Having already established a formidable position as a builder of high-quality CNC machine tools, Haas Automation is an increasingly active player in the field of motorsports. Recently, it announced its boldest move yet – into Formula One.

In March this year, Haas Automation held its HaasTec show at its manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California. Among visitors from all over the world was a group of Australians who were keen to learn more about this incredibly successful machine tool builder. Haas Factory Outlet-Australia (HFO-Australia) led the group as it was taken on a comprehensive tour of the Haas facility, and got to see a full range of Haas machines in action both at the HaasTec show and within the factory in full production making Haas machines.

“There were 20 machines at HaasTec and all were cutting, adopting different machining techniques, and this attracted many favourable comments from our customers,” says George Buhagiar, MD of Alfex CNC Australia. “Customers found the Haas facility very informative and inspirational in many respects. Seeing and hearing the machines and cutting tools working at optimum rates, using the latest tooling and cutting techniques, left customers comparing how they do things back in their own workshops.”

HFO-Australia customers said the tour of the Haas facility and the HaasTec exhibition exceeded all expectations, with one describing it as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’. Similarly enthusiastic was Brian Davies, Technical Director at Davies Wear Plate Systems, based in Esperance, WA.

“I didn’t really know what to expect when we turned up there,” says Davies. “But once you got inside the building, you really started to understand how professional they are and how much Haas has achieved in a relatively short time – less than 40 years. It became very obvious that these people really knew exactly what they were on about. They’ve got an extremely good product and they just keep improving it. I would go back there in a flash.”

As a bonus for the HFO-Australia customers, the trip coincided with a round of NASCAR at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, and the group experienced the race as guests of Haas Automation and HFO-Australia. From a suite overlooking the first turn on the track, they enjoyed a clear view of the start and finish line, and could take in the entire spectacle.

“You’re probably like many Australians who watch motorsport and compare them to our V8 Supercars,” says Buhagiar. “You see NASCAR going round in circles and you think ‘well that’s boring’. But having gone there, the speed that these race cars go around is ridiculous – this is one of the fastest race tracks, and the quickest car was clocked at 340kph. The sound, speed, smell and the huge number of spectators makes this far from boring.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick finished the 200-lap race in second and third. They’d led for most of the race until the very last lap, when Busch’s car skimmed the wall, allowing the third-placed car to sneak through to first. While it provided an unfortunate twist at the end of a long, hard-fought contest, it remained a good result for the Stewart-Haas team, and an exciting finish for the more-than-100,000 spectators watching the race, in particular the Australian visitors.

“Everyone has seen it on TV, but actually seeing it first-hand, the scale is pretty much overwhelming, the noise and the machinery,” adds Davies. “The technology and the expertise and the dedication that go into those cars and all the support equipment – it’s very impressive what people can achieve when they put their mind to it. And you could see with the Haas people, its part and parcel of their DNA: winning, achieving what they set out to do. It’s just dedication, dedication, dedication.”

From machining to motorsport

The Stewart-Haas Racing team, unsurprisingly, uses Haas CNC machines exclusively to machine all their race components. But so also do many other race teams, both in the US and here in Australia. In NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports runs a workshop using Haas, while several other teams make heavy use of Haas machines. Haas’ motorsports holdings also in the US include Windshear, a 290kph rolling-road wind tunnel in Concord, North Carolina. In Australia, V8 teams such as Triple 8, DJR Team Penske, Brad Jones, Paul Morris motorsport, Erebrus Motorsport and other engineering support companies to these race teams also feature Haas machines in their workshops.

While a passion for the sport itself is undoubtedly a significant driver of Haas’ involvement, there are other motives also at play. In recent years, Haas has placed ever-greater emphasis on improving the quality, reliability, precision and accuracy of its machines – all characteristics that are also crucial to achieving success on the race-track.

“Motorsport is synonymous with high performance, and that’s the message they want to send out there,” says Buhagiar. “Obviously, Gene Haas has a love for motorsport – that helps. They run four cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and they do pretty well.”

Back in the world of CNC machining, Haas is a major player in the US market, where it commands a significant market share. In international markets, that share is smaller. The company currently exports more than 50% of its products, and is targeting further expansion, determined to achieve an increased share in markets outside the US.

“In Europe, where there’s such a strong allegiance to high-quality locally manufactured machine tools, it’s impressive how the Haas brand is growing,” says Buhagiar. “Haas machines have proved themselves; the current generation of machines is up there with some of the best, and getting into places that do some really high-tech, highly accurate work.”

That growing international focus also ties in with what may be Haas’ most ambitious undertaking in the field of motorsports to date. Last year, the company announced that the Haas F1 Team will make its debut in the FIA Formula One World Championship in 2016, becoming the first American-led team to compete in 30 years.

Changing the Formula

Getting a start-up team to the grid is a massive logistical and technical undertaking, but under the leadership of team principal Guenther Steiner, Haas F1 Team has many vital pieces already in place, despite the 2016 season being less than a year away.

Construction of the team’s equipment, from transporters to the pit apparatus to garage setup, is well underway. Key personnel have also been added, notably Dave O’Neill as team manager, Rob Taylor as Chief Designer, and Ben Agathangelou as Chief Aerodynamicist. O’Neill and Taylor came to Haas F1 Team from Marussia F1 Team, while Agathangelou joined from Scuderia Ferrari. Agathangelou and Taylor have already designed the 60%-scale model of the car Haas F1 Team will race in 2016.

“While there is still a lot of work to do, a lot has already been accomplished for Haas F1 Team to be competitive when we join the F1 grid in 2016,” says Guenther Steiner, team principal and Formula One veteran. “The way we’re going about our F1 team is new and different, but it’s working. We’re committed to our plan, we’re committed to F1 and, most importantly, we’re on schedule.”

Coming to Melbourne

“For anyone who likes motorsport, F1 is the elite,” says Buhagiar. “And as much as I like our Australian F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo, we’ll be pushing for the Haas team to be on the podium. But who knows? Maybe one day Ricciardo will be driving for Haas. You just never know.”

For Buhagiar and the HFO-Australia team – the Haas move into F1 is particularly exciting, because it will all begin almost right on their doorstep, in Melbourne. As the kick-off race for the 2016 Formula One season, the Australian Grand Prix will be where Haas F1 Team will make its debut following preseason testing.

“There’s bound to be a lot of hype leading up to the race,” Buhagiar adds. “And I dare say, it’s going to be the talk of the town in the machine tool industry.”

Haas Automation will be exhibiting at Austech 2015, at stand 628b.