FORT WORTH, Texas, Oct. 2, 2001 - An auto racing odyssey that began 98 years ago on a sandy Florida beach will reach its final destination this weekend on the high-banked turns of Texas Motor Speedway. Oldsmobile will celebrate its last championship at the Chevy 500 on Oct. 6, the season finale of the 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series.
Oldsmobile will conclude its motorsports program as the reigning power in Indy Racing. In the 50 races contested since the IRL Aurora V8 debuted in January 1997, Oldsmobile engines have won 48 times, started on the pole in 50 consecutive events and swept the Engine Manufacturer, Driver, Team and Rookie championships five straight seasons.
Oldsmobile's roots in racing reach back to its founder, Ransom E. Olds, who formed his fledgling auto company in 1897. Recognizing that performance could be a powerful marketing tool, Olds constructed a vehicle to set the land speed record for lightweight cars. On March 26, 1903, driver H.T. Thomas piloted Olds' machine to a 54.38 mph record on the sands of Ormond Beach, Fla. - a far cry from the 215 mph laps that Oldsmobile drivers will turn at Texas Motor Speedway.
Oldsmobile has made an indelible mark on American motorsports. Oldsmobile's record includes 13 championships in NASCAR Grand National and Winston Cup stock car racing, 38 championships in NHRA drag racing and 26 IMSA road racing titles.
A.J. Foyt continued Ransom Olds' record-breaking tradition when he drove the experimental Oldsmobile Aerotech engineering research vehicle to a world closed-course speed record of 257.123 mph in Fort Stockton, Texas, in August 1987 with a turbocharged Quad 4 engine. Five years later, a team of Oldsmobile drivers set 47 speed and endurance records with the Aerotech powered by a prototype Aurora V8 production engine.
On January 4, 1996, Oldsmobile General Manager John Rock launched a new era for GM's Rocket division when he announced that Oldsmobile would design and develop a racing version of the Aurora V8 to compete in the Indy Racing League in 1997.
"There's no better way to celebrate Oldsmobile's 100th birthday than to showcase the Aurora V8 at the Indianapolis 500," said Rock.
The IRL Aurora V8 went from the drawing board to the winner's circle in record time. One year and 21 days after the program was announced, Oldsmobile scored its first Indy car victory in Orlando, Fla., on January 25, 1997. Smaller, lighter and more powerful than its competition, Oldsmobile quickly became the engine of choice in the IRL.
The IRL Aurora V8 is as dominant in its era as the Millers, Offenhausers and Chevy Indy V8s were in their heydays. But unlike these purpose-built racing engines, Oldsmobile's Indy car engine has strong links to its production counterpart.
"The Indy Racing League provided an opportunity for Oldsmobile to compete with the same type of engine that we sell to our customers," noted Aurora brand manager John Gatt.
In five seasons of IRL competition, 98 drivers representing 63 teams have raced with Oldsmobile engines that are based on the design of the production 4.0-liter Aurora V8. Sixteen independent builders have prepared Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8 engines, and nine have won races.
"When GM Racing started this program in 1996, we never expected that the IRL Aurora V8 would achieve such a dominant position in Indy car racing," said Joe Negri, IRL/Road Racing Group manager. "From the first day, our focus was on performance, reliability, durability and customer service. To win the Indianapolis 500 and the IRL championships five years in a row is very gratifying."
Oldsmobile will symbolically pass the baton to Chevrolet, GM's new standard bearer in open-wheel racing, at the start of Sunday's Chevy 500. Two pace cars - an Oldsmobile Aurora and a Chevrolet Corvette - will be driven by Indy car legends Al Unser Sr. and Johnny Rutherford. Oldsmobile will lead the final parade lap and then Chevrolet will bring the field to the green flag to signal the start of a new era in Indy Racing. Chevrolet will introduce its new Chevy Indy V8 engine at the start of the 2002 season.
Oldsmobile's motorsports program has traveled a long and winding road from a Florida beach to the daunting corners of Texas Motor Speedway - with championship trophies marking the milestones along the way.
THE AURORA RECORD
Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 engine has competed in 50 Indy Racing League events since its introduction in January 1997. The following is a summary of its Indy Racing record to date: <pre> Victories: 48 of 50 (96%) Pole Starts: 50 of 50 (100%) Fastest Laps: 46 of 50 (92%) Laps Led: 9,708 of 10,175 (95.4%) Miles Led: 13,473 of 14,108 (95.5%) Total Racing Laps: 185,524 of 198,774 (93.3%) Total Racing Miles: 259,595 of 278,963 (93.1%) Starters: 1,203 of 1,299 (92.6%) Finishers: 710 of 755 (94%)