Carmen Smith - GM Racing interview

Carmen Smith Provides In-Depth Analysis of GM Racing's Sport Compact Program for 2007 Returns for fourth season as Program Manager DETROIT, March 22, 2007 - After talking with Carmen Smith, you can see why she's excited about the start of ...

Carmen Smith Provides In-Depth Analysis of GM Racing's Sport Compact Program for 2007

Returns for fourth season as Program Manager

DETROIT, March 22, 2007 - After talking with Carmen Smith, you can see why she's excited about the start of another drag racing season in what promises to be a record-breaking year for Team Chevy on the sport-compact circuit. Since 2004, Smith has been program manager for sport-compact drag racing/drifting at GM where she has shepherded the day-to-day marketing, engineering and administrative activities of one of the most successful programs in the sport. In addition to on-track results and performance, the program will also focus this year on the introduction of a more user-friendly racing platform and the re-launch of a new and improved GM Tuner Source web site. In the following Q & A, Smith discusses the upcoming season and what to expect from the GM Racing Sport Compact program in 2007.

When will we see the new and improved version of gmtunersource.com?

Our website, www.gmtunersource.com , will re-launch this spring and will primarily be a blog. Visitors will still be able to find driver bios, engine specs and build-books, and GM accessory parts info, but the website will have the added bonus of frequently updated blog content. This will allow us to always post the most recent information, provide answers to technical questions, and give updates on interesting events. There will be a lot more for customers who visit our site.

Explain your role at GM Racing and your contribution to the sport-compact program.

As Program Manager, I take on the everyday tasks of tracking the budget, paying bills and expediting paperwork. I represent our sport-compact racing program to marketing teams and management within GM as well as outside customers, suppliers and sponsors. I worry about logistics and meeting deadlines, and I write contracts and web content. The fun part of my job is setting the overall strategy and goals for the race program, choosing and working with our great race teams, and leading a team of exceptional engineers who work hard to make this program successful.

GM Racing has made their sport-compact platform even more user-friendly and accessible this year. Can you talk about how that was done?

Each year we take steps toward this goal of making our race platform more accessible for independent teams. This year, we are moving from a Pectel engine controller, which is unattainable for most racers (we used them because we had units left over from an IRL program), and we are going to a commercially available, low-cost and user-friendly F.A.S.T XFI controller. We have also developed base calibrations in F.A.S.T that we will make available to racers on a case-by-case basis. In addition, in partnership with Roush Industries, we have developed two standard wiring harnesses (two injectors per cylinder and three injectors per cylinder) that we can offer for sale.

How does this benefit the small-budget team looking to break into the sport?

The wiring harness will take time and complexity out of building the race car, and having a base cal to start with will lessen development time and risk. Once you have a race engine built, you still must face the challenge of making it run right. Having a base engine calibration is a big head start.

Two new Chevy Cobalts were built for Gary Gardella and Marty Ladwig. Does this tie in to the shift to a more user-friendly platform?

Gary and Marty have brand-new tube-frame chassis built by S&W. S&W has standardized many of the parts, so it's no-longer all one-off stuff. Standardization brings price down and consistency up.

How strongly have the sanctioning bodies embraced this new approach? I think that the sanctioning bodies are in favor of anything that has the potential to bring in more racers. Increasing racer count and reliability of the cars is imperative to the health of the series.

Will the Cobalt Phase5 be back and has it contributed to the friendlier platform approach?

The Cobalt Phase5 will be back with Erica Nocita behind the wheel. However, the Dalcorp team is working to upgrade it, so I don't know if we can call it Phase5 anymore. It might be a Phase6 or Phase7. We are dropping in the TurboStreet-level motor, which is what Brian Ballard and Jason Whitfield run in their Cobalt race cars. Erica's car will also get upgrades in areas such as its roll-cage and brakes, with the goal of making consistent 10-second passes. Using the TurboStreet-style motor in Erica's car means that all of our racecars will run the same engine long block, with variations for type of fuel and two-injector/wet sump vs. three-injector/dry sump. The long block is probably more robust than what Erica needs, but no one complains about having an engine that can do more than it needs to.

Who are some of the GM Racing support personnel who will provide information for sport-compact enthusiasts on the new tuner site?

I'll be on there quite a bit, with race event updates and new technical information. Hopefully, we can convince our race drivers to blog from time to time. We'll also see updates from the GM Tuner Tour, which travels to cool sport-compact events (like Hot Import Nights and NOPI Nationals), and we'll get updates from Performance Parts and the vehicle marketing teams whenever they want to tell you about a new accessory, feature, event, or vehicle. Basically, if someone at GM has something interesting to tell our sport-compact customers, we'll post it.

In 2006, GM Racing's sport-compact efforts shifted from the role of factory-owned team to the role of support. How effective was the transition?

It was very effective. We had more teams attending more events than we've ever had, and we saw many great performances. Jason Hunt was unstoppable with nine wins, an NDRA championship, and records in both series. Brian Ballard brought home an NDRA championship, despite being lined up against some pretty tough V6 RWD cars. Don Nase Jr. established his ECOtec-powered dragster as the quickest four-cylinder car and brought home an NDRA championship. Gary Gardella laid down an amazing 7.565 second run, the quickest for any FWD uni-body car, and Marty Ladwig and Bryan Jimenez added even more wins to Chevy's portfolio. I'd say it went very well.

How will that support role be expanded in 2007?

This year will be very much like 2006. GM will still be supporting ECOtec-powered teams by bringing our support trailer to about 10 race events, and we'll have our expert crew at all NDRA and NHRA Sport Compact events.

The "shared information" policy has been a tremendous success with grassroots racers over the years.

In what capacity will that continue in 2007? The new gmtunersource.com website is going to help us a lot with that. Having the GM Sport Compact Build Book is great, but updating a hard-copy format is time-consuming and costly. Fans will want to check out the web-site for updates to the book and for new technical information. We also have a lot of supported teams out there now; they are a great source of information as well.

How does the sport compact program strengthen GM's aftermarket program?

We make many of our race-engine parts available to racers though our GM Racing warehouse. We realize that these parts appeal to a small group of potential customers, although we do expect some growth in the market as classes such as NHRA Comp Eliminator open up to turbo-charged ECOtec engines. For the larger customer base, looking to buy a robust engine or add a few horsepower to their production car, we demonstrate the capabilities of GM cars and parts. When an ECOtec motor and Hydra-Matic transmission powers a Cobalt to a seven-second quarter-mile pass, it shows that the package can meet the demands of our customers.

Chevy Cobalt sales have been tremendous and the car itself seems to have been embraced by the youth segment. How has the Cobalt's performance on track contributed to greater sales?

The sport-compact drag racing program has done a lot to create awareness of the Chevy Cobalt and foster a positive image within the youth market. Since Chevy Cobalt was a new name when it launched, it was very important to get the name out there in print, TV, and on-line. Our race cars get coverage on-line and in magazines, as well as on Speed and ESPN2 cable networks. When the Cobalt teams perform well at the track or participate in shows, they become the topic of discussions on message boards and within owner groups. We also write about them on GM websites and in press releases. All this has helped the youth market know the Cobalt name and created positive performance associations with Cobalt and ECOtec.

Ecotec continues to improve with each year on the track. How has the most powerful four-cylinder engine in drag racing evolved over the years and what should we expect to see this season?

For the past several years, our engine development has focused on more power. In 2001, we started out making 650hp. Now we can make 1450hp. At this point, going fast is more about getting a good launch and 'hooking-up' down the track. So, while the teams work to find the best setup for track conditions, GM Racing will focus on increasing engine life. We want our teams to get more passes on the same engine. Since we use many production components, we also need to keep up with changes that are happening in the production world and make sure we are always ready to race.

What does the GM Racing roster look like for 2007?

We are staying with our great teams and drivers from last season: Gary Gardella, Jason Hunt, Bryan Jimenez, and Marty Ladwig in the Pro FWD class; Brian Ballard and Jason Whitfield in TurboStreet; Don Nase Jr. in Extreme Dragster; and Erica Nocita in Quick16.

Are you looking forward to the new season and what do you hope the Sport Compact program can accomplish in 2007?

It's going to be another great year for Chevy's sport-compact program. I expect that our pro-level cars will, once-again, reset the benchmark for performance in the Pro FWD class. And, through good performance on and off the track, all our teams will continue to build a positive image for Chevy Cobalt, the ECOtec engine, and Hydra-Matic transmission.

-credit: gm racing

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