsport about three or four years ago, we looked at working with Ford Australia on Supercars.

“The opportunity to bring Mustang here has been fantastic, because Mustang has gone global as the biggest selling sports car in the world, and we have gone global with the Mustang racing program in NASCAR, the GT4 spec through the SEO and now here with the Mustang in Australian Supercars.”

In a world first, Ford Performance put the 2019 Mustang NASCAR side by with Supercars version and a Ford Performance road going Mustang GT in a unique on track demonstration. Not only were the cars a highlight, but they were piloted by Dick Johnson, Marcos Ambrose and Scott McLaughlin. Three generations of Ford’s Australian heroes.

“It is really a pride point (in time) to see the street Mustang and those two racing Mustangs on the track, and exciting for the fans I think to see that Mustang identity in all those cars and to hear those rumbling V8’s,” added Rushbrook.

While there was plenty of Social Media noise about the design and look of the Mustang Supercar, the tide appears to have turned.

Rushbrook addressed the comments by saying, “I think the reaction has been really positive on the car and when you see the car on the track it looks like a Mustang. We’ve made Mustangs since the 60’s and they all look different, but when you see them you know it’s a Mustang. And with this car it definitely looks like a current model Mustang. It’s got the hips, the shoulders, the proportions, the glass lines – the key brand styling cues are in there and when you see it on the track, it says ‘Mustang’.”

Tickford Racing Team Principal, Tim Edwards added to the styling debate by saying: “There have been two surveys undertaken with fans in the last week and the two most popular cars are the Monster car and the DJR Team Penske cars, so I think the public have changed their view. What was displayed to them late last year in the ‘camo’ livery achieved what every manufacturer wants with camouflage livery. It hid the styling cues of the car that Mark (Rushbrook) referenced and now we see the thing in the flesh, the public have spoken.”

Mark Rushworth, Tim Edwards and DJR Team Penske Team Principal Ryan Story all commented on the size and scope of the Mustang Supercar project.

With groups working effectively across the globe on the design and build of the car, the amount of work undertaken in the last 12 months was immense.

Further elaborating on the process Ford Performance Motorsports undertakes, Rushworth explained that the wider group works in a matrix format.

“We have program teams that focus on specific series, in terms of engaging with the series and engaging with the teams. We (also) have core technical sections for vehicle dynamics, aerodynamics and power train. We then share those resources, those tools across any series. In this case Sriram (Pakkam – Aerodynamics Lead, Ford Performance) is a member of the core aerodynamics team and he worked on the NASCAR Mustang for Cup and the Mustang for Australian Supercars. So we share that knowledge to good effect across multiple series.”

The extent of the Mustang Supercar project is possibly the most in depth development of a Supercar since the birth of the category in the late 1990’s.

Although it is widely acknowledged that teams in the Supercar paddock had in the past sent chassis to their parent or affiliate companies overseas for extensive testing, primarily in the area of analysis and optimization of the vertical dynamics of the car, these cars were already racing.

The Mustang project, however has employed global technology via Ford Performance, in collaboration with DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing to design and produce a Supercar to the highest possible standards.

Of course, all of this means little until the car actually performs on the race track – which wasn’t a problem in the end.

The season opener in Adelaide proved that the Mustang was indeed a very competitive beast via two pole positions and a clean sweep of the twin 250km races. All six Mustangs from the two Ford teams sent an ominous warning to the other Supercar teams along the pit row.

But the best comment on the debut of the Ford Mustang was left to current Supercars Champion Scott McLaughlin after the car’s maiden win.

“That one’s for you Ford fans, first weekend for the Mustang. We’re here, we’re here to party and we’re going to have a good time. It was really tough, but the cooling and all that stuff was really good for us and I just brought it home. I’m really happy with the car. We don’t have number one on the car but we’re number one today, it’s a great start.”