Ford Performance Boss Dave Pericak Talks about the Future in Exclusive Interview

One day after Ford stole the show in Detroit, introducing us all to its new Ford Performance offerings, we managed to get inside their GT350R. Enjoying the cabin of the track-savvy 'Stang, we were expecting the key. They didn't give it to us. Instead, we got Dave Pericak, the Mustang's Chief Engineer, who is now at the helm of Ford Performance.
Ford's Dave Pericak and autoevolution's Andrei Tutu 1 photo
Photo: autoevolution
When we spoke to Dave during the 2014 edition of the Detroit Auto Show, we stuck to the all-new Mustang theme, but now we wanted to dip into all the flavors the new go-fast arm of the Blue Oval has to offer, namely SVT, Team RS and Ford Racing.

autoevolution: We know you have a '68 Mustang. What kind of work do you do on it?

Dave Pericak: I did some engine work on it, more maintenance than performance really. You know, slowly just taking care of it. I'm trying to keep the '68 as original as possible. I don't want to make it a modification.

The way that I got the car... there was a woman whose husband has passed away and she wanted the car to go to a good home. I bought the car from her at a really good price and made a promise to her - that the car would stay in a good home and I would keep it in the way it was meant to be kept. My promise to her was that I was going to maintain that car in its original form.

ae: What engine does it use?

DP: 289 [he's referring to the 289 cubic inch/ 4.7-liter V8]

ae: What do you enjoy most about it when you take it out?

DP: Well, there are a couple of things. When I am driving it, it doesn't matter who I pass. I live in a subdivision and driving out of it, there are young boys, aged seven or eight, playing in the yard. When they see me come out with that car, they yell "light it up!" Now, they don't even know what a '68 Mustang is, but they're yelling to me to light it up because they get what the car is all about just by looking at it.

The other thing is that, when you drive it, there's something about the older cars that just... there's a feeling that you get... you know what I mean? [Dave may be a grown man helming Ford's go-fast efforts, but this is a moment when we saw him daydreaming, just thinking about his retro machine]

It's just a raw machine and to drive that, over 40 years later, it's really cool.

ae: Speaking of children, we're curious about your little boy.

DP: He's growing up so fast, he's already six years old.

ae: Well, since you are now the head of this global division, you'll also be overseeing the development of the Euro-flavored hot hatchbacks - imagine your kid comes up to you one day and asks you "Dad, what's a hot hatch?" What do you tell him?

DP: [laughs] Aaa... I would say it's... one of the coolest small cars that you can get.

ae: How about the name of the division?

DP: Ford Performance is going to stick around. [He turns around in the bucket seat of the GT350R and shows us the Ford Performance logo on a wall behind us, just to reassure us].

ae: OK, will this be integrated in any way on the car?

DP: Eventually it will. You know, we took SVT, Ford Racing, Team RS, they're all under one group called Ford Performance. When we talk about how we badge the cars, we have a lot of equity in Shelby, the same goes for ST, RS, those aren't going away.

ae: We're glad to hear that.

DP: Still, how we communicate that the car was designed and engineered by Ford Performance? We're still finalizing, but it will be done in a very tasteful way, a very consistent way [truth be told, Ford hasn't been all that consistent about branding its speedy efforts in the past]. Ford Performance is all about getting all of the teams together to realize the synergies and leverage each other to build better cars faster, not about putting Ford Performance all over the car. So an ST or a Shelby, that is the car, it's an ST or a Shelby, but it was engineered by Ford Performance and this will show on the car.

ae: You must've studied the European performance division model and you've certainly noticed how they're making a lot of money and at the same time a lot of customers happy, by offering two paths related to their performance arms per se. We're referring to semi-hot arms, as well as to appearance kits here.

DP: Yes, even though it will not be executed in the same way that you're describing it. We're still finalizing that but our goal at Ford Performance is to engineer the most innovative cars with the best technology and then also figure out how we provide accessories and parts and different appearance packages that our relevant to our customers. However, you will not see us doing just appearance packs, that's not what we're interested in. If you want an optical kit, the base program for a Focus or a Fiesta can do that for you.

ae: Returning to hot hatches, namely the upcoming Focus RS, which are your closest rivals? There's the front-wheel drive battle with the SEAT Leon Cupra, the Megane RS and the Civic Type R and there's also the all-wheel drive side of the segment, including the Golf R, which has just launched in the US.

DP: All we've said is that we're bringing the Focus RS to the US. I would like to keep things at this level until we're ready to discuss that.

ae: We know you also benchmarked the E9X BMW M3 when you engineered the 2015 Mustang. Meanwhile we received the new F8X M3/M4, as well as the Mercedes-AMG C63. Did you get to drive any of them?

DP: I will drive them, I have not done that yet, but I'm looking forward to.

ae: Moving on to this car we are sitting in [Shelby GT350R], you benchmarked the 991 Porsche 911 during the Mustang development, so you must've compared this track-focused model to the 911 GT3.

DP: We did.

ae: What did you find out about the GT3?

DP: We used the GT3, we used the Z/28 [Camaro], we used a lot of different vehicle to benchmark ourselves, but, as I've said in the past with the Mustang, we turned to those cars as references, but we know what we want this car to be and how we want it to perform. So we looked at those other cars to know where we are, but we;re not trying to be like them.

ae: OK, so we have to admit we love the GT3, why would we choose the GT350R over it?

DP: 'Cause it's better! [Dave delivered his answered without the faintest trace of hesitation]

ae: Oh, so you're bold like that. Sounds cool to us [we had a serious laugh together]

ae: Will it beat the Porsche's lap time on the track?

DP: I'm not commenting on that right now. However, I'm going to tell you that the Boss 302 Laguna Seca was a great car with great times and this car will run significantly faster. [Dave owns a Laguna Seca, so his brand dedication pretty much obliterated any owner affection here]

DP: We are very pleased with how the GT350R performs on the track and it's going to blow people away by how good and how fast it is. Believe me, it's extremely fast.

[At this point we were rudely sweetly interrupted by some guy firing up the GT350. A few moments later, that flat-plane crank V8 was revved, taking over not just the Ford booth, but that entire area of NAIAS. Too bad it was only a short burst fire. Dave was waiting for the V8 to be revved just like a father expecting to see his child performing on stage].

We shared our first impressions on the GT350R visual treatment with Dave, mentioning that the new, generously-sized aero bits accelerate the modern touch of the S550 Mustang's styling, but with that menacing grown, the aural legacy, be it flat- or plane-crank sourced, is definitely here. It put a smile on his face.

ae: You're an engineer and we'd like to hear this from you. Lately, you've been talking quite a lot about tires and how you tailored them to each model. We noticed the GT350R and the GT supercar you've just launched share the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber, but you say each has a custom implementation.

DP: We partnered up with Michelin to give us a tire that would give us the best grip and perform as well as we want. Their Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are phenomenal, but we joined forces for special compound and special construction to deliver the dynamics that we wanted to see out of that tire. If we would've just taken their rubber straight off the shelf, it would've been a great tire, but it wouldn't have offered us the special feel that we need for the Mustang.

The tire does more than what most people think when they consider this aspect. Yes the tire does quite a lot of things when it comes to stopping, turning, acceleration and all of that, but every input that you're getting from the road, the tire is mediating. So we have to dial in out construction and our compound so that it's giving us the feedback we desire.

For instance if your sidewalls are too soft, it will all feel mushy, while if your sidewalls are too stiff, it's going to give you a different response. It's a very complicated thing to dial in, but we have a team of experts - you can put a different tire on and in a matter of seconds they'll tell you the details.

ae: There have been a lot of talks on this - Convertible for the GT350?

DP: No.

ae: We'll switch to the Ford GT - you said you have a seven-speed transaxle in this car. We suppose this is the Getrag transmission that cars like Ferraris or the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG use, correct?

DP: Yes. I'm not saying it's the same transmission other use, I'm saying it's a Getrag.

ae: During the GT presentation we noticed a 7,100 rpm redline, is that correct?

DP: I'm not commenting on that.

ae: What's the character of the car, what are you going to imprint into the GT?

DP: GT is going to be all-out performance. It will have one the best power-to-weight ratios of any production car.

ae: Since the car has over 600 hp, that means we should expect it to weigh well under one ton, correct?

DP: I can't comment on its weight. Still, since it has 600 horses and one of the best ratios, it means we must've taken a lot of weight out of it. There's a lot of carbon fiber and aluminum.

ae: Let's talk F-150 Raptor. Wasn't it a risky decision to go from a V8 to a V6, be it twin-turbocharged? Everybody wants a V8 in such a truck, how do you beat that?

DP: Well we don't think everybody wants a V8 in a truck. When you look at what we've done with the F-150, which is now selling an enormous amount of EcoBoost-powered units. Truck users are a little bit different that someone who buys a GT350, right?

They care about its capabilities and it's more capable now that it's ever been. They want power and performance, but think about it, we're giving them more hp, more torque and we've taken 500 pounds (225 kg) out of the truck, So we're giving them what they want.

ae: The final question - Ford Racing. What are your plans for racing the Ford GT, Given that you beat Ferrari with the original back in the day [Le Mans], you must have something in the pipeline.

DP: All we're doing is we're introducing our production car right now [the #0001 serial number on the dash of the GT shows in Detroit confirms that, not that it would've been necessary]. We're not commenting on racing at all. Ford Racing is part of Ford Performance now and we're re-evaluating our entire landscape of where we are going to compete and where we're not going to compete.

While Dave stopped short of helping us assemble the full Ford Performance puzzle, he and his team promise to bring us about nine extra high-octane offerings (Focus RS included) by the end of the decade, so we're pretty sure there will be plenty of stuff to discuss when we meet again.
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About the author: Andrei Tutu
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In his quest to bring you the most impressive automotive creations, Andrei relies on learning as a superpower. There's quite a bit of room in the garage that is this aficionado's heart, so factory-condition classics and widebody contraptions with turbos poking through the hood can peacefully coexist.
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