Hoyos' Ecotec-Powered Chevy Cavalier Makes a Run At First Place DALLAS, Aug. 3, 2004 - Just when you thought the 2004 NHRA PRO FWD championship had become a foregone conclusion, Chevy Cavalier driver Nelson Hoyos and his GM Racing teammates have...
Hoyos' Ecotec-Powered Chevy Cavalier Makes a Run At First Place
DALLAS, Aug. 3, 2004 - Just when you thought the 2004 NHRA PRO FWD championship had become a foregone conclusion, Chevy Cavalier driver Nelson Hoyos and his GM Racing teammates have shifted into full pursuit and decided to make it interesting. After posting consecutive second-place finishes at the season's first four events, Hoyos' Ecotec-powered Chevrolet has turned in a pair of unprecedented, record-setting performances at Denver and Las Vegas. Charging to back-to-back victories, the orange and cinnamon Chevrolet has registered 12 straight laps in the 7-second range, the only car in NHRA PRO FWD history to accomplish the feat. In the Mile-High plus altitude of Denver's Bandimere Speedway, Hoyos' Cavalier set the national e.t. record of 7.778 seconds, and then four weeks later at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, lowered it even further to an extraordinary 7.658 seconds. Hoyos' front-wheel-drive Chevrolet has been a model of consistency averaging a lightning-quick 7.813 seconds in its last 12 laps on the racetrack.
Since the beginning of the 2003 NHRA Summit Racing Sport Compact campaign, Hoyos has won nine national events, made 20 consecutive final-round appearances and posted a 36 - 7 round win/loss record (.837). After losing four straight final rounds this year to Saturn rival Lisa Kubo, Hoyos' recent wins have moved the Floridian to within 40 points of the first-place feminine phenom.
"After the last two events at Denver and Las Vegas we have put the Ecotec-powered Chevy Cavalier right back in the championship race," said Hoyos. "Going into Denver we were at a pretty healthy deficit and that race was a pivotal point. If we had lost there and Lisa (Kubo) had won, we would have been just about mathematically eliminated. The fact that this race team was able to get our Ecotec engine to perform so proficiently at that altitude, and run the numbers we did, by being able to qualify on the pole, setting the new e.t. record and winning the race, we were able to close the gap considerably.
"At Las Vegas, being able to qualify on the pole again and set the record, we were able to pick up another 40 points. Now were just two rounds of racing out of first place, and for all intent and purposes, we're going into the Lone Star State zeroed in and with first place in our sights."
The next stop on the Summit Racing Sport Compact schedule is the NHRA Sport Compact Nationals at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Tex., on Aug. 7 -8. ESPN2 will carry highlights of the race on Thursday, Aug. 19, beginning at 3:30 p.m. (ET). Hoyos is the defending PRO FWD champion at the Texas Motorplex, defeating Charles Madrid in the finals after earning low qualifying honors.
Your Ecotec-powered Chevy Cavalier is starting to run the elapsed time and speed you expected at the beginning of the year. "We knew all along that we had the potential of running this fast. We had a brand-new team, a brand-new car, a brand-new engine program, and it took us some time to gel and work through some of the idiosyncrasies. This race team and this Chevy Cavalier have been able to do wonderful things in just a short amount of time. We were in the sevens at the second race of the year at West Palm Beach, and now on the eve of the season's seventh race we have run consistently deep in the sevens, and we're only getting better."
You thought all along you could run in the sevens, but at the beginning of the year did you think you could run as quick as 7.65? "I had a conversation with Russ O'Blenes (GM Racing technical manager of Sport Compact Drag Racing) at the first of the year where we were discussing just how quick we thought we could go. Russ had a blank pad in his office, and on that pad I set a personal goal of 7.60 seconds at 200 mph before the end of the year. I have always felt we could get to the 7.60 mark but I honestly didn't think it would happen this quickly."
Considering how you struggled at the beginning of the year, it's quite impressive how you've turned things around. "One of the interesting things we have discovered, looking back, is since we've brought out the new racecar, the numbers we have been running to the eighth-mile have been so much faster than our previous racecar. I knew it was only a matter of time before this team figured out the top-end power issues we were having. Our new Cavalier was .20 of a second quicker than last year's car that ran an 8.14. I was confident that as soon as we managed how the car needed to go down the racetrack we would at least be running in the 7.80s. We knew this Chevrolet had the potential, we just had to figure it out. When we went to Denver to test, and started running those stellar numbers, it was obvious that the car was going to be faster, because now to the eighth-mile, we were faster by almost .15 of a second. Sure enough, at Las Vegas, on the 7.65 run, we were able to put together a perfect incremental run from starting line to finish, netting the numbers we all hoped for and knew were available. Like any good racecar though, speed doesn't win races, it's consistency. We were hunting for a tune-up that would get us the same numbers every time out. During the last two races we have been able to repeat run after run with the Cavalier, which is critical with what we're trying to accomplish. Right now, my GM Racing teammates have it figured out."
Do you and the team have a higher level of confidence? "Absolutely. As a driver, when the car is running as good as our Cavalier is now, it boosts our confidence because the car responds precisely the way we'd like. All year, the car has accelerated well to the 1000-foot mark, it was just from 1000 feet to 1320 that we've lost our races, and Lisa has come by us with that great top-end Ecotec horsepower. Now, with the horsepower to accelerate all the way down the racetrack, we feel that the Chevrolet is the fastest PRO FWD car out there. The race team has put a huge effort into this program, and every week they have applied themselves to get this car to where it needs to be. That's why the wins in Denver and Las Vegas meant so much to all of us."
What did it mean to be able to run so many consecutive laps in the sevens? "It's interesting how things change so quickly. Our recent performance is definitely not a fluke and we've certainly hit upon something, without a question. There's is so much more in this car even yet. This new tune-up that we've come up with, it's just crazy. That 7.65 run at Las Vegas was our best e.t., it was not our best mph, yet this motor ran with the same tune-up we used in Denver. We're hoping that we'll see that continuous improvement when we go to Dallas and for the rest of the season."
Will the concrete surface at Texas Motorplex help your performance? "The beauty about racing at Texas Motorplex is that you don't have any surface change, therefore you can dial your big tune-up in for the whole racetrack. Being a front-wheel-drive car we have to ramp the boost up as we go down the track whereas a rear-wheel-drive car will launch with everything they have. In other words, I cannot leave with 40 pounds of boost - it's impossible. We actually tune the car, not only by the gearing, but by the power output as we go down the track. We're not only challenged by how we do that but also by where the break in the surface is - from the concrete to the asphalt. If we can ever get that traction completely to the ground, this car would be a rocket and that's kind of where we are now - power management as much as we can. It's not only making horsepower, but getting it all to the ground and that's what these guys are really getting good at. At Las Vegas, we launched the car so hard that it put everybody in a tailspin. The 60-foot time was a 1.23-second incremental. A typical front-wheel-drive car runs in the mid-1.30s. The best we had up to that point was 1.28, but by tuning it differently we were able to run the 1.23, backed it up with two 1.24s and then had a 1.25. We've found a way to get this car to launch. We could possibly get the 200-mph mark at Dallas and then again later in the year at Englishtown, but the weather in Dallas this time of year can be brutally hot, the track could get a little greasy and that has the potential of working against us. Sometime during the weekend though that track will be good, and it's up to us to then create a rock-solid run. Right now though, our focus is on e.t., trying to go as quick as we can and hopefully pick up another 20 bonus points for a national record."
Where has the increase in performance come from? "Primarily in the engine-management and clutch-management programs. The problem we were facing at the very beginning was that the engines were making a lot of horsepower, through first, second, and the middle of third gear. But at the upper end of third gear, and in fourth gear, the motor wouldn't pull as strong as it could have, and we had some trouble figuring out why. We worked on that quite extensively to get that backhalf better, and then we started working on clutch management to help the car launch better. We have a slipper-type clutch in this car so it allows us to tune how much slippage we want on the bottom. We were trying to optimize engine power with chassis performance to get the car to maximize the amount of traction on the first 60 feet because that's acceleration, that's the moment of inertia and the quickest we had to accelerate the car to get it to run good e.t. All of those points have intersected into almost a perfect, managed run. We've always had horsepower, it was managing the horsepower correctly all the way down the track that we had to figure out. That's where we were at a little bit of a deficit. Now we know exactly what we need to do and where on the track we need to do it."