Team Chevy's Jason Hunt Contends for Back-to-Back Wins FWD Ecotec-Powered Cobalts will race at Milan Dragway MILAN, Mich., July 17, 2007 - The NDRA Sport Compact series will be in Michigan this weekend for the NOPI Nationals on July 21- 22 at ...
Team Chevy's Jason Hunt Contends for Back-to-Back Wins
FWD Ecotec-Powered Cobalts will race at Milan Dragway
MILAN, Mich., July 17, 2007 - The NDRA Sport Compact series will be in Michigan this weekend for the NOPI Nationals on July 21- 22 at Milan Dragway. Team Chevy's Jason Hunt will be trying to pad his Pro Outlaw FWD points lead when he puts his Ecotec-powered Cobalt on the track for the first round of qualifying on Saturday, but standing in the way will be another Chevy Cobalt driver, Gary Gardella, who will be looking for a winner's circle celebration of his own.
"This will be our first time at the track," said team owner and crew chief Charlie Schafer. "We always look forward to going to a new venue because it's something different. It will present new challenges and it's going to be fun."
Hunt is coming off a final-round win over Gardella last Saturday at the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals. Although a much-deserved victory after racing in ambient air temperatures exceeding 110 degrees, it was especially gratifying for the CSI Racing team given the fact that from a logistics standpoint, just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
"It was definitely a challenge, to say the least," admitted Hunt. "We knew going in we had some generator issues, and although we arranged ahead of time to take care of that problem, it didn't work out like we had planned. We had our pit area spread out just to get everything powered up properly. We also found a short in the trailer and couldn't get any power out of it at all. We had extension cords running all over the place. It's amazing that the weekend worked out like it did. Then the heat was incredible - Vegas heat. At first it seems okay, and then it just gets stupid hot, and then you get used to it. It will definitely whoop you, and then at night when the temp gets down to 97, you think it's cool."
Schafer was impressed by the perseverance of his Matco Tools Chevrolet team at the NHRA Vegas Nationals, and their ability to overcame a number of unforeseen obstacles. In addition to the Saturday race win, the blue-and-silver Ecotec-powered Cobalt captured No. 1 qualifying honors, exceeded the 193 mph mark on three separate passes and ran a meet top speed of 195.73 mph in the final-round against the Red Bull Chevy.
"We went all the way out to Nevada from Maryland, and after all of that we came away with a win," said Schafer. "That was pretty gratifying as a competitor, as a crew chief and just working with this great group of individuals. After the final pass, when Gary (Gardella) rolled the beams, we were there waiting for Jason to take the green light, and I turned around and looked at everybody and told them, 'Great job.' I couldn't believe we had won after everything we went through.
"We hurt a motor in the first round of qualifying, and did a mad thrash to get our Matco Tools Chevrolet ready for second round, and then we went out and took the No. 1 spot. To go through the rounds, and run as well as we did, and come away with the win, the pole and the top speed of the meet, that was about as good as it gets."
It was Hunt's third NHRA national-event victory this season, and seventh overall this year taking into account his four NDRA Pro Outlaw FWD wins at Dallas, Phoenix, Budds Creek (Md.) and Atco (N.J.)
"Our Ecotec engines have been outstanding," said Hunt. "We've hurt a few but we've also been leaning on them pretty good, too. We think we've had a gremlin in one of our setups, either in the wiring harness or a bad injector. The good thing is that we have a tried and true setup that we can pop in, we call it our grunt motor, and we can do just about anything with it we want. Right now we have the oldest chassis of the group. We've slowly been updating as we go along to keep up with the faster cars, and because it's older, we pay a little bit more attention to how it performs.
"Gary (Gardella) has been our final round competitor at the last four races. We know that they're not taking this sitting down, and that sooner or later the shoe's going to be on the other foot. Those guys are good competitors. We've enjoyed racing with Gary for a long time. They're a great group of guys, they know what they are doing and they got up to speed on their new car pretty quickly.
"We know we have some stiff competition sitting over in the other lane, regardless of who it is and we don't take it lightly. To be able to beat the competition we beat this last weekend was pretty awesome. We've got a good group of people who don't give up. We work our tails off to get to where we need to be and it's paid off."
Hunt will be celebrating his 33rd birthday on July 25, and he is looking to become the first competitor to win championships in both NHRA and NDRA in the same year. He feels his Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalt is the premium racing package in sport-compact competition and the right combination to get the job done.
"The two championships were something we talked about last year before my accident," said Hunt. "This year we've focused a little harder on that possibility, so yes, it is a goal of ours and it's something that would be pretty awesome if we could accomplish that.
"We're hanging in there with everybody. Marty (Ladwig) and Gary (Gardella) have both put out some pretty impressive numbers with their new Cobalts, but we'll go head-to-head with them any day of the week. We're doing what we need to do to get our Matco Tools Chevrolet down the track and to go rounds - that's what you have to do when you're racing for championships in both series. It doesn't matter how you get there, you have to win rounds and those don't come from any specific elapsed time or speed as long as we get the win light."
Schafer continues to enjoy the challenges of tuning a front-wheel-drive configuration and the progress his Chevy Cobalt program has made over the last few years. Even with little time to rest after the long road trip west, he likes his team's chances this weekend at Milan Dragway.
"This is something I've done since I was a kid," said Schafer. "It is something I would do for free, something I have done for free, and to be able to do race on a professional level is pretty awesome. This is certainly not the pinnacle of my career but it is the brightest spot so far. When the front-wheel-drive configuration came about in the late 90s I saw it as a new challenge - I felt I could make it work. Now that we're neck deep into it, it's a challenge that's totally different. You take everything you knew about getting a car down the racetrack and it's totally different sometimes. There's a handful of teams that can do it well and we're one of them."
"We've been on a roll lately and our Ecotec-powered Chevrolet is beginning to run the kind of consistent numbers we saw last year. We're not out to break any records, or do anything spectacular, we just want to get down the racetrack and make the other car beat us. It's worked for us in the past and it should work for us in the future."
Coming off the runner-up performance in Las Vegas, Gary Gardella will arrive in Michigan with the hope of nailing down his first victory in 2007. The driver of the Red Bull Chevy Cobalt has a total of four final-round appearances this season (two in NHRA and two in NDRA) and is looking to take that final leap to the winner's circle.
"The Red Bull Chevy Cobalt has been running phenomenally," said Gardella. "Our whole goal at Las Vegas was to make it to the finals because by doing that we keep moving up in the points. You saw a lot of the frontrunners going out early, and when that started to shake out we realized we had the opportunity to make a move. We haven't been knocked out in the first round in a while and that kind of success begins to add up. We'd like to win, we deserve one, but we need to continue to go rounds and ultimately the wins will come.
"The car is so consistent and has been great. At Las Vegas we hurt the motor in the semifinals and had to put a new motor in for the finals. I don't know what went wrong. We thought we had all the adjustments set right on the clutch, but something happened on the starting line with the air-gap, and when I hit the throttle to stage, it just rolled through the beams. We live and we learn."
With the long journey back from Nevada, Gardella doesn't see any problem in turning around and competing on back-to-back weekends, even with the long transit time between venues.
"I love it," said Gardella. "I love drag racing and I would do it every weekend if I could. Don't get me wrong, it's a challenge for us but we're up to it. We stayed up all night in Las Vegas after the race and serviced everything on our Red Bull Chevrolet, getting it ready for the Milan race. What will be difficult this weekend is the fact we've never been there before so we don't have any track data. I mean, I've never even seen it before, but there have been a lot of tracks we've raced on this year that we haven't raced on in the past.
"Hopefully toward the end of the year we'll still be able to earn ourselves an NHRA championship, and this race at Milan will give us the chance to learn even more about our new Chevy Cobalt. We're only about 100 points out of first and 20 points out of third, so an Xplod title is definitely within reach."
-credit: gm racing