An interview with: Joie Chitwood, Jim Campbell, Tom Bledsoe and Jim Lutz
HERB BRANHAM: Hello, everyone. Real thrilled to be here with our good friends from Chevy Motorsports for this announcement.
I'd like to recognize some special guests with us today, starting off with the chairman of the board the NASCAR Brian France. The co founder of Grand Am, the vice chairman and executive VP of NASCAR, Jim France. The executive vice president of NASCAR and CEO of International Speedway Corporation, Lesa France Kennedy. Mike Helton, president of NASCAR. Ed Bennett, our recently named CEO of Grand Am. And Tom Bledsoe, president of Grand Am Road Racing. The president of Daytona International Speedway, our good friend Joie Chitwood III.
JOIE CHITWOOD: It's amazing to think in two months we're going to be here celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24. Think about what has happened over the last 50 years. We have had over 3500 cars cars compete in the Rolex 24. We've had over 7500 drivers compete in the Rolex 24. How about this? Over eight million miles have been completed in the last 49 years of the Rolex 24. We get to celebrate the 50th in just a couple short months.
As part of our plan to celebrate this historic event we've actually invited all of the winning cars back to be on display. We anticipate we're going to have 35 of the 42 possible winning cars. You might ask me, Joie, 42, but there's 49 years of racing. We have some cars that no longer exist and multiple winners.
When you think about the Rolex 24, this ultimate achievement in sports car endurance racing, there are a couple of attributes that come to mind in what it takes to be successful: speed, reliability, innovation, maybe a little luck now and again, but more importantly the desire to compete. You have to have that desire, that desire to win, to compete. I can think of no other manufacturer that has the attributes like that than Chevrolet.
With that, I would like to introduce Jim Campbell.
JIM CAMPBELL: Good afternoon, everybody. Appreciate you being here. Also there's many members of the media that are joining us online. Special hello to those at the L.A. Auto Show. We also have one of our terrific Chevrolet dealers here and the mayor of Daytona, Glenn Richey. Also we have members of the C5 and C6 registry here. So we appreciate our Corvette customers being here. I think I also saw Dale Earnhardt, Jr. testing today. Dale, thank you for joining us as well.
Brian France, Lesa, Mike, thanks for having us here for this special announcement.
Daytona International Speedway, it is a special place. It's going to be exciting to be here on the 50th anniversary of this special road race in January. Chevrolet recently celebrate add milestone of our own. It was our centennial. Our co founder, Louis Chevrolet, self taught engineer, car guy, but most of all he was a racer. Him and his brothers were racers. 100 years later racing and performance is alive and well at Chevrolet.
So Chevy and Daytona also share a very special history in both stockcar racing and road racing. A very special story, indeed. Our first styling chief, Harley Earl, was a strong supporter of stockcar racing. He and Bill France, Sr. became good friends. Here are a couple of pictures of them together. These guys had a lot of mutual respect for one another.
In addition, the Corvette and Daytona have almost grown up together. In 1956, Zora Arkus Duntov set the flying mile speed record at Daytona Beach in a Corvette, the average two way speed of 150.538 miles per hour. At the official opening of the Daytona International Speedway in 1959, Zora came back and turned the fastest lap in a Corvette SS at 155 miles per hour.
Betty Skelton, the first lady of firsts, set her first land speed record at Daytona in a Corvette. She came back many times after that.
The inaugural Daytona Continental race in 1962, Dick Thompson, the flying dentist, finished first in the GT 5000 class in a Corvette. Then in 1966 in the 24 Hour race the No. 6 Corvette, owned by Roger Penske, completed 575 laps to win the GT 3000 class in a Corvette.
Corvettes raced throughout the late '60s and '70s with much success.
Fast forward to 1986. The Corvette you see here took the pole. Unfortunately the car fell victim to vibrations during the warmups and was scratched from the race. It went on to compete in many other races and won in Atlanta.
The 24 Hours of Daytona, this is a tough race. Anything can happen. I will never forget in 1999, right here, the first year we ran the fifth generation Corvette, it was our first race for that car, fans and supporters from all over the grandstands, many watching on television, we got out to a quick lead and led for 18 hours. The enthusiasm was high. But then you realize what it takes to win at the 24 Hours of Daytona. It takes an incredible effort. Every minute, every lap, the car, drivers, every team. We did not win that race. We ended up with a podium finish, which in retrospect was an incredible accomplishment. We went home, did our homework, and came back strong.
In 2001 the No. 2 Millennium Yellow Corvette C5 R not only won the GT class but also the overall victory at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. What a special race that was.
More recently, a number of Daytona Prototypes have been powered by Chevy in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series with five wins during the 2011 season, including the Bob Stallings victories at Laguna Seca and Montréal, and the Wayne Taylor win at Lime Rock, and the first and second races at Watkins Glen.
Winning is a very important part of why we race. Racing is also part of building our image, creating an opportunity to create a relationship with current customers and prospective customers. It's also important to make a technological link.
Corvette is a terrific example. What we've learned here on the racetrack for every generation of Corvette has made our production cars even better. The fact the learnings we gained here at the 24 Hours of Daytona made the fifth generation ZO6 even capable. The one here today carries on that tradition. It really embodies racing technology in a street legal package, lightweight aluminum frame, carbon fiber components, aspirated all aluminum V8, 505 horsepower, magnetic ride control, aerodynamic ride control with front splitters and rear defusers. A great field of technology in this car was developed on the track, making it one of the lightest, most balanced Corvettes ever.
We're proud to compete in the Rolex Sports Car Series with the Camaro Corvette in the GT class and Chevrolet power in the Daytona Prototype class. Just think about the word 'Prototype' and what it means. What an opportunity to develop new technology, define aerodynamic efficiencies that can help improve our production vehicles.
So today I'm extremely pleased to announce a special entry for the 2012 Daytona Prototype class. Jim France has been speaking to us what a special class it can be now and into the future. I'd like to ask Jim France, along with Lesa, Mike, Tom and Joie to come up with me, stand to the side of the stage. I want to show you a brief time lapse video of the special development of this racecar. At the end we will reveal the car.
JIM CAMPBELL: Ladies and gentlemen, the 2012 Corvette Daytona Prototype. Thank you for helping me unveil the car.
We love this car. We love what this car is going to do on the racetrack. Corvette designers incorporate key Corvette cues that are optimized for the specifics of Daytona Prototype racing. Those distinctive Corvette lines. Look at the jet fighter canopy on that sleek fuselage, fixed headlamps, the classic V shape lines, carbon fiber front splitter, gilled vents, carbon fiber lower rocker. The greenhouse rear glass, distinctive dual element tail lamps, carbon fiber defuser and wing and spoiler.
The new Corvette Daytona Prototype will be powered by this. It's a five liter Chevy V8 based on the Ellis family small block, modified production aluminum blocks, Chevy LSX C and C ported cylinder heads with individual runner intake manifold. Dry sump oiling system, fuel injection, 530 peak horsepower at 7,000 rpm, 450 (indiscernible) of torque at 5500 rpms.
As you can tell, we are very excited about the Corvette Daytona Prototype.
I'd like to turn it over to the president of Grand Am Road Racing, Tom Bledsoe.
TOM BLEDSOE: Thank you.
This is only the second time I've seen this car and I just can't stop smiling. This is exactly what we envisioned, Jim and Dave, everybody, many nights sitting around talking about what we could do with the prototype. This is perfect. Thank you, Jim Campbell, all your team at Chevy for making this possible.
I'll get back to the script.
Grand Am's concept for the new Daytona Prototype was aimed at allowing manufacturers to showcase their brands in an exciting, cutting edge fashion, and obviously we have done that, Chevy has done that.
We're proud to have Chevrolet help us get our new prototype off and running in such a high profile fashion. Here at Daytona Beach, as in Detroit, there is an incredible anticipation of seeing this new car compete. This announcement has immediate and far reaching implications. This is a game changer for us and we expect great things.
Grand Am, we're fast moving. We're changing a lot of things on all fronts. Today is another indication of that.
Bottom line is we can't wait for 2012. It's going to be exciting. This is going to be one of the most important parts of it. Thank you.
JOIE CHITWOOD: Now you've seen the car, you've seen the engine. It's also going to take some great teams to get on the podium. Chevrolet will have four teams competing at the 50th anniversary. From GAINSCO, Bob Stallings Racing, owner Bob Stallings, drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty. From Wayne Taylor Racing, Wayne Taylor, along with drivers Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor. Spirit of Daytona Racing, owned by Troy Flis, with drivers Antonio Garcia California, Jan Magnusson. Finally our newest Chevrolet road racing team, Action Express Racing with two Corvette Daytona Prototypes, owned by Bob Johnson, managed by Gary Nelson. With two cars, we have six drivers. J.C. France, Joao Barbosa, Terry Borcheller, Max Papis, Christian Fittipaldi, Darren Law.
In addition to the four Daytona Prototype teams, Chevrolet will also be racing in the GT class defending our GT manufacturer’s championship. We'll have three teams in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge GS class. So Chevrolet is looking forward to a very exciting season in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series. We look forward to racing this new Chevrolet Daytona Prototype at the end of January.
I'd like to thank everyone for joining us online and I'll turn it back to Herb to wrap it up.
HERB BRANHAM: We're going to roll into our media portion of this event as we set up the chairs. We'll go ahead and take questions.
Q. Is this the first manufacturer that's gone with the third generation Daytona Prototype?
TOM BLEDSOE: Yes, it is the first. Thanks to Chevy for taking that position. We expect more to come.
JIM CAMPBELL: Clearly we've been racing with Chevy power in the Prototype category, running the GT and the GS. We like this connection between the racecar. When the rules got adjusted, we were able from a design perspective to give this thing a sleek look that really lines up nicely with Corvette. This was our opportunity right now.
As you heard in the video, eight months from kind of the discussion of when we were going to start to do this to what you see here today, my hats off to Jim and Brian France, others, Tom and your team, for working with the OEMs on some of these adjustments. We're thrilled with this car. We can't wait to get on the racetrack.
Q. Joie, if you could, getting all those winning cars must have been a logistical problem. Who had to go searching for all those cars?
JOIE CHITWOOD: Actually, when you think about the 50 years of the Rolex 24, I think the cars themselves tell the greatest story. It was a team effort as we sat down and came up with our plan. It became a challenge for the team of how many cars we could find, a version of 'Where is Waldo'. We have three unaccounted for cars that you'll see a press release for soon, asking for information, and even a tip line if we can find them.
We thought over 50 years, the stories of the cars, the drivers, the owners, there's no better way to celebrate this anniversary than to tell that story. We worked with a lot of folks. Our biggest challenge is getting cars over from Europe, working on bonds, transportation. We're shipping a couple overseas here soon. I expect that people will be very impressed with the turnout. We're going to have a charity event on Thursday night before the Rolex 24. We'll parade those cars from the Ocean Center here in Daytona Beach to the racetrack where the cars will be on display for the public to enjoy.
It was definitely easier said than done. I think our team rose to the challenge and our fans will enjoy the collection of cars. It will be once in a lifetime.
Q. Has this car been on the track yet? If it has, where? If it has not, when? Who will be doing it?
JIM CAMPBELL: This car will be going on the racetrack tomorrow. About two hours from now, it will be off this stage, getting ready for a test tomorrow. We've had the engine on the dyno. Tomorrow will be the first test on the track.
JIM LUTZ: This is the Troy Flis Spirit of Daytona car. They will be testing it tomorrow and Thursday.
JIM CAMPBELL: All the teams you saw here today, the owners, the drivers, they are eager to get going on the testing of this car. A lot of hard work has happened to this point. The real hard work starts now to get ready for this race.
Q. All the Daytona Prototype teams will be running the Chevrolet?
JIM CAMPBELL: That's right. All the teams we introduced today will be running the Daytona Prototype.
Q. Jim, can you talk about the timeline on this car. I think I heard eight months from start to finish.
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, we've been working on this for about eight months. We really have been working with Grand Am on some rule adjustments that would enable a design like this. Obviously all the OEMs are going to be looking to take advantage of this rule set to get as aerodynamic as possible.
We went to work with our design team and our engineering team along with the competition team at Grand Am. We work with Pratt and Miller, Gary Pratt is here, to get this vehicle ready for today. It did take us about eight months in time.
If you take a look at the design elements of this car, the current Corvette to my right over there, the design cues, they're all there for Corvette. Obviously the modifications are really to meet the competition rules for Daytona Prototype for the series.
Where you see things that are maybe a little different than the production cars, it's because the rules require a particular line or what have you. Overall, fixed headlamps, low slung, cockpit on the fuselage look, classic Corvette cue with the vents, the four tail lamps in the rear. This will allow us to connect what we're racing with what we're selling. We're going to learn a lot on the aerodynamic side here as we start testing here tomorrow.
TOM BLEDSOE: As Mark said in the video, eight months is an amazing feat to get this all produced. Obviously Dave and his staff, like Jim is talking about, worked with this. We started this concept probably 18 months ago, and obviously we had to develop the parameters so the manufacturers could work within those parameters.
It is an amazing feat to have it done in eight months.
JIM CAMPBELL: When we raced here in 1999, I talked about our experience of running the C5 R. I will tell you at that race, I see some of the guys from the registry, we are going to call on the Corvette community far and wide from around the world to come to Daytona for the race. If you can't come to Daytona, tune in online, tune in on TV because we will have a lot of great supporters in the Corvette community. We appreciated that in 1999 and many years after. We look forward to the same thing here at the end of January.
Q. Jim, I was wondering if we would see any involvement from drivers like Oliver Gavin or Jan Magnusson for the full Grand Am season?
JIM CAMPBELL: Let's start with the last question.
Listen, I don't see a factory team here, but we have four fantastic partners and teams. We know from all the various racing series we race in, having great team owners, drivers, engineering staffs in those organizations working with ours, it's a terrific formula for having the opportunity to earning a win. It takes a lot to earn a win in this series.
In terms of the drivers you mentioned, Oliver Gavin, Tony Garcia, Jan Magnusson will race at the 24 Hour race at the end of January. You may see them race in DP at the end of the season or the GT or GS category. You may see them later in the year. Time will tell on that.
Q. Jim Campbell, you're the third manufacturer I think in the last eight months to come into Grand Am. You have a huge amount of success in another racing series here in the U.S. What led you to make this kind of investment into the Grand Am program?
JIM CAMPBELL: Well, just to clarify one thing, Chevy power has been powering Daytona Prototypes for many years. This past year in 2011 we collectively with a couple of the different teams here have collected five wins in the category. We have three teams in the Camaro category for GT and also three for the GS as well.
We've been in the series for quite a while in one form or fashion. So for us this is really an opportunity as we go into 2012 to basically take this car up another notch. We think the rule changes enabled what we have here on the stage: a car that is going to be able to connect to the actual production car in a very significant way. We have a lot of work to do between now and the first race with our teams.
But this is why we did all the work, was to get a car that really enables us to connect to what we sell on the production side. To the right of the stage, we have a Corvette Z06. If you look at the production car and this car, you can see a lot of the key cues are right in this design. It's an opportunity for us to connect.
Candidly, racing in general, we race for several reasons. We love to win. First, it's definitely an opportunity to improve our image. When you race, you can move your image north in a lot of different attributes. Second, I mentioned this opportunity at race venues to interact with current and prospective customers. The third is technical transfer, which is what we learn on the track. It could be aerodynamic learning, power train learning, learning on pieces and parts of the vehicle to make our production cars better. We've done that for many, many years. That's why we race.
Q. I notice the Spirit of Daytona car is a Coyote chassis. The GAINSCO car will be a Riley chassis. Is there something that we'll be able to notice the difference on the track?
JIM LUTZ: The exterior body will be the same whether it's on a Coyote, Dallara or a Riley.
Q. Tom, NASCAR or Grand Am tends to draw a box within which design is permitted. How many times did you have to readjust this box in order to get Chevrolet to come onboard?
TOM BLEDSOE: I told you, we were probably working on this for 18 months. Obviously a lot of thought went into it. Just like Jim has said, we had to give enough flexibility.
There were two objectives here. We wanted the generation three to look better, sexier. More importantly, we wanted to have the ability to have points that a manufacturer could brand it better.
Yeah, we went through a lot of iterations. We got a lot of input. We got a lot of experts involved as to giving the manufacturers that ability to brand would do on the racetrack. So, yeah, we went through a lot of iterations of it. But I think this is proof we came up with a good formula and we're expecting big things from it tomorrow on the track.
Q. Jim, you have your IndyCar teams right now with new Chevrolet power working in unison when they're track testing. You have three different chassis that will be using the Corvette body next year. Is there any sort of planned effort to bring the teams together even though they're using different chassis to try and learn in the initial phases or will they be working on their own?
JIM CAMPBELL: Across most of the motorsports platforms we have at Chevrolet, we will employ a key partners approach. We'll get three, four, five of the strongest teams. What we work on with all the teams together is the common issues, we're all going to work on solving, and by working together we can innovate, solve and implement faster. We have had a lot of success with that approach.
On common issues we're working together. On things that I'll call competitive advantages for an individual team, he develop and innovate on their own. So that's the approach we take. I'll let Jim make a couple comments here.
JIM LUTZ: Last year in the GT class, we did this amongst the Camaro GT team the GS class. Looking forward to working with these teams in a common format, what are the lessons we can learn together, what areas do we need to work on, what common issues do we have.
Yeah, we'll learn fast and adapt quicker.
Q. To add to the luster of the Chevrolet program, can we expect to see other Chevrolet drivers from other series participating in the Rolex 24 and if so who?
JIM CAMPBELL: I would say obviously we introduced two or three here that run in various series. As possible as I think it is, no details or anything to announce here today. Clearly if there is interest certainly amongst the various Chevrolet drivers across all platforms, we'll get that dialogue going.
I'll tell you what, the teams we just introduced here, the drivers that are sitting here, almost every driver and every team owner is here with us today in Daytona. Obviously we're getting ready to do a test, but this shows the commitment we'll have. It is a stellar group of team owners and drivers. I'm very proud of the team owners and drivers we have now.
Q. Jim Campbell, do you see the need or is there a plan to maybe come forward with a full Corvette chassis, a full Corvette car on the track at some time in the future?
JIM CAMPBELL: Well, I would say what you see right here is the example of what we're going to be running. This body will fit over three chassis. We've designed it to work on all three. So we think we've got the formula for competition 2012 and beyond.
We'll evaluate every single year performance on the track. If there's things we need to do, adjustments we need to make, regardless of the series, but including Grand Am for sure.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll go ahead and wrap this up. Thanks to the media for participating. We appreciate it.