Roush: Don't wait, put safety first
NASCAR's "engine of the future" won't be ready until 2008, Roush said.
Jack Roush says that NASCAR should immediately incorporate all the new safety devices planned for Daytona's proposed "car of the future" into current Nextel Cup cars, rather than wait for the introduction of the car, which Roush says may not be ready until 2009.
Roush also said that he and Robert Yates have begun assembling a new engine-design team for Ford, to deal with NASCAR's proposed "engine of the future." But Roush says that project will cost millions of dollars with no appreciable results that couldn't be achieved with cheaper, more modest technical efforts.
NASCAR wants its engine of the future on the track in 2007. Roush says that Ford couldn't have such an engine ready until 2008 at the earliest. Doug Yates, who heads the Roush-Yates engine operation, says that bringing a new engine on line would cost his own two-car team at least $20 million, over and above actual developmental costs.
Chevrolet officials have been supporting NASCAR's new engine project, saying that it's needed to keep Toyota, Honda and Nissan from bringing in expensive and technically advanced Cup engines of their own. In fact, Chevy is expected to have its own prototype engine on the dyno sometime later this year for NASCAR to study.
Ford officials have been less than enthusiastic about NASCAR's new engine project. But Roush said that he and the Yates are, reluctantly and with great trepidation, cranking things up themselves.
"I'm trying to help Ford get a competitive design team in place to design an engine to meet NASCAR's new parameters," Roush said. "But it will cost us millions of dollars."
Roush says he's not really sure that NASCAR has adequate technical people on staff to understand the implications of the proposed new engine. So far, NASCAR appears to be letting the manufacturers vote themselves on the various design elements.
"As far as the performance implications of the parameters they've approved -- the valve positions and deck height, the camshaft positions, and the overall bore centers, and what all that means to the engine -- I don't know that they have anybody who is able to assess that," Roush said of NASCAR.
Roush is equally skeptical of NASCAR's understanding of the economic implications of the planned engine and car design changes. Rather than forcing the car of the future on team owners in one big blow, Roush says it makes much more sense to introduce changes piece by piece -- beginning with the safety features.
"The more reasonable thing I'm talking about, and so are Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick, is to look at the safety elements in the car of the future and incorporate those in the cars today right away, for safety," Roush said.
"Then if they want to add some changes to roof, add that at some point. Or if they want to add something in the front snout, add that at some point.
"Eventually, you would wind up with a new car with all those features, but it would be 50 or 60 pounds lighter than a car you'd put all the mandates on.
"But if a team wanted to use a band-aided [heavier] car, at a place like Bristol or Martinsville -- you could do that at a third of the races we go to where weight is not critical, and that would help us work into all those new features in a cost-efficient manner.
"But a lot of what they want in this car of the future doesn't have to do with safety."
One key body change that has been problematic for NASCAR is the larger greenhouse, which would be done to move the driver's head away from the roll bars.
"As far as I know a driver hasn't been hurt from being too close to the roof," Roush said. "So putting a bigger greenhouse on the car, in my opinion, is only a matter of changing the aerodynamic signature of the car.
"But the idea of moving the driver over [to the center of the car, for side-impact safety] is critical.
"Moving the engine over an inch or two to the right is easy to do. The bigger factor is how you mount the shifter on the transmission. But you could mount it on the right, rather than then left. Or even on top. The shifter is the easy part.
"We could get the driver over 4 inches in the car, though I don't know if we want these cars to look like the driver is sitting in the center. Still, moving the driver over 3 or 4 inches isn't wrong. And that's achievable with the car we've got today."
Roush is not at all enthusiastic about redesigning the car body and aerodynamics, a remarkably tricky venture even in small steps, as seen this season.
"Many times when NASCAR makes an effort to make the performance more equal," Roush warns, "it doesn't achieve that result."