MARTINSVILLE, Va. Ford has been working overtime since NASCAR approved a new cylinder head for the 2004 season. Robert Yates Racing, which builds engines for Ford teams on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, hopes to have the new cylinder head, which is supposed to give the Taurus more power, ready in the next month.
Jeff Klaver, Ford's racing technology engineer, talked about the new engine piece and what the car company hopes to accomplish with it.
Question: How challenging was it to create the new cylinder head giving NASCAR's political climate?
Klaver: The political stuff is the big thing. We were a bit behind with what NASCAR was allowing in comparison to the Chevrolet and Dodge engine. About five years ago, Chevy came out with the SB-2 engine. It was a completely new engine and head package for NASCAR. Ford has had the same engine with the C3 heads that were new in 1991. Then Dodge came along with a brand-new motor for their Cup program. Our engine was about as fully developed as it can get, so we needed something new. In recognizing new challenges and new manufacturers coming into the series, NASCAR allowed Ford to have a step up, sort of an interim piece.
Question: How is the new cylinder head different?
Klaver: The architecture of the D3 head is similar to the C3 head but the ports are raised up to get rid of the sharp bend into the ports. This increases airflow and horsepower. That's where we went with this head, as an interim step toward where we want to be in the next few years. We will be able to learn a lot now that we are a lot more equal to what the other manufacturers have as far as valve sizes and valve locations. It's a lot more than just coming out with a new head and saying the ports are raised and it's better. Every single part of the engine is integral and when you change one piece it affects the other pieces. The design of the piston, the location of the piston rings, the camshaft profile, it's all related. All those things the teams spend time working on will change. When you throw a new piece at them, things will not be better until you have development time. That's what our teams are working on right now. Again, we have raised the ports so the teams will have to work on the port shape that works best. The teams will work on things like when the valves are open. All things are affected by a simple head change. The biggest challenge is we now have an NASCAR-approved cylinder head and we have the new potential for improvement. Our teams have new territory to work with and the potential to reap the benefits is the biggest challenge.
Question: Ford has a unique program where Robert Yates Racing is responsible for building engines for all of its teams. How is that working out?
Klaver: It does make things easier and it will speed things up a bit in some respects. Everyone will be working from the same direction towards a common goal. The danger you run into is if someone goes off in the wrong direction and you spend all your time and effort going one direction when someone else might have done something different initially, so now you only have one group going in one direction, where before you had two groups going from two different angles. So, there are benefits and there are disadvantages. Because the C4 head is not a radical departure from what we had before, we should be in good shape. It's not brand-new territory, just expanded territory. I think we will be in good shape once we get some development time on the engine.
Question: As NASCAR continues to move closer to common templates, will manufacturers turn more to the engine department for advantages?
Klaver: I look at it as a box. And NASCAR gives you the parameters of the box you work in. All the automakers are working on a common goal to be the fastest on the track within the specified allowances. As the specs tighten up, everyone will come to the common denominator. In a perfect world there would be a single answer to make the most power and have the fastest car. But in the real world as the box gets tighter the smallest advantage becomes important. Today we can win a championship with a car that has 20 hp less than the competition. You might have a team with a better body or a better chassis. The day is coming when if you do not have a two horsepower advantage over the other guy, you're not going to do it. It will be so equal. The D3 head is machined to the NASCAR's NEXTEL Cup specifications. It does have two or three years of development time in the SC1 variant. The same casting is used but a lot of outside sources have been playing around with valve angles. And we have seen some big gains in the other series like Dirt Late Model and Drag Racing. It's a huge improvement over the old C3, so we see a lot of potential in the Cup series.
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