Pro FWD Championship still up for Grabs - First Visit for Series at Fabled ORP INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 13, 2007 - Team Chevy's contingent of NHRA Pro FWD drag racers will make the first of two visits this year to the legendary quarter-mile at...
Pro FWD Championship still up for Grabs - First Visit for Series at Fabled ORP
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 13, 2007 - Team Chevy's contingent of NHRA Pro FWD drag racers will make the first of two visits this year to the legendary quarter-mile at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis for the Inaugural Indy NHRA Sport Compact Nationals on Aug. 18 - 19. Following this event, the Pro FWD competitors will return to ORP two weeks later to take part in the 53rd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
"This is Indy," said Jason Hunt, NHRA Pro FWD points leader and driver of the Matco Tools Chevy Cobalt. "This is the one place where, until now, we only dreamed about racing. We've been here many times during the U.S. Nationals to watch the POWERade guys and now we're going to have our chance. This is exciting stuff for us. I'm sure we're going to have a great track to race on, and given that the surface will be in excellent shape, you should see some pretty good numbers coming from our Ecotec-powered Cobalt."
With only four races left to be contested, Hunt has a narrow lead over his closest Pro FWD rivals in what could best be described as a virtual logjam of drivers. They are all working toward the 2007 Xplod crown, and every driver understands the fact that the next two races at ORP will go a long way in determining the next champion.
"Our Chevy Cobalt has done everything we've asked it to do, and our Ecotec engines have provided us with the horsepower to win races and take the points lead," said team owner Charlie Schafer. "It's the same old story, but to win this championship we're going to have to stay consistent and go rounds, and at the end of the day at Indy, be in a position to win the race."
Through the first five of the nine scheduled meetings on the NHRA Xplod tour, Hunt has driven his Chevy Cobalt to three national-event victories at West Palm Beach (Fla.), Atco (N.J.), and most recently at the series last contest in Las Vegas on July 15. Hunt's also earned the No. 1 qualifying award once (Las Vegas) and set the fastest speed of the meet three times (West Palm Beach, Atco, Las Vegas). He is currently in first place in the standings and holds a lead of just five points over second-place Marty Ladwig, an 80-point lead over Ed Bergenholtz and a 106-point advantage over Gary Gardella.
"We've tested several different setups over the last month," said Schafer. "We found some things that worked, and other things that we're glad we tried because we found out they didn't work. The competition is charging hard with Marty right behind us, and Ed (Bergenholtz), and now it looks like Gary (Gardella) is starting to get a handle on his car, so we need to stay on top of things. We're always working on something, always looking ahead, always looking to improve, and we'll try to use this first event at ORP to prepare us for when we return for the U.S. Nationals."
With two national-event victories already in tow, Marty Ladwig will try to close the razor-thin deficit on fellow Team Chevy driver Jason Hunt when the series converges on ORP. Ladwig dominated the Pro FWD category at the season's second race at Richmond (Va.) when he qualified No. 1, won the event and set a national e.t. record of 7.312 seconds.
Two weeks later during a victorious weekend at Englishtown (N.J.), Ladwig set both ends of the national record by posting a 7.274 e.t. at 201.55 mph. So far this year, Ladwig's Lucas Oil Chevy Cobalt has set low e.t. of the meet four times and fast speed of the meet twice.
"It's exciting that the series has added another great racetrack like Indianapolis to the schedule," said Ladwig. "As a class, our Pro FWD cars excel at tracks where we can utilize the full power of our Ecotec engines. We've been in a little bit of a slump lately, so at this event we are hoping to break that trend and come out with a win.
"If there's one race a drag racer wants to win, it's the U.S. Nationals. To have the opportunity to run at Indy and maybe win is huge and hopefully we can make the most of it. At the same time, winning the championship is our main goal this season, and we are confident that if we continue with our strategy of good maintenance, our current performance and setup will carry us through.
"Our Ecotec engines have been amazing. Unlike the other brands we compete against, our engines have been very reliable and require very little maintenance, while still setting records and winning races. Ecotec engines combined with our reliable Lucas Oil Chevrolet Cobalt is a package that will be tough to beat."
Following a final-round appearance in Las Vegas last month, his second this season, Gary Gardella continues to keep his championship hopes alive. With the way Gardella's Red Bull Chevy Cobalt has been running recently, you certainly couldn't blame frontrunners Hunt and Ladwig from turning their heads and casting a cautious eye over their shoulders.
"I am really looking forward to running at Indy," said Gardella. "I'm pretty sure that we're all looking forward to it. The facility, and the race itself, has a lot of history behind it and it's great that the NHRA is giving us an opportunity to run there. There's a lot of potential for our class to really be something one day - every event the margin of victory is a little tighter. It's been a goal of mine for a long time to compete at a POWERade event and take home a Wally. The guys we'll be racing against feel the same way, though, and everyone of us will be working about as hard as we've ever worked.
"Right now our Ecotec engine program is running phenomenally. We're coming off two consecutive victories in NDRA where we set that series' mph record and recently, our Red Bull Chevy Cobalt ran 204.5 mph and 202 mph. We had a rough start trying to get the new car figured out, but with every race, it keeps running better and better, and we're hoping by Labor Day to be consistently running in the 7.20s."
After a slow start to 2007, Gardella got on track with a strong performance at Atco when he advanced to the finals before losing to Jason Hunt by .073 of a second. He posted another runner-up to Hunt at Las Vegas. Since then, Gardella has rolled to a pair of consecutive victories on the NDRA circuit where he joined the growing list Chevrolet drivers to exceed the 200 mph barrier. Only 106 points out of first place with four NHRA Xplod races remaining, Gardella remains confident about his 2007 Pro FWD title hopes.
"We're going to need consistency and a lot of good driving," said Gardella. "That includes good reaction times and maybe a holeshot win or two. My crew has been working hard on this Red Bull Chevy Cobalt. We keep learning what it wants to make strong passes, and we're to the point now where we're good enough to win the Pro FWD championship."
Bryan Jimenez is another Chevy Cobalt Pro FWD competitor who is hoping to nail down his first victory of the season at Indianapolis. Although the 2007 championship may be out of his reach, Jimenez still feels confident that what the team has learned this year could pay off significantly at ORP.
"I've been looking forward to these races all year," said Jimenez. "O'Reilly Raceway Park is a place that I've seen on television, and now NHRA Sport Compact will give us the opportunity to compete at this prestigious venue. With a lot of hard work and little luck, we can go a few rounds and possibly win the race.
"We have been running the same chassis we raced with last year so that's put us at a disadvantage to our competitors who have been running the full-tube chassis. But to be honest, I'm not worried about it. Next season we'll be in a new car and the class will be reminded that we can also compete for a championship."
Jimenez remains confident on his chances at both ORP events, and since the series' last race in Las Vegas his team has stayed busy studying data, working on car setups and devising ways to control an abundance of Ecotec horsepower.
"The engines and racecar are running great," said Jimenez. "We've just had some breakage this year that we didn't have last year. But the car has been great, our Ecotec engines are providing us with tremendous horsepower and if we can qualify strong and win a few rounds, we should be able to move up before the end of the season."
The Indy NHRA Sport Compact Nationals on August 18 - 19 at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis is the sixth race on the nine-event Xplod schedule. -credit: gm racing