Ford took a bold step Tuesday afternoon on the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour when it unveiled the new 2013 Ford Fusion body style at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The first manufacturer to debut the new design, Ford’s announcement drew NASCAR brass, Ford design team members and Sprint Cup Series drivers.
Focusing on making the car look more like the product sold in the showroom and parked in the driveways, Ford made a concerted effort to produce a sleek, eye-catching car, while remaining in the limits placed on them by NASCAR.
The entire process of developing a new body style began when Ford introduced the Mustang into Nationwide Series competition. Jamie Allison, the Director of Ford Racing, called the use of the Mustang in the series a “tipping point in the sport” that generated tremendous excitement within the company and with fans in the stands.
Originally planning on introducing the Mustang as the next Sprint Cup Series model, Allison explained that decision was scrapped once they saw the design of the 2013 production model Fusion.
“For many years, we kind of lost our way. This is car racing, and the cars on the track need to look like the cars in people’s driveway, and that is what this car is,” he said. “Hats off to NASCAR, because without NASCAR’s leadership, this would not be possible. It took them ensuring the four manufacturers were working together, and building on the competition that exists. NASCAR led and we the manufacturers stepped up to give the fans what they want, which is a car that they love and a car that looks like a car in their driveway.”
The process of making the cars look like the production models, while remaining competitively equal was not a simple task. Each manufacturer met with NASCAR to determine common areas for each of their individual cars.
The group agreed on common specifications for the A-pillar, back to the rear spoiler, down to the door posts, then worked on the tail, rocker panels, wheel arches and lower air dams. Aside from these areas, each individual manufacturer has been able to mold the car to their own brand identity.
“From time to time we did our meetings and brought everybody back to make sure that nobody was getting too far out or that there wouldn’t be too much of a deficit,” NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said. “We also encouraged them quite a bit to get all their identity that they could in the race car and we would do what we do best, which was regulate and make sure everybody has a fair shot and an even playing field. As much as we all worked together, we worked independently because we didn’t want to stifle any of the manufacturer’s ideas that they had about putting the brand identity into the cars.”
The interesting turn of events here is NASCAR’s concerted effort to put the “stock car” back in NASCAR. Just a short time ago, NASCAR scrapped the idea of brand identity for a safer car that was simple to inspect on a common template.
Drivers and fans alike bemoaned the design, lamenting it was more of a spec race car and a departure from the glory days of NASCAR.
“For the Car of Tomorrow a couple of years ago, (NASCAR) decided they didn’t really care what the manufacturers wanted,” Roush said. “They wanted the cars to look the same so they were easily inspected and maintain the aero balance. It was only after they got the resistance to the car from the fans, the criticism of the car from the consumers, that they decided maybe they had gone too far.”
Greg Biffle admitted many of the drivers felt the pain of fans, believing they had gone from “a cool race car” to a car that was not as cool or sleek when the switch was made to the current body style.
“(The fans) aren’t going to be complaining about that thing,” he said with a smile. “This looks like a race car. This thing is bad ass.”
While Ford’s dramatic announcement created buzz and excitement, a lot of work still has to take place before the body style is officially approved by NASCAR. Changes could still be made to the model unveiled Tuesday, but the overall design of the car should remain the same.
Team owner Jack Roush explained there are a total of three 2013 Ford Fusions already produced, but the third was at the wind tunnel with NASCAR.
“We’ve got to get the templates finally solidified, as far as what NASCAR wants the car to be. This is a 90% car here that we have today,” he said. “When we get past the NASCAR approval, we’ll be building cars so they’ll be track testing and verifying the function of various things in the car by the third or fourth quarter of next year.”
Regardless, Biffle and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway to show off their new rides.
“It’s great to see them on the track on a beautiful sun-shining day here in Charlotte,” team owner Jack Roush said. “It has been six months of hard work for the engineers in Dearborn (Mich.) and the technicians in the race shops here in North Carolina have put in on these cars.”
There is no word as to when Chevrolet, Dodge or Toyota plan on unveiling their new designs. Dodge is expected to stick with the Charger, Toyota is expected to remain with the Camry, but it is believed Chevrolet will introduce an entirely new model to both consumers and NASCAR.
“The other manufacturers have got cars that they’re as excited as we have,” Roush said when asked if the early debut put the pressure on Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota. “It’s a great opportunity for all manufacturers to carry their brand identity to their race cars.”