Gene Stefanyshyn has been at his post since May 13, 2013. He is the Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development for NASCAR. His role is not only geared toward the development of the racing platform that the fans see on the track but also enhancing the fan experience associated with the races that NASCAR stages. He came to NASCAR from General Motors where he worked for over 30 years in a myriad of roles culminating in a position of Executive Director of Global Product Development Quality. Stefanyshyn’s insight comes from a truly international perspective, having lived in five different countries and dealt with many more through his roles at GM.
Stefanyshyn has been focused on assembling the 2015 rules package that was recently rolled out to the teams. It is the largest set of rule changes since the Car of Tomorrow was rolled out in 2007. The changes include an attempt at horsepower reduction, reduced downforce, digital gauges, driver adjustable track bars and more. Stefanyshyn sat down with Frontstretch this week to provide some insight into the thought process for some of the rules and share how they may impact the fan experience going forward.
The interview is loaded with great information. So much so that we will run it in two parts. Today will include the horsepower reduction, future engine development, downforce reduction, and the driver adjustable track bar. The next installment will tackle digital gauges, automated officiating and the elimination of testing.
Mike Neff: Before we get into the meat of this interview, you’ve been in this position for a little while. How has it met up with the expectations that you had when you assumed the role?
Gene Stefanyshyn: I’ve been in this role for just shy of a year and a half. It has been very interesting. I’ve always liked cars. I’ve been a car person since I was thirteen or fourteen years old. I’ve always liked racing but since I haven’t been in the racing world I haven’t known all of the intricate details involved in putting a car on the track. I have been in a fairly steep learning curve but all of the engineering principles from my background in the auto industry are the same it is just a different application with different things you are trying to optimize. It has been a lot of fun thus far. I’ve really enjoyed it. The thing I really like about it is not only the learning part of it but also the ability to influence the sport and take it in a direction to try and improve it for our fans and our teams and our owners and everyone involved. It has been quite fulfilling so far.
Neff: Let’s get into a few different aspects of the 2015 rules changes. You’re trying to reduce horsepower to somewhere around 725 horsepower via implementation of a tapered space. Doug Yates told us earlier this year that doing a complete redesign of the engine would be an enormous financial burden on the engine builders and make a lot of parts obsolete. Going with the tapered spacer is still going to change quite a few parts in the engines. Is there a possibility of doing a complete redesign of the engine package in the future or are we going to stick with the tapered spacer for the foreseeable future?
Stefanyshyn: I think there are a couple points here. The 725 horsepower is the direction that we’re heading. We’re kind of resetting. The teams have the ability, with all of the great engineers at Doug’s shop and the other engine shops, to boost that power back up again through the use of their creativity. It isn’t like it is a hard number. Part of our decision making on this was that we really need to be concerned about how we deploy our resources, both human and financial, in a very prudent manner. We are working on a new engine for the not too distant future. Given that we didn’t want to spend a lot of money re-engineering in great detail, an existing engine if we have the ambition to move to a new world soon. We looked at it from not just this year but from a four or five year horizon and said ‘What is the smart way to do this?’. We talked about various alternatives to realize the power optimization. When it was all said and done we looked at it form several aspects. What is the quickest, what is the most cost effective and what will be the easiest for the sanctioning body to maintain a level of fairness in competition? That is the criteria that went into and balanced the things with taking some of our money and investing it in the future as opposed to spending it on current or past technology.
Neff: As a followup to the reduction of horsepower, in 1987 Bobby Allison almost went into the stands at Talladega. We put restrictor plates on the engines in a response to that as a bandaid at that point in time to reduce the power until we could come up with another way to do that. Has there been any research going on to try and get the sport away from restrictor plates in the future?
Stefanyshyn: I think that is directionally where we want to get to as we begin to concept and determine the engine of the future. The sizing, the displacement and all of the features in the engine. The desire is that it will come out and be a non-restricted engine. That is the most efficient way to do it from an engineering perspective, fuel consumption, emissions and all of that kind of stuff. As we look to the future that is our goal. Now having said that, the superspeedways pose an interesting challenge because the horsepower there is significantly less. Is it possible to manage that with one engine, that huge of an amount of power disparity? It would probably be difficult. It then gets down to pure economics. Does it make sense to build a specific engine for four races per year? That is a balancing act again.
Neff: When the Gen-6 car came out it had more downforce than the Car of Tomorrow. Now we have a reversal of fortune, after the testing at Michigan, where we are going to knock a couple of inches off of the rear spoiler. Was the decision to do that because of the positive response from the drivers or was it something that NASCAR was leaning towards when you went into that test?
Stefanyshyn: I really want to applaud the drivers for getting together and coming to talk to us. We do talk to them but, as you can imagine, when you talk to them they all have different opinions. It is hard to get a consensus. They came in and they were pretty thoughtful. They thought about for a bit and as a group they told us these were the things they wanted to see. A few of them in the group had a different opinion and you could see that come out. In general they were together and we listened to them. That was an important input for us. You hit it correctly though. We worked on the engine but we can’t just think about the engine change. This is a whole system of engine and aerodynamics together. We have to look at the solution as a holistic solution. What we were doing, and it became very evident in Michigan, the drivers said they wanted to do something with low downforce, Carl Edwards especially, so we decided to do it in Michigan. So we took some of the aerodynamic devices off of the cars and, with Michigan being one of our longer tracks, they were hitting 225 mph at the end of the straightaway with a different gear than we have today. If we used the gear we have today they probably would have hit 227 and that was with a 3.5 inch spoiler. If we’d have gone to a two inch spoiler they probably would eclipsed 230 mph. That was an indicator to us that the car, without a lot of aerodynamic devices on it, is capable of hitting 230 mph. To us that is a bit concerning, not only from a driver safety perspective but for the safety of the fans as well. It was an indicator to us that our engineers have done wonderful work over time to continue to elevate the power and increase the power, so the speeds have gone up. We use spoilers to slow the cars down so, when we optimize the power and take the spoiler down we give them some of that speed back. It is really a rebalancing by taking drag off so that we virtually end up in about the same place. It is aligned well that, when we take the spoiler off we take some downforce off which is an indicator that we can investigate the low downforce world. We have to be careful though because Michigan is one track. It has a very forgiving surface, it has very big turns with generous radii, the banking is very good so this is an investigation that we’ll have to look at some of the tougher tracks too. Basing the solution just on Michigan would not be a wise thing to do. We need to look at all of our tracks to see if there is a solution. We may end up that we may need to have a couple of different aero packages depending on which track we are at.
Neff: You talk about a balancing act, we’re also going to reduce the radiator pan to 38 inches. That is at the front of the car. Should we assume that is to balance out the overall downforce reduction from the back of the car to the front or were those two changes independent of each other?
Stefanyshyn: That is very perceptive, you are correct. When we decided to take some spoiler off we needed to bring the balance of the car back. The front pan decision was to get the balance of the downforce to be approximately 50%. That was the goal there, otherwise we would have been at a point with more of the downforce on the front end of the car, which is not what we wanted. Balancing of the package involved balancing of power with aerodynamics and then within the aerodynamics we balanced the spoiler with the pan to get the proper front to rear balance on the car.
Neff: We’re also adding a driver adjustable track bar. Is that something the teams had been requesting or was it something that NASCAR just wanted to add to allow the drivers to make their car more competitive while they are in action?
Stefanyshyn: Yeah, it is something we’ve talked about. We do allow the teams to adjust the track bar now but it is done by the pit crew. We were thinking that, if a driver is just a bit off or the track conditions change, they have to wait until the next pit stop and that can be a ways out, although they can pit early. We just thought it would be good to give the driver the ability, if they are off just a bit, to dial the car in and get there quicker. We feel that will make the competition closer. We had it at Michigan and some of the drivers thought it was cool while others didn’t really use it a lot. We’re not sure where that is going to end up but we think it is something that we’ll see how it goes. We think it could be very interesting. We do believe that the cars that are just off a bit, they will be able to get them to the optimum setup more quickly.
Neff: Is that going to open the door to more driver adjustments in the future?
Stefanyshyn: We may be open-minded but, what we are anchored in is that we want the drivers to drive the car. We’ll consider things but we don’t want to put so much stuff on it that the driver isn’t a key person in the activity. We’ll move carefully, in a very balanced way. This one we talked about a lot and asked if this was in harmony with our heritage and our history. It is important, as you move through things, you can go to a new world but you cannot forget your history and your heritage. We felt that it really isn’t a conflict because we allow it to happen now. We do it in the pit, all we are doing it giving it to the driver a bit quicker. We felt comfortable that it kept with our heritage and our history so that is why we’re comfortable with that one.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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