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New car buoys hopes for Chevrolet to avoid ‘unacceptable’ Cup result last year

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A Chevrolet executive calls it “unacceptable” that the manufacturer did not have a car racing for the Cup championship last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway but says he expects Chevrolet to have “at least a car or two” in the title race this season with the new Camaro ZL1

Pat Suhy, Chevrolet’s NASCAR Group Manager, made the comments Sunday after a luncheon at the National Motorsports Press Association Convention.

Chevrolet had no Cup car finish higher than fifth (Chase Elliott) last year and did not score a win in the 10-race playoffs — Toyota won eight races and Ford two. Toyota won the championship with Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing.

“If you look at the car count and just do a ratio of the car count, we were (seven) out of 16 going into the playoffs last year and to not have one make it in the final round was not good,’’ Suhy said.

“I expect us to have at least a car or two in the Final Four this year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.’’

Suhy and others at Chevrolet are buoyed by the Camaro ZL1 and look to repeat the success Toyota had last season (16 wins in 36 races) with its updated Camry.

Suhy said a key to the Camaro ZL1 is that Chevrolet engineers found ways to move more downforce from the front to the rear of the car.

“As teams make more downforce, they tend to make more and more front downforce, they don’t gain rear downforce as much,’’ Suhy said. “With the old car, as they made more and more front downforce, it got more and more aero loose, so it got harder to keep the car from being too loose and unstable going into the turns.’’

Suhy said that while there were some Chevrolets that were strong last season — Kyle Larson won four races to lead the manufacturer — many teams had a challenge with the setup.

“I would say the loose to relative looseness of the car didn’t feel as comfortable getting into the corners,’’ Suhy said of last year’s car. “So I think a lot of it is really about driver comfort and how they feel going 210 mph down the frontstretch at Michigan and lifting and turning left and having the confidence that the car is actually going to turn left and not lose the front end. I think those are the things this car will help feel more settled, more stable and less twitchy.’’

Any new car can have its struggles. Despite its dominance last year, Toyota won only two of the first 17 races before winning 14 of the final 19.

“I think some of the things that we’ve done with our car and what we’ve done since it was approved, working together with our teams and with the teams working separately, I’d like to think that we’re not going to struggle that badly that early,’’ Suhy said. “I guess we’ll see. We’re prepared. If we do struggle, it’s not because of the fundamental design of the car, it’s really just a matter of more time development needed. We’re ready to address that if needed.’’

Chevrolet enters this new era without its NASCAR program manager. Alba Colon joined Hendrick Motorsports earlier this month to oversee the team’s competition systems group. She was among those from Chevrolet at the track most weekends who worked with the teams.

Suhy said he’s temporarily filling Colon’s job, along with his other duties, until a replacement can be found. Suhy said the team that developed the car remains and that Kevin Bayless, Chevrolet Racing NASCAR Chassis and Aerodynamics Program Manager, will play a greater role. Bayless will be at the organizational test Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Each Cup organization is allowed to have one team test. 

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Chevy exec discusses development of latest low-downforce package

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Yesterday, NASCAR announced further downforce reduction changes for the Sprint Cup Series that will be used for the June race at Michigan International Speedway and in July at Kentucky Speedway.

The changes include:

  • A reduced spoiler that will be 2.5 inches high and 53 inches wide. The current spoiler is 3.5 inches high. The width is the same as the width of a spoiler for superspeedway events.
  • A tapered deck lid fin
  • Neutral rear toe/skew setting
  • 2-inch wide splitter with current center section length.

Chevrolet has conducted a Q&A with Pat Suhy, Chevrolet Racing’s NASCAR Group Manager to answer questions about the package that could be utilized in 2017 and give insight into how the package was developed and tested last week at Michigan.

Q: HOW DID THE NEW TWEAKS TO THE RULES PACKAGE COME ABOUT?

PAT SUHY: “I really think it started in discussions between the teams and NASCAR about where the teams are spending their resources; and wondering if this is really an area they want to race in? NASCAR knows that over time, teams have gained aero performance, whether it’s increased downforce or reduced drag, as they spend more and more time in the Wind Tunnel and as they have worked on the tires to have more grip and more give-up. Gaining back more of the downforce they lost by whatever means, jeopardizes all the work that has been done and fans could see racing return to what it was like last year. I think as a problem to solve it was the question of, ‘Well, where are you guys gaining downforce? How come the cars have all this skew in them?’

“I think there were other discussions going on about electrical loads and battery life and stuff like that. You come to realize that the two things that were just done, reducing the number of fans underneath the car and reducing the skew in the rear of the car, were two of the areas the teams had been working in to gain back a lot of the performance that the body change was supposed to eliminate. Collectively, I think the teams and NASCAR agreed that limiting those things wouldn’t be a bad way to slow the progress down that path and allow them to focus their resources elsewhere.”

Q: HOW WILL THE NEW AERODYNAMIC CHANGES AFFECT HOW THE CARS DRIVE?

SUHY: “The low downforce package that was tested at Michigan last week fundamentally probably won’t change things a lot as far as the way the cars handle. I believe NASCAR and the teams that participated with them on the project directly did a really good job of doing things that were sensible to maintain the aero balance and be simple to implement. The aero balance really didn’t shift very much from where it is today.

“What is going to probably change is the way the cars behave in traffic. Based on what we saw at Michigan, we are going to see corner entry speeds go up, and mid-corner speeds go down. It’s going to put a lot of the ‘driver’ back in the car. It is partway back to the package we saw last spring at Michigan when they tested the 2015 low downforce package there. The speeds were still too high, but I think between the engine changes that happened this year and the fact that they didn’t go all the way to that low downforce package, we are going to see a pretty racy package that a lot of the drivers have been talking about wanting.”

Q: DO YOU THINK TRYING THESE NEW CHANGES IN THE ALL-STAR RACE AND THE TEST AT MICHIGAN WAS ENOUGH EXAMINATION TO IMPLEMENT THESE CHANGES?

SUHY: “I think the truck arm rule and the fan rule are done for the rest of the season. I don’t really think that needed a lot of testing.  That’s just a matter of trying to get some of the gains that the teams have made in downforce out of the car so they are more like what we had at the beginning of the season.  As far as the new future aero package being tested at Michigan and Kentucky, I do think that is adequate testing.  Actually, that is probably more than adequate based on what we know and how the test went last year on the two packages versus how the racing turned out.  My opinion is you might have been able to do it just based on the tire test at Michigan.”

Q: ARE THERE FURTHER STEPS THAT CAN BE TAKEN TO REDUCE DOWNFORCE?

SUHY: “You get to a point where you can take more downforce off the cars, but there are diminishing returns in terms of the racing quality.  I think there is a sweet spot there.  Along the way you can’t stop working on tires.  Another thing you could to if you really want the cars to be harder to drive, I think, is to put some of the horsepower back in them. There are a lot of things you can do if it’s about making the drivers drive the cars.  I think the teams are working well with NASCAR.  I think the whole competition committee that NASCAR has together is coming to grips with the fact that we, as an industry, have to decide our points of difference.  Where do we want to race each other?  Do we want to race each other with pit guns, or tire fans, or do I want my driver to determine if my car is the fastest?”