Most pace cars (commonly known as safety cars overseas) are pretty fast road cars. F1 uses a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. The American Le Mans Series, a Porsche Panamera. DTM alternates between an Audi R8 and a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. MotoGP uses BMW M vehicles. Indy has used a Chevy Camaro SS the last couple of years. Noticing a pattern here?
Of course, as is true in many other areas, NASCAR does things differently. While other racing disciplines pit the latest technologies against each other on challenging road courses, NASCAR still uses old-school pushrod V8s on big ol' speedways. So it should come as little surprise that the American stock-car racing series goes a different route with its pace cars, too.
This weekend's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 (we don't name the races) at the Michigan International Speedway saw the Ford Focus make its debut appearance as the official pace car, complete with race livery and light bar but little in the way of other modifications over stock. Which means, as Ford is quick to point out, that while the stock cars behind it would have to pit a number of times over the 400-mile race distance, the Focus could go the whole way if it needed to... and if the driver – Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas – were milking the throttle, undaunted by the grid of rip-roarin' race cars filling his mirrors.
For what it's worth, the Focus is hardly the slowest vehicle to pace a NASCAR race. Ford alone has provided Fusion Hybrids and Explorer SUVs to set the pace at previous races as well. Follow the jump for the full press release, including information on Ford's latest online sweepstakes that will hand out 40 Foci to contest participants if it wins the NASCAR, NHRA or World Rally Championship titles this year.
ALL-NEW 2012 FORD FOCUS TO SERVE AS PACE CAR FOR THE FIRST TIME DURING NASCAR WEEKEND AT MICHIGAN INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
DEARBORN, Mich. June 15, 2011 – Fuel mileage may be a problem for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers when they come to Michigan International Speedway for this weekend's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400, but it will be all green-flag conditions for one fuel-sipping car in the field.
The all-new 2012 Ford Focus, which delivers an EPA-certified 40 miles per gallon on the highway, will have more than enough petrol to get the job done when it serves as pace car for the first time at a NASCAR-sanctioned event.
While NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will need to pit five or six times during the 400-mile race, the 2012 Focus, with its outstanding fuel economy, could go race distance and more, pushing 497 miles (or 248 laps at Michigan International Speedway) before needing to pit.
Mark Fields, Ford's president of The Americas, will be behind the wheel Sunday as the "celebrity" pace car driver.
"Bringing the 43-car field to the green flag will be an honor, but the real highlight of my day will be showing millions of race fans at MIS and across the country how much fun the new Focus is to drive," Fields said. "Focus is delivers on high-speed ovals, challenging, twisty roads and everything in between. This car – built right here in Michigan – is built for people who love to drive."
Focus is Ford's most significant global car with more than 10 million units sold since being launched in 1998.
"When I saw the new Focus, I couldn't believe it," said Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. "I think this car is going to appeal to a lot of young people like myself because it offers the latest technology and has that sporty look many of us want when we go shopping for a car."
Ford hopes consumers nationwide share Bayne's reaction.
"Just like last year when we unveiled Fiesta as the Michigan pace car, we're using this race as a platform to promote another one of our fun-to-drive, fuel-efficient vehicles," said Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing. "Focus is a fantastic car that has captured the imagination of consumers everywhere, and we hope our fans are going to like what they see when it hits the track on Sunday."
Ford has been at the forefront of using its NASCAR pace car program to highlight its extensive line of new cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles. This includes being the first company to have Hybrid pace the start of a NASCAR race when the Fusion Hybrid led the field to green for the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2009. In addition, the Mustang GT 5.0L V-8 and all-new 2011 Explorer SUV have served as pace vehicles within the last year.
In addition to being the pace car at MIS this weekend, Focus is also the feature vehicle of a new national on-line sweepstakes in which 40 fans will win the new model if Ford Racing drivers capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NHRA Funny Car and World Rally championships. Fans can register for that opportunity at www.Ford40MPG.com.