The final Ford Falcon, the FG X, made a winning debut in 2015, courtesy of Mark Winterbottom with the team formerly known as Prodrive Racing Australia. This is how the final Falcon Supercar came to be, giving the legendary nameplate a fitting farewell.
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The last Ford Falcon Supercar was the first that Prodrive Racing Australia (PRA, now known as Tickford Racing) feels it could truly call its own.
The team, originally known as Ford Performance Racing, shared the development of the original FG Falcon with then fellow Ford team Triple Eight Race Engineering, doing much of the work under the skin while Triple Eight’s then-technical chief Ludo Lacroix formulated the aerodynamic package.
To this day, the FG is rated by many as the best Project Blueprint Supercar of them all. But as has been well documented over recent years, the arrival of Car of the Future in 2013 and the use of the FG II (as it had become by 2012) as the datum or benchmark car (because it was a ‘carry-over’ model when every other car was new) for aerodynamic testing proved problematic.
The first round of testing at the East Sale RAAF base in the summer of 2012-13 resulted in the Falcon losing two degrees of wing angle to bring its rear downforce in line with its rivals.
Initially, the adjustment created little controversy, but it became increasingly apparent that the Falcon was struggling. By the second half of 2014, the rot had set in as Mark Winterbottom crashed from the championship lead to a distant third.
Teammate David Reynolds went backwards after two strong years, and Jack Perkins rarely came to grips with the FG in his sole year driving Charlie Schwerkolt’s car. Young charger Chaz Mostert battled on, but not even he could put the FG on pole. In fact, a Falcon did not claim a pole position throughout the 2014 season.
A lack of rear downforce meant rear tyres weren’t heating up quickly enough to extract maximum single-lap pace, thus cruelling qualifying potential. It also created an ongoing issue with rear brake locking that could not be dialled out mechanically.
The aero setup also meant a battle to get rear tyres up to working temperatures – hence PRA’s ability to get long life out of soft tyres, but also why it ran the risk of going low on tyre pressures and puncturing – something that Supercars eventually moved to stop by imposing a minimum 17 psi tyre pressure.
Then there was the issue of weight. The Falcon was a big car physically and because the production version used a steel bonnet and boot, so too did the race car.
Every other car in the field used at least an aluminium bonnet. Supercars raised the minimum weight of car and driver/race seat from 1400kg to 1410kg in 2013, so PRA (and others struggling with weight) wouldn’t have to spend mega-bucks shaving more kilos.
While other brands were going to front bumper bars integrated with homologated non-production headlights, fabricated steel radiator supports and carbon-fibre dashboards, the FG lagged in these areas – which were both cost and weight savers.
“The FG had become uncompetitive as Car of the Future rolled out,” said then-PRA chief engineer Nathaniel Osborne. “We had to bring in a new model and wash all that way.”
Osborne started work on the FG X early in 2014 in conjunction with Ford to develop a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) study.
By September the basics were in place, and before the end of the year the new body panels – doors, roof skin and rear three quarters – carried over and a variety of new front-bar and rear-wing combinations had been tested in a multi-day session at the Blue Oval’s You Yangs proving ground.
In January the new aerodynamic package was officially tested at East Sale using V8 Supercars’ revised and updated process.
The most obvious change was the wing, which was wider and mounted further back off the boot and lower. It was changed two degrees back so it could be angled to a maximum 18 degrees with a taller gurney flap, which could grow from 9.5mm to 13mm.
Up front the lower cheeks, which were smoothly rounded for FG, featured noticeable steps. The front undertray also came in for significant revision and extension. Where the FG had a 75mm cut out, that area had been filled in and a further 45mm added.
A minor weight improvement had also been achieved by shifting to the integrated front bar, steel radiator support panel and carbon-fibre dashboard.
“Straight away we knew we had made inroads into the areas that we targeted,” said Osborne.
“It was just a matter of undoing some of the setup that we had generated over the last two years to now correct for a balance shift rearwards.
“We knew we were close to where we wanted to be because of the complaints we had in the previous two seasons.”
Osborne revealed the change in FG X’s behaviour meant a whole heap of development avenues that had been put to one side could be revived. And the lessons of the past two years would also still be valuable.
“You don’t throw it (setups) out,” he said. “There will be times that you have that handling characteristic you are trying to fix. But, definitely, everything old is new again. Stuff that hadn’t worked in the past is working again. So it’s not so much that we have lost ground… there are tools that have been reopened to be used that we couldn’t use prior because we were so limited in that area.”
Mostert and Winterbottom underlined the potential of the FG X by going first and fourth fastest in the single-lap hard tyre Shootout at the pre-season SuperTest. It set the tone for 2015, with Winterbottom winning the championship and Mostert challenging his teammate before a season-ending crash at Bathurst.
Three years later, DJR Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin gave the FG X another title, in the final season for the Falcon before the introduction of the Mustang as its replacement.
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