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NASCAR Start

NASCAR seems to be taking a few things from Formula 1 this season such as knock-out qualifying format and a revised Chase scenario where the points are jumbled up and it becomes a winner-take-all ending which is akin to doubling the points for the final race.

All of this is to “spice up the show” and keep the thrill going to the last race. It’s the case of tournamentizing the series like kids baseball these days. When I was young, we played all summer and the two best teams at the end would play for all the money, marbles and chalk. Not now, it’s a high-pressure tournament every weekend with traveling and hotels and frustrated parents. It seems NASCAR may be turning into a frustrated parent as well because they are now adding another F1-style change to their agenda.

It was announced this week that NASCAR is going to change their engine format soon. Possibly not for 2015 but soon, says NASCAR boss Brian France:

“We’re going to make that happen, and that’s part of the overall rules packages that we design that hopefully control costs, hopefully make the racing better,” France said. “The engine is an integral part of that. We also have to be in step as much as possible with the car manufacturers and where they’re going with technology and different things. It all has to come together, and that’s the next significant part of the rules package. … The engine will get a significant change. I’m not going to say (for) ’15, but we are certainly sizing that up. It’s very important for us to get that right.”

Well they have to keep in step with car manufacturers and where the future is going—where have I heard that before? So where are the carmakers going? Easy to see where that’s going at the moment with one look at the top selling cars in America for last month:

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I’m thinking some of those Ford F-150’s and other trucks have V8’s in them so perhaps NASCAR will stick with a V8 but move to fuel injection similar to what the carmakers use? Or will the series really see the light and move to a V6 turbo hybrid system with big batteries and KERS? Ok, maybe it won’t have KERS but I could see some serious thought placed behind the V6 turbo with direct injection, lower revs and lower horsepower.

The top selling cars in America are trucks. The engine that Ford brought to the USC for Ganassi Racing was their new Ecoboost. One could assume they will do something similar with NASCAR but maybe not.

It seems there is little room for error here given the slide in NASCAR viewers and changing engine formats could be as well received as it has been in F1. At least NASCAR will have a template on how to and how not to react to the fan response having watched Formula 1 works it’s PR machine.

NASCAR is very tied to the manufacturer and I can understand how they want to represent more closely the cars people buy but they stopped doing that a long time ago. It actually used to be the same car you could buy on Monday but no longer. Still, they are a huge marketing machine for manufacturers and certainly are symbiotic organisms in the series.

As for Formula 1, is it as tied to manufacturers as NASCAR is? Some would certainly have you believe they are and when Honda, Toyota and BMW left, I was genuinely worried for the sport—if Ford and Chevy left NASCAR, it would be dire. Not so much with F1, however. Sure, it hurt but the series moves on. That’s because it is a constructor’s championship, not a manufacturer’s championship.

As such, was it crucial that F1 change to the V6 turbo hybrid system given that only three manufacturers are participating? The FIA’s Jean Todt said it was and that we needed to get manufacturers back in the sport—Honda took the bait and will return with engines only in 2015. Perhaps Renault and Mercedes were putting pressure on the FIA to use an engine format that matches their road car designs but I am relatively sure Ferrari were not. So that makes two out of three and McLaren still refusing to roll their own.

The history of F1 is littered with privateers who bought engines from folks who were happy to make them. The interesting thing is that this is where NASCAR is different. The engines in NASCAR are built by five manufacturer-specific companies. TRD and Triad Racing Technologies (Toyota), Roush-Yates Engines (Ford) and ECR Engines and Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet). Huh? Not by the manufacturers? Nope.

It’s an interesting difference in the approach to racing but time will tell if F1 has the engine format right. Time will also tell if NASCAR can find the right format but as it stands, look for more F1-style moves from the heart of American racing. Might be fun to see stockcars try a little brake-by-wire wouldn’t it?

What do you think? Should F1 be looking for more engine makers instead of more teams? Cosworth unfortunately didn’t stay in F1 when it moved to the new format but Renault was threatening to leave, according the the FIA, if they didn’t change. Tough call but engines provide the shove and perhaps NASCAR must reckon the reality as well.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Rapierman

    Maybe it should be both new teams and new engines. Maybe a team like the Haas-owned version, and maybe also a complete car company like Mercedes, such as Ford, Audi, Volkswagen, etc. Maybe more privateers like Williams or Red Bull. As long as you have a large variety of teams and/or cars, you have a target-rich competitive environment (much like capitalism/economy).

  • charlie w

    I thought NASCAR went to fuel injection a few years ago. Anyway, does this mean NASCAR would actually follow its production car roots and use some type of V6 in Sprint Cup class while keeping the V8 in the Truck Series? I can imagine the mass screams and howls from NASCAR fans if they made that move.

  • Schmorbraten

    If NASCAR used 2014 F1 engines, that would be a 50% INcrease in revs.

    Cosworth would have stayed in F1 if there had been any customers, but no team wanted to commit to jointly investing into it, and on their own Cosworth’s R&D budget just isn’t on the level of the manufacturers. They have nonetheless designed a 2014 F1 engine, waiting for the right collaboration opportunity to come along.

    Had F1 not been late to the party but instead the avantgarde in downsizing and energy recovery, for example by changing to hybrid V6 turbos in 1999/2000, it would have been at least a lot easier for BMW, Toyota and Honda to internally justify staying in F1 despite the 2008-onwards financial crisis or economic downturn. Plus, we’d probably be over it by now.

    Current US fuel prices are still ridiculously low, roughly a third of european prices, and for decades you even had to pay less than half the current rate. Even inflation-adjusted, US fuel prices were roughly half of today’s average only 15 years ago. Here in the EU, the majority of the road car market was taken over by frugal turbodiesels over the last 25 years, and petrol engines are only on the up again since the manufacturers could be bothered to significantly improve the efficiency of petrol engines as well (e. g. VW TSI / TFSI engines). Imagine everyone’s fuel bill was three times as high as they’re now (and still increasing) – would you still think no racing fan could be bothered by efficiency?

    • As you stated, a race fan in America may not resonate as much as one in Europe given fuel prices. In fact, I doubt they do as trucks are the biggest selling car in the US. Would NASCAR moving to a V6 resonate given that lower fuel cost? Not sure. We’ll wait and see. When an F1 car can get 30mpg, I’ll be impressed. Right now we have cars 5-8 seconds slower than last year with hardly any sound for 5mpg versus the previous 3mpg. It’s a very difficult pill to swallow.

      • Schmorbraten

        Slower laptimes (and I’d give a lower number on average difference) are due to aerodynamic changes. And end of straight speed is higher, so slower laptimes is not something the engine/PU can be blamed for.

        5 vs. 3 mpg sounds negligible, but it would be a 60% increase of range. If Ford claimed they achieved a 60% range increase on their new F-150 with improved power & torque, everyone would think their marketing guys had one too many, or it’s April Fool’s day.

        But I understand, if you want ground-shaking noise and a flat-out sprint race instead of this fuel saving and efficiency poker game, F1 2014 has to be disappointing.

        I wanted to shut up on this weeks ago, but it’s difficult. If one doesn’t like the outcome of a presidential election, of course everyone is entitled to an opinion, although it won’t change who’s president for the next years. But campaigning in that context can at least hope for a return to the old president in the next elections. F1 will never revert to the old engines, no matter how much people complain.

      • It most likely won’t unless people stop watching in droves. The question is the next evolutionary step for F1 and what it will do to answer the criticisms of the current format..perhaps? I agree 60% sounds like a lot but it’s not in the grand context of F1. If Ford said 60% savings with an ecoboost engine, that’s a lot because of the scale, right? If it gets 30mpg, a 60% gain is quite a bit. Context for the F1 circus doesn’t really help the 60% gain along very much given the jets used to fly the series around the world. Then again, I guess I could argue the resources used to make the Ford truck added to the equation of the truck itself would marginalize the 60% gain too. :)

      • You guys’ debate is fascinating as it draws contrasting conclusions from the same figure; that illuminates message v. larger reality, and adds import to context when using any objective number. Most any figure can be manipulated to suit the user’s intent (see Ferrari poll/60% increased fuel efficiency, ERS+160hp for 33.3 seconds)

        In truth, what % of the whole understand the Ferrari poll came from an interested party, w/ leading verbiage and limited response choices to garner the desired results? How many (like you guys) break down the actual fuel savings percentage, or weigh that flat percentage vs. amount saved, or understand that ERS is an integral system within the Power Unit whole, which has a systemic influence on the ICE rather than isolated transient influence, so the resultant figures tell an incomplete/incorrect story?

        Answer is very few, which is what the message provider wants. That entity wants the average person to see “We’re more fuel efficient” or “Green” or whatever, throw a number about, and expect (and get) most people taking that as progression/regression.

        So, getting back to NASCAR, what is the intent of the move? “Green,” road-relevancy, safety, technological progression, economics? That, and market research conclusions regarding fan expectation, will determine what route they take.

        Great debate.

  • Did NASCAR switch to the LS-pattern engines, or are they still using the traditional SBC? If they really wanted to represent their road cars, the manufacturers would use N/A Fours. I don’t think Fusion/Malibu even offered w/ a V6, and Camry/et al’s volume leaders are four-bangers.

    Haven’t watched NASCAR really ever, but I just can’t see them w/o a large displacement V8; unlike F1 for me, NASCAR IS all about noise and a sort of anti-establishment old-fashioned mantra.

    Yes Charlie W, I believe they went w/ fuel injection recently, if I recall correctly a 4 barrel throttle body system on top of a carburetor intake manifold w/ injector bungs welded in. More like the Cobra kit car-style fuel injection rather than what most road cars have.

  • NASCAR only just moved away from carbs. I think ERS are way too far off…

  • Tim C

    Having been a NASCAR fan since the 1980’s, I seriously doubt there will be a change to a V6 engine platform anytime soon. More than likely they will just find a way to reduce the horsepower of the current V8 engine instead. NASCAR went down the V6 road with their second tier series years ago. To be more inline with the Sprint Cup Series, the V8 format was phased back into this second tier series.

    One thing F1 could learn from NASCAR is how to go about implementing technical changes. NASCAR has spent the last couple of years tweeting the rules so that the race car more closely resembles their road worthy counterparts. And, from a visual perspective, they have done a very good job. NASCAR has now shifted their focus to the power train side of things. And, knowing NASCAR, they will make these changes in small, manageable steps as well.

    Compare this to what F1 has done. I’m convinced that change was needed to the old formula, but the powers that be took things way to far to quickly. Aside from the increased costs to the teams, the number and type of changes was taken way to far to be successfully implemented in such a short timeframe. Did we really need new engines, transmissions, gearboxes, KERS units (or whatever they call it now, etc.) all introduced this year? Even if we ultimately ended up in the same place, it didn’t have to happen all at once. Phasing these changes in would have been a better approach.

    As for making F1 road car relevant, that’s fine in theory. However that goal is better left to sports cars (e.g. Lemans), V8 Supercars, and even NASCAR. The transfer of technology from these disciplines is probably more applicable to road cars than from F1.

    Just a note: NASCAR uses McLaren ECUs to control the electronics and fuel injection on the race cars.

    • Weren’t they talking about V6’s for gen 7 car back in 2012? That’s the report I read.

      • Tim C

        Hum . . . good question. The V6 may have been brought up for consideration, but I honestly don’t remember any discussion on it. The V8 is just a good platform for NASCAR. The V8 is used in all three of NASCARs premier series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series). The V8 is also extremely reliable and cost effective. They have to be since a new engine is used for every race weekend.