Corvette Racing GT2 unveiling teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Is the budget for this program any less than the budget for the previous GT1 program, and if so, is this a right-place, right-time scenario for what's going on in the macro economy? Mark Kent: "As we went through...

Continued from part 1

Q: Is the budget for this program any less than the budget for the previous GT1 program, and if so, is this a right-place, right-time scenario for what's going on in the macro economy?

Mark Kent: "As we went through the bankruptcy process at General Motors, it forced us to make some very difficult decisions on a lot of different areas. We looked at every dollar we spent as a company on all of our promotional platforms, whether it was motorsports, football, basketball, or bass fishing. Anywhere we spent money, we took a hard look at it. A lot of our promotions in the past generated a positive return on investment. We'd invest money in these platforms to sell cars, and in the past all of those did that. But as we went through bankruptcy, it was no longer just good enough to generate a return on investment. We needed to stick with the platforms that generated a significant return on investment. Across all our portfolios, we made some significant reductions not only in the portfolios we participated in, but our investment in each. In the motorsports arena, we have reduced the portfolio. We have reduced support in various series, and we have eliminated support in various series.

"When it comes down to Corvette Racing, Corvette Racing is a motorsports platform that generates a significant return on investment for the company just on the number of vehicles we sell just by participating in the sport. That's not even looking at the ancillary benefits which Tadge talked about, with the benefit of taking what we learn on the street to the race track and vice versa. Corvette Racing is a platform we're sticking with. It's very valuable to the company, and we're looking forward to getting this new GT2 car on the track."

Q: Are you able to do this more efficiently than the GT1 program?

Mark Kent: "I'd have to say that historically everything we did within motorsports, we did very effectively and very efficiently. General Motors has historically won more championships each year than any other manufacturer. Based on what we believe the industry is spending in motorsports, we believe we're doing it more efficiently than any other manufacturer. We have some guiding principles here at General Motors, and one of them is 'We race to win.' If we can't win, we won't race. We believe we have the resources in place that are sufficient for us to win on the track."

Q: With an opportunity to change things over in the ALMS and NASCAR Nationwide Series, why aren't you running the Camaro except in the Koni Challenge?

Mark Kent: "We've looked at racing the Camaro, and one thing that we do not want to do is to force a car where it shouldn't be. As we looked at NASCAR, for example, we took a very hard look at running the Camaro in the Nationwide Series. That was a request made of us by NASCAR. We've had a tremendous partnership with NASCAR, so we took a very hard look at it. At the end of the day, because of the quest for very close competition and the need to have templated bodies in that series, we just felt that by forcing the Camaro into the Nationwide templates, we were compromising the lines of an iconic car. At the end of the day, we could not get the Camaro in the Nationwide Series to satisfy our requirements.

"We are looking at it in other series. The Koni Challenge Series, for example, where the body is production, that's a slam dunk. There are some applications for it in drag racing -- Stock, Super Stock, we're looking forward to seeing it on the NHRA circuit. Other than that, we don't see any need to push the Camaro in the motorsports arena. There are other areas for us to promote the Camaro. The V6 gets tremendous fuel economy, and we need to find ways to take our marketing dollars around the Camaro and expand the customer base beyond the pure motorsports enthusiast."

Q: Johnny, could you address the competition aspect of going into a class full of Porsches, Ferraris, and BMWs? Does that put more of the focus on the team aspect of a two-car effort?

Johnny O'Connell: "Very much so. The cars' lap times might be a little slower, but if you look at the resumes of the drivers (in GT2), they are every bit as strong as those in the prototypes. You have some brilliant drivers competing there and some very strong teams with a ton of experience. When I look at our effort, it's the personnel who make the difference. This is an American team, built by American engineers and America's best. We're still going to be running E85, so we are approaching things intelligently and with concern for everything that's going on. The Green Challenge is one of the things that attracts manufacturers to the American Le Mans Series, forcing that technology forward to benefit production cars.

"Getting back to your question, we're totally excited about it. I challenge anybody to beat us in a pit stop competition. When we were doing the Klein Tools Pit Stop Challenge, every year it was Corvette Racing, either the 3 car or the 4 car. Again, our team is so prepared in all aspects. Strategy-wise, we now find ourselves in a situation where we might not have in the past changed strategies, one car versus another. Now we can do that in this category to try to jump ahead, and pull a Penske-type win that he was always so brilliant at doing. So I think that we're pretty comfortable with our driver lineups and where we all stand relative to the other competitors, but you look at GT2 and see how close everybody runs. The four of us regular guys are very excited about it, and the crew guys are totally excited about it. I don't think they'll probably mind if a car comes back every now and then with a tire mark on it. We're going to have to push hard and drive aggressively to be successful. All of us are very excited about doing that."

Q: What do you feel is the main difference between the GT1 and GT2 cars, and where do you feel the advantages of the Corvette will be compared to the other cars?

Johnny O'Connell: "Based on what we've seen GT1 versus GT2 so far, I have to tell you that top end is not a lot different. Some of that has to do with the fact that we're going to be running less aero. I think the strength of the Corvette is our mid-corner speed, our ability to carry speed into the corners. I think that will show well for us. It's real hard until we get out there. Even with the GT1 car, there are times on street circuits where it's point and squirt, and the Porsche having that engine back there really allows it to get out of the corners really well. Even with the GT1 car, there were times when it was bloody difficult getting by a GT2 car. We'll be learning a little about that.

"As far as braking points, the GT2 cars have become so strong and so developed that the braking points got to the point where we weren't a whole lot deeper in the GT1 car than the GT2 cars were. We kind of know where braking points should be. In the GT1 car, with the amount of aero that it had working for, if you got close in Turn 12 at Road Atlanta to a GT2 car, you'd lose your front end. You'd lose all your aero -- it was relying so much on those front louvers, the front splitter, all that stuff. At the same time, if you're going through Turn 12 and a prototype came up and tucked himself underneath you, you'd lose the back end of the car. With us being less reliant now on aero, I don't' think we're going to be noticing that as much. We're going to find out in a few days!"

Q: How about rim width and tires?

Doug Fehan: "We'll be running the same size wheels and tires. There is a little weight differential in the rules that allows you to go that way, and as in most aspects of life, bigger is better. Michelin has done some extensive GT2 stuff, and the tires they have provided for us in testing have been really, really good. They provide a lot of the same characteristics as in GT1, so that's been pretty seamless, and it hasn't been an issue."

Q: Johnny, with more competition, how is your race weekend going to change?

Johnny O'Connell: "I don't know how much different it's going to be. If my e-mail is any indication, it's going to be a crazy weekend. Corvette owners across the country and in Europe and everywhere else are gaga for this car. They're waiting for this story. When we were testing and I'd take a picture of the car with my cell phone, Fehan would say, 'You're not sending that to anybody!' We are so excited, and the interest in this car has been so amazing.

"As far as how the team meetings go, I'm sure it's going to be like it always is. Before the race, Doug, Gary and the engineers will get us drivers together and tell us what to expect and what to do. Doug took the reins off us this year and let us race as hard as we can, just don't hit each other. I think there is going to be hard competition, and it's going to be neat. To get out there against the guys in the Flying Lizard cars, those guys are awesome, very strong factory drivers. In our mind, there is going to be a sense of being patient, wanting to learn and figure things out. You need to remember that we might not have been racing Aston Martins or Ferraris, but we've been racing each other bloody hard. Whether it was Long Beach or Sebring or Le Mans, each lap is like qualifying. That's really the state that racing has come to. We're going to be pushing as hard as we can, but also listening to the advice we get from Doug and Gary, and following the directions.

"Doug has been running the program as long as I've been doing this. The very first race that I did was the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2001. He gave me three simple rules. He said if I follow these rules, good things are going to happen. I'm pretty confident we'll get a talk from him, reminding us what is important, then it's our job just to execute."

Q: Is there an allowance for fuel cell capacity with E85, and will you be able to run E85 at Le Mans?

Johnny O'Connell: "Going to E85 was in line with GM's policy of trying to be green. Carrying that over to racing and promoting that as much as we can is a good thing. It's appropriate that in racing General Motors and Corvette lead the way."

Doug Fehan: "The performance level of E85 compared to gasoline, when we look at a gallon-to-gallon comparison, there is about 20 percent less energy in a gallon of ethanol than in a gallon of gasoline. Consequently, to answer your question, it becomes a simple math equation. The sanctioning body has different fuel capacities for cars depending on which fuel they're running. We'll be carrying 110 liters of ethanol, and I think the gas cars carry about 90 liters of gasoline. The other thing that would be next logical extension is in fueling times. If both cars run to empty, it's going to be faster to put in 90 liters than 110. The restrictor sizes on the fuel rigs have been modified to allow for that accommodation so everything across the board is even.

"At this point in time, we won't be running E85 at Le Mans, although Le Mans is taking a serious look. They had their hands full with the diesel deal, with Audi first and then Peugeot and looking at the various energy levels and the engines that employ those fuels. They were focusing on that. They recognize that E85 is important and it's used extensively throughout the European continent and Scandinavian countries. I don't have a prediction for you, they haven't answered the question. I highly doubt it will be this year, but in the future I think it may be. We haven't been able to run it so far, and I don't think it will be different in 2010."

Q: Will the 2010 5.5-liter engine be a brand-new architecture and will it be maximized for E85 fuel?

Doug Fehan: "It will be brand-new architecture, it will be a brand-new engine, and it will be running on E85 as well. We're in a great partnership with the series. It was a confluence of concepts. We had already looked at E85 when the series decided they wanted to go to it. Then we got involved with the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and Michelin, and this whole Green Challenge thing birthed itself in a very compressed timeframe because all of the parties had been doing work on it anyway."

Tadge Juechter: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe next year's engine will be back to being based on the production LS3 block as opposed to being based on a racing block, another example of bringing the cars closer together."

Doug Fehan: "Yes, that is correct. To clarify what Tadge has indicated, the block we use now is a production-based block but it doesn't come off the assembly line. Without getting into the minutia, there are some casting issues that caused us to have a huge amount of waste, we were getting about one block out of 25 to ensure the quality we had to have. We used the same tools, the same dies, the same materials, but those all had to be hand cast because the tolerances had to be so much closer. That was an expensive way to do business. The 5.5-liter, by virtue of the brand-new architecture GM has developed, we'll be able to pull blocks right off the assembly line. That becomes a great cost savings for the team."

Q: Has there been any thoughts of pursuing a hybrid drivetrain system in the Corvette?

Doug Fehan: "From a production powertrain standpoint, I don't think any manufacturer can come close to having the library and extensive knowledge that GM has, from hydrogen power to E85 to KERS to everything else. All that exists in house. You don't hear about it, you don't see it, they're very secretive about it, but it's there. There are some wild things that GM has already completed. From a racing perspective, we have looked at it. We've done research on it, we've investigated it, and we continue to look at it. If the dynamics of the sport move in that direction, we'll be prepared to move in that direction."

Q: Do you think other series might consider switching to E85 based on the success you've had?

Doug Fehan: "It's amazing to me that others haven't gone there just for the sake of going there because they know it's the right thing to do. It sends a great message. Ethanol is not the answer, but it's part of a solution in so many different ways. It's part of a solution to what spews out of the exhaust pipe. The American public needs to begin to be tutored on the fact that cars will not always be driven on gasoline. It's what we've become accustomed to it, it's the only thing we've known in this country for the most part. Now when you see the advent of biodiesel, of electric power, the advent of the Volt and Prius, there are new things coming. There is no better way to demonstrate that new things need not be feared than to use something as high performance as a Corvette race car and use cellulosic E85 and look at the performance and reliability you can get from it. If it's good enough to win races, Mom can put in the SUV to take the kids to school and Dad can put it in the pickup to go to work. It's an educational process as much as it's a scientific endeavor. We wanted to be a leader in that, and that's why we were first.

Q: How much time did you spend testing E85 for race conditions?

Doug Fehan: "The transition is not difficult. I talked to the guys on the engine side of it as a program preservation move. I knew where we were going, and any time I can make the program more relevant to production, I want to move forward. I knew GM was a leader in flex-fuel vehicles, I think we have more than 3.5-million of them out there right now. If that was the direction the company was going to go, which was the right direction, why couldn't we follow it in racing? So on the side, I got together with the engine guys and asked what would happen if we ran E85. Oddly enough, the engine guys had worked on the Indy motors back when Oldsmobile was racing Indy cars, and they thought they could do that. In a couple of months they had an engine up and running, making power runs and looking at reliability, durability, and lubrication. In the course of six months of casual running we had something working. The biggest challenge we had was with the fuel cell manufacturers trying to find something that would hold the fuel."

Q: What do you think about just one GT class in ALMS?

Doug Fehan: "This is my personal perspective, I want to make sure we couch that properly. I think it makes all the sense in the world. It's what we need to have. At the end of the day, we have a manufacturers' series, if you look at how we're positioned. As Mark has made perfectly clear, the object for us and for them is to sell cars. If you can create proper relevance, you can enthuse people to spend money. GT racing needs to have a single GT class in the American Le Mans Series. I think that's where we're headed, and I'm all for it. It makes a huge amount of sense. It's a lot more fun for the spectators, a lot easier to watch the races, it makes for a better television broadcast. It's where we need to be, and I've pushed for it for the last two years."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Johnny O'Connell
Teams Corvette Racing