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MM&FF Exclusive Interview With Brian Wolfe
We sit down with the new head chief at Ford Racing Technology, and what he says doesn't surprise us one bit.
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Brian Wolfe, Ford's new director of Ford Racing Technology, has worked for the company for 26 years already, and was chosen to replace the retiring Dan Davis because he is, first and foremost, a Ford racer, and second, an extremely talented and experienced engineer. His previous job was as director of Ford's global powertrain calibrations, which involve the power, torque, emissions, fuel economy and durability of every engine Ford produces worldwide.
Wolfe started racing the same day he got is driver's license, and he's been racing Fords ever since, using a '69 428 Cobra Jet Fairlane that he's had for decades, and later a Pro 5.0 1986 Mustang that ran as low as 8.35 at well over 160 mph at the drags. That's right, he's a drag racer, and a good one, the first real racer to run Ford's factory racing operation since it was created in 1982, including his predecessors, Michael Kranefuss, Dan Rivard, Neil Ressler, and Dan Davis, all of whom were great racing executives, but not racers.
MM&FF: First things first, Brian. Our readers want to know if the rumors are true about Ford Racing putting together a fleet of lightweight Cobra Jet Mustangs for NHRA Stock and Super Stock class racing next year.
Wolfe: We have assembled a prototype, and we are confirming our ability to manufacture those cars. We should be making an official announcement in a couple of weeks.
MM&FF: What kind of specs are you talking about for the drag race package?
Wolfe: We don't have the final specifications for shipping weight and horsepower, but it will be a supercharged 5.4-liter Four-Valve engine detuned significantly from Shelby [GT500] specifications. We will build both coupes and convertibles, manuals and automatics, so the customer can have some choice. We don't know what the mix will be yet. We'd like to target the car for A/Stock, but it could also run in AA, A or B, depending on where the final horsepower comes out.
MM&FF: You have won dozens of drag races in brackets and Pro 5.0, racing here in Michigan, as well as Ohio, Florida, Las Vegas, and Canada, so it sounds like you'd like to see this drag racing program go. Tell us something about your drag racing background.
Wolfe: The Pro 5.0 days, the Fun Ford Weekends, were fun, racing heads-up. Handicap starting is fantastic, because it made racing affordable to everybody, but I like heads-up. I always thought I was born 10 years too late. I always thought I should have grown up in the Sixties when all the muscle cars were around. But I was really lucky, because in the late 80s and early 90s, when the 5-liter fuel injected Mustangs really took off, I was already in my late 20s, and I had enough money to where I could be competitive.
MM&FF: You still have the '86 5-liter Mustang at home in your shop. What's the best run you ever made?
Wolfe: I ran 8.35 at over 165 with nitrous on the car, back in 1994. Now I've taken all that off the car. I did a Super Stock back-half on the car, and now the rules call for either stock rear suspension or a full tube chassis, and now my car is in the middle, just another back-half Mustang, so it's not competitive.
MM&FF: You're the first real racer ever to run this department at Ford Racing. Does that give you an advantage, or a disadvantage in running this organization?
Wolfe: It gives me a different perspective. The real reason we're here, the reason for Ford's motorsports involvement, is to sell more cars, to improve the company's image. That's what we're all about, and that's what we'll be about in the future. My perspective may help us to reach out to the Sportsman racers more than we did previously. The Sportsmen are very, very loyal people, and they help us sell more cars to their friends and neighbors. Our quality, safety, and fuel efficiency are all very competitive now with anybody else out there, and our customers help tell our story
MM&FF: Like all the other areas of the company, you're doing more with fewer people. How does that reduction in personnel affect the parts catalog program?
Wolfe: Let me offer a couple of perspectives on that. We are Ford Racing, and we are part of Ford. Where we add the greatest value for Ford enthusiasts is where we've been able to work with production applications, and build modifications of production parts, evolving or modifying them. That was at the zenith of Ford Racing. As Ford itself has gotten out of the vertical integration of every part and piece of every car, relying more on outside suppliers, the access to production parts to modify that we have has shrunk. So that has changed our focus. What can we can do to best serve our enthusiast customers? And that has been to focus on crate engines, performance crate engines, and engine parts. For the last few years, we have focused on performance packs, parts and pieces available through the dealers, that the enthusiast can add to his car after he buys it, which also helped us be more in line with our dealers and it helped Ford promote high-end performance vehicles. Last year, Ford Racing was responsible for producing and selling more than 10,000 modified Mustangs, all the Shelby GTs, all the Shelby GTAs, this year the King of the Road. All these modified, derivate Mustangs were built from Ford Racing performance parts. The calibrations for the performance packs that enabled the performance modifications were done by my calibration department. My team created the affordable flashing tool that comes with every performance pack, that enables the user to download a Ford Racing calibration. So, while Ford's business and market share has gone down in recent years, our business has grown 50 percent over the last four years, primarily fueled by performance packs on street cars, and a focus on crate engines.
MM&FF: Over the last couple of years, Ford has broken new ground on several levels by offering complete, turn-key Mustang race cars for sale to the general public, something that no other major car company has done. Can you tell us about the status of that program?
Wolfe: We have the FR500S spec racer, the basic 300-horsepower package, for the Miller Mustang Challenge Cup series. We have the earlier FR500C, which has been running in the Grand-Am Koni Challenge since 2005, a 400-horsepower Cammer-based package. The FR500 GT3 runs in FIA GT3 and GT4 competition in Europe, and according to the new published rules, will also be eligible for GT2 in FIA and ALMS, which makes them eligible to race at Le Mans. We won GT4 in Europe last year and we're running in first place this year, the same package as the GT3 Cup over here. The Ford GT with the FIA engine package has won the official national series and has won every race in Brazil and Germany this year. And every one is raced privately, with purchased cars, engines and parts. We don't sponsor any of that.
MM&FF: Now that you're here, is there something, some niche, some gap, that you would like to address in the Ford Racing program?
Wolfe: I don't think we've ever really reached out to Sportsman racers. We really want to embrace these guys, and that's what the Cobra Jet drag race program will do, if we can get it approved and get the cars built. Another thing we want to do is address the European cars, the smaller B and C cars that will be coming over here. Now that gasoline is four dollars a gallon, we want to give the customer a small, fuel-efficient car that can also be fun to drive. We want to tie some very good, very edgy performance parts into those cars right from the first day they go on sale, a range of performance packs that are dealer-installed. They'll be engineered right, designed right, and ready to go, so you'll be able to get 35-40 miles per gallon and have fun doing it.
MM&FF: Thanks, Brian, and good luck, especially with that Cobra Jet drag race program. We'd like a manual coupe, in white, no stripes.
To read the complete interview, check out the December issue of MM&FF on the newsstands October 28.