One the eve of Bathurst and its seven mandatory pits stops Ford Performance Racing believes it has solved the jammed wheel-nut issue that has blighted its pitlane performance in 2013.
As a result the factory blue oval team has manufactured a completely new set of 160 wheel nuts to cover its four entries in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
The crucial breakthrough came when the team was able to replicate the problem in pit stop practice for the first time at its Broadmeadows base after the Wilson Security Sandown 500.
“Touch wood I think we have finally cracked it,” FPR team principal Tim Edwards told v8supercars.com.au.
In the opening event of the PIRTEK Enduro Cup at Sandown Mark Winterbottom suffered his eighth cross-threaded wheel nut in a pit stop this year.
The Pepsi Max Falcon FG II driver estimates the delays in pitlane have lost him 200 points in 2013. He currently lies fourth in the Championship, 166 points behind leader Jamie Whincup in the Triple Eight/Red Bull Racing Australia Holden Commodore VF.
“We have managed to finally replicate it (jamming wheel nuts) here at the factory, which we have never managed to do before,” Edwards explained.
“When you are replicating it under controlled circumstances you actually have half a chance of diagnosing it. When you are trying to diagnose something that’s happened during the course of a race meeting and that car has gone out and carried on racing the evidence is no longer in front of you.
So by actually replicating it here for the first time after a huge amount of practice is great, because that actually allowed us to examine it.”
Edwards would not divulge exactly what the team had concluded the problem was.
“You can’t actually redesign the wheel nut because it is a control part,” he explained. “But there are certain features on it such as tolerances and things like that you do have scope to play with; how you coat it, the lubrication you use. There are things you can tweak on it.”
The wheel nut design was unchanged from 2012 – when FPR was performing well in the pits and going toe to toe with RBRA (then TeamVodafone) on the track. But Edwards revealed that manufacturing batches can change slightly.
“You make new wheel nuts and you have different batches of wheel nuts and as you can imagine not every batch is exactly the same,” he said. “That’s where you have different tolerances and things like that and that’s where you have got to try and narrow down and figure out exactly what has changed.”
Locating the source of the wheel nut issue will be a huge relief for Winterbottom’s crew especially, as they have battled to retain their confidence through the season.
“The poor guys are constantly under the spotlight and that certainly doesn’t help matters when they know the world is watching,” said Edwards. “They are working incredibly hard to prove everyone wrong.
“Last year we and Triple Eight raced head to head in pitlane for the year so it’s not like we have years of history of wheel nut issues.
“We have been grappling with it all year. We have had engineers dedicated to trying to figure what the hell is going on. It’s hard to believe what should be such a simple thing to fix has continued to plague us.”
It has also been just one of number of distracting issues that have clouded FPR’s year including the question marks over future Ford sponsorship, star driver Will Davison’s re-signing and the pit stacking controversy at Sandown.
Nevertheless, Davison runs third in the Championship and Winterbottom has fought back into contention, scoring consistent high points at recent events.
“We are going to put our best foot forward as often as we can and we will do that again this weekend at Bathurst,” said Edwards.