The prior version of Taurus, originally presented to the public in the 1998 Daytona 500, has provided excellent results. But its humble beginnings came after public, and, at times, cantankerous battles between various team entities that wanted to leave their mark on that specific iteration.
"A lot of times you can build a car that just suits one team's purpose," said Ford Racing's NASCAR Field Manager Robin Pemberton, on a pitfall of this type of engineering exercise. Pemberton is in a position to know, as he was one of the principals of a three-team entity that worked on the '98 Taurus while working at Penske South Racing.
"I think the last couple times we had Penske doing one version, Yates doing one and Roush doing one," recalled Pemberton shaking his head. "During that ('98) project, NASCAR would cut templates off of cars and they were different cars that were constructed in different ways and not all the templates fit all the cars at the same time.
"It was almost impossible."
With lessons learned from 1998, Ford Racing's Greg Specht knew that he wanted to approach the car design issue differently. With a heftier engineering staff at his disposal, all he needed was word that the production staff wanted a new car developed for the NASCAR circuit.
The call for a new Taurus came approximately 20 months prior to its first on-track experience and included conversations between Ford Racing and Ford production. The result is a race car that is representative of what consumers see on the showroom floor.
"What we have in '04 is a re-freshening of the Taurus, so that kicks off a process," recalled Specht. "After the decision was made, we say to the production guys, 'OK, what are your thoughts? Show us your sketches and drawings,' and so on and so forth.
"With their ideas and goals in place, we went back and started looking at the race car and say, 'OK, now what do we need to do to the race car to have it look like the production car?'"
Having the production car designers more intimately involved from the start is also something new to the process, as the value of the NASCAR fan base becomes a key factor.
"In the recent past, racing considerations haven't influenced their (production's) thinking a lot anyway," explained Specht. "Even going back to the Thunderbird, what they did in the design studio was not affected that much by what was happening on the race track. However, it is starting to change in that they're asking for [Ford Racing's] input a lot earlier on in the process and some ideas that will actually improve the production car and truck.
"That happened with the new F-150, in fact, because since aero was such a big thing on the race track, we spent a lot more time in the wind tunnel with our race trucks than the production engineers do with the production truck," continued Specht. "So we know a lot more about balance and downforce and drag and the subtle little things that you can do to increase those characteristics."
Once the basic design concepts were developed, then the aero process began. This is the playground of Ford Racing's lead aerodynamicist, Bernie Marcus, who spent a considerable amount of time working out the nuances of the new car by using hand sketches and computer modeling before any consideration was given to forming actual metal fenders, hoods and decklids.
Marcus didn't have a wide-open field in which to draw from because of NASCAR's "aero-matching" rules, but he closed in on the starting point for the new car by using electronic models and 40-percent clay models.
"I think the reason everything went so well is because we also included NASCAR early on and that was very different from the past," Specht offered. "The previous programs that I've been involved in, we'd go off in the corner and do our jobs. The day it was due, we handed it to NASCAR and said, 'OK, here's our car. Can we have your approval for this?'"
"We took a very different approach this time around, and before we started fabricating the car and after we went to the teams and had an idea of what we wanted to do. We brought NASCAR up to Dearborn to our design studio and met with our production car designers and walked NASCAR through. 'Here's the production car. Here's what we're thinking of doing with the race car to match the production car. What do you think?'
This approach resulted in success. The very first time the 2004 Taurus competed in a NASCAR race, Dale Jarrett drove one to victory in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway in early February.
"The piece that we're ending up with is a very good race car," said Specht, "and it goes to show that two heads are better than one."
For more information, visit www.fordracing.com.