Next Gen's 'huge architecture change' not all in its looks

The visuals of NASCAR’s Next Gen car bodies unveiled this week were striking in comparison to the current iteration of Cup Series cars.

Next Gen's 'huge architecture change' not all in its looks
Next Gen Ford Mustang unveil at Ford Performance Tech Centre
Next Gen Ford Mustang unveil at Ford Performance Tech Centre
Next Gen Ford Mustang unveil at Ford Performance Tech Centre
Nascar Hall of Famer Richard Petty
Nascar driver Denny Hamlin
Nascar Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro
Nascar Next Gen Ford Mustang
Nascar Next Gen Toyota TRD Camry
Nascar Next Gen Ford Mustang
Nascar Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro
Nascar Next Gen Ford Mustang
Nascar Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro
Nascar Next Gen Toyota TRD Camry

But there is so much more to the changes coming with the Next Gen than simply body styling and new 18-inch wheels.

Much of the benefits of the new car will come from changes that race fans may never actually see simply by watching the cars compete on track next season.

“We talk about this car and it’s a huge architecture change. The Gen-6 car (current model), I hate to use the words antiquated technology but it’s old technology,” said Richard Johns, NASCAR program engineer with Ford Performance.

“It’s a solid rear axle with a big Ford 9-inch rear end. Truck-arm cars – they don’t build them anymore. That’s 1960s and 70s.

“Now we’re going to things that you can’t see, like rack and pinion steering, independent rear suspension. It’s a huge step forward in technology and closer to what we see on the street in the production car.”

A great deal of time during Wednesday’s unveil of the Next Gen Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Toyota Camry was spent talking about relevancy.

One obvious aspect of relevancy is the correlation between the race cars and their respective showroom models and that was clearly addressed in the design of the Next Gen car.

Just as important, however, officials with NASCAR’s various manufacturers say, is technological relevancy.

And these changes are just as important but not as visually apparent.

“We all saw principally the body and the styling. One of the other things that were very important to Toyota, as well as our colleagues at Ford and Chevrolet, was more technological relevancy,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development.

“Independent suspensions, independent rear, independent front, rack-and-pinion steering. There were some low-hanging fruit that we’ve been waiting for years and years and years to bring to the race track.

“It took a lot of courage and commitment from the entire industry, all of the OEMs, to say, ‘Okay, let’s do this one right,’ and let’s address all of these things that we’ve wanted to see on a NASCAR race car for years and years and years.”

The effects of some of the technology changes will be apparent to race fans in different ways.

For instance, to help downforce levels or change the cooling to the engine, currently teams typically add or remove duct tape from front grille. Beginning next year that will no longer be allowed.

“What you see when the race starts, that is what it will look like throughout the race,” Johns said. “Teams control the temperature and the flow through the engine with the hood vents.

“On short tracks and road courses there will still be some brake ducts (near the front grille) that teams will be able to put tape on to control their cooling. The brake holes won’t be allowed at intermediate tracks and superspeedways.”

In addition, each team will create a plate that will go behind the radiator and water cooler with a hole pattern that gets the right performance for engine temperature, combustion air and some effect on drag and downforce as well.

“Once that’s in the car and they start the race, that’s not going to be changed,” Johns said. “They have to be very smart about not closing it off too much and running too high a temperature. The benefit of just blocking it off is just not there anymore.”

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What could be the most important results of the change in technology won’t be apparent until next year’s Daytona 500 – when 40 Next Gen cars compete on the track at the same time at Daytona International Speedway.

Simulation work indicates the production styling and technology advances will improve the on-track racing product.

The final judgement, however, won’t come until the competition begins. Even then, one race won’t be sufficient to assess success.

“In terms of what storylines are out there, usually story lines come from the competitiveness on the race track,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer.

“We’ll look at not necessarily speeds, right, we want to look at the safety aspect for sure, but we’re going to look at how many teams can be competitive, the number of different leaders, the number of different winners, the OEMs, are they all able to compete.

“And then longer term, what is this doing for ownership, not only for our existing owners but potentially new owners and then from there looking at OEMs. This won’t just be kind of a one or two to three-month overview from us. We’re going to look at it from a long-term.”

Some Next Gen car specs that may go unseen:

  • UNDERWING: Full carbon undertray w/center stepped splitter and rear diffuser
  • CHASSIS: Steel tubing w/bolt-on front and rear clips and front/rear bumpers
  • TRANSAXLE: 5-speed manual sequential with ramp and plate differential
  • SUSPENSION (FRONT/REAR): Double wishbone billet aluminum control arms with adjustable coil over shock absorbers
  • STEERING: Rack and pinion
  • FRONT BRAKE ROTORS: 15”
  • REAR BRAKE ROTORS: 14”
  • ENGINE COOLING: Air exits radiator through hood louvers
  • EXHAUST: Split-side exit exhaust
  • FUEL CELL: ~20 gallons (Sunoco Green E15)
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