When Doug Duchardt left his post as head of GM Racing to go to the depleted Hendrick Motorsports, many wondered if General Motors would find an apt candidate to fill his large shoes.
It appears they have in the person of Mark Kent, an avid racing aficionado whose background includes stints in the TransAm series as a powertrain engineer.
Only nine days into the job, Kent admits he's got "passion for the sport" to go with his strong technical background in powertrain engineering. "This is a great time to be in racing," Kent declared. "I plan on staying quite a while."
General Motors has been stating, since the final quarter of 2004 that intends to place its marketing money in more production-based racing vehicles in order to showcase new products in the pipeline.
For that reason, Kent affirmed the company's intent to place its money behind race cars that "are closer to the vehicles we sell," such as the Pontiac GTO and Chevrolet Cobalt, among others.
This means a strong emphasis on sportscar racing and, in turn road racing, in addition to GM's solid presence in NHRA drag racing and import straight-line events, in addition to its initial foray into D1 GP drifting with the GTO.
Even so, Kent stated his company intends to make its final season in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series a stellar showing. "Perhaps we might return to open wheel racing at another time," he alluded. "It was no big surprise to us that Panther Racing had such a strong showing at Miami last weekend," Kent stated.
"Our engine was quite competitive to the end of the last season and we are committed to making this season a winning one" with Panther co-drivers Tomas Scheckter, who gained the initial 2005 Marlboro Pole Award in his Pennzoil Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone entry and Tomas Enge, third on the 22- car grid with the ROCKSTAR energy drink-backed twin to Scheckter's car.
"We're working very hard to make 2005 a winning effort and we'll never say 'never' to further commitments in the open wheel Indy Racing League [arena] down the road. We've had remarkable accomplishments in the IRL and, when we left CART in the early '90s we had a winning effort," Kent reminded.
GM Racing's efforts in this year's Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series have yielded two victories in two races in the Daytona Prototype class (including the top four last weekend in south Florida) and Kent's plan is to continue with the strong teams using Pontiac engines and "expand our road racing presence."
That expansion would include Grand Am Cup and also the American Le Mans Series, in which the Chevrolet Corvette C6-R is expected to meet with success in it's debut showing at Sebring next weekend.
In the early days of the Detroit Grand Prix, Chevrolet had success as the street course wound around its Renaissance Center. Kent would, of course like to see a return to Detroit-based motor sport as it would be a "great opportunity if it happened. We've got no answer today on how to effect that but we'd like to be part of it," Kent alluded.
After making his first appearance as the head of GM Racing at last weekend's Toyota Indy 300 on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval with the Indy cars and on the same track's road course in the Grand American series, Kent intends to be on hand for the seminal Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring next weekend and will attend plenty of NASCAR Nextel Cup races (starting with Bristol) as is humanly possible.
"I am going to try my best to get to as many races as I possibly can this year and get to know all of our competitors on a face-to-face basis." Mark Kent's enthusiasm for the sport is palpable and good news for anyone in the business of racing, as any strong participation by the largest auto maker in the world is good for motorsports commerce.