GM Racing Desert Nationals preview

Desert Nationals Next Stop For GM Racing Sport Compact Program LAS VEGAS, July 12, 2004 - GM Ecotec horsepower didn't encounter much difficulty conquering the mile-high-plus racing conditions at the series' last event at Denver's Bandimere ...

Desert Nationals Next Stop For GM Racing Sport Compact Program

LAS VEGAS, July 12, 2004 - GM Ecotec horsepower didn't encounter much difficulty conquering the mile-high-plus racing conditions at the series' last event at Denver's Bandimere Speedway. From the national-record results posted by Nelson Hoyos' Pro FWD Chevy Cavalier, and the win in HOT ROD recorded by Marty Ladwig's Pontiac Sunfire, the coordinated effort put forth by GM Racing's sport-compact program, and its ability to adjust to the razor-thin atmosphere at 5,860 feet of elevation, was nothing short of remarkable.

Planning, testing and teamwork were the essential components of the GM Racing program's latest successful sport-compact venture in the Mile-High city. The next stop on the tour is the Desert NHRA Sport Compact Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on July 16 - 17. Although the entire event will be run after 7 p.m., it will still take another flawless effort to overcome the mid-summer conditions of southern Nevada where the pre-midnight temperature in July hovers near the 90-degree mark.

"The Las Vegas event draws from a number of western states to bring in a tremendous number of sport-compact enthusiasts," said Pontiac Sunfire driver Marty Ladwig. "Last year on Friday night they had over 10,000 kids that came out for the 'Midnight Mayhem' and you can count on there being at least that many this year. It's going to be a great event."

For the second straight race, altitude will be a factor to consider when the GM Racing team selects a tune-up and makes adjustments for the PRO FWD Chevy Cavalier and HOT ROD Pontiac Sunfire. At 2,100 feet above sea level, the elevation at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is second only to Bandimere Speedway of the nine facilities in which the Summit Sport Compact Series competes.

"The GM Racing team has been working all year to develop an engine and car combination that will make us fast, consistent and durable," said PRO FWD Chevy Cavalier Driver Nelson Hoyos. "The Desert NHRA Nationals will provide us with another opportunity to move forward and build upon what we learned in Denver."

After knocking on the door to the winner's circle of the season's first four Pro FWD races, Hoyos practically kicked it in at Bandimere Speedway, driving his Ecotec-powered Chevy Cavalier to its first win in 2004. The defending 2003 NHRA Pro FWD champion not only claimed his first win of the season after four consecutive runner-up finishes, he did so in record-setting style by posting the national record in both elapsed time at 7.778 seconds and speed at 191.51 mph.

"We didn't just happen upon a winning combination," said Hoyos. "We've found something and it's the result of hard work and preparation. The minor problems we've encountered this season are primarily the result of everything being so new; it's a brand-new racecar, a brand-new transmission, a brand-new clutch package, a brand-new motor program, even the crew is brand new. For this team to get up to this type of performance this quickly, in just five races, and put together such an impressive performance is truly a remarkable job. They know racing and now they're beginning to understand the different dynamics that it takes to be successful in sport-compact drag racing. Over the next five races, we will definitely be ready to contend for the championship.

"For the first time this season the crew got a taste of what it's like to go racing without thrashing between rounds. It was a blessing for everyone. It was a well-needed win for the team and showed them that their hard work and effort was paying off. They have just been great and I'm very proud of this GM Racing group. It just takes one race to turn things around and we're hoping that Denver was that event.

In his quest for a second-straight NHRA PRO FWD title, Hoyos trails first-place Lisa Kubo by 81 points, but feels the record-setting weekend in Denver has his Ecotec-powered Chevrolet right back in the thick of the championship battle. During the Mile-High Sport Compact Nationals, all six of the runs made by Hoyos' orange and cinnamon Chevrolet were well under the seven-second barrier, the first time in NHRA Sport Compact competition that a PRO FWD car has accomplished the feat. Three of the runs made by Hoyos' Cavalier were in the 7.70-second range and the car's average top speed of the meet was an unprecedented 189.08 mph.

"We got a taste of this engine's potential the race before in Atco (N.J.) when the Cavalier ran 7.85," said Hoyos. "We were able to get some data and come up with a tune-up that would help us run the strong numbers that you saw in Denver. We got off the trailer at Denver and ran 8.02 at 185 mph in the first pass during testing, and that's when I felt we would be fast. Since we were running at elevation I was thinking somewhere in the teens and maybe in the twenties, so to rip off an 8.02 right off the bat gave me a lot of confidence.

"For the race we put a fresh Ecotec in the Chevrolet with the exact same setup. When I hit fourth gear during the first round of qualifying, I knew this Chevrolet was on quite a ride. I mean it was pulling on the top end big time. When I felt that thing go I knew it was a sub-eight, maybe a 7.95, but when I heard 7.78, I was jumping 10 feet in the air. I couldn't believe it. It was so fantastic of a run. Then to be able to run in the sevens five more times, we knew this new Ecotec motor was for real. It is certainly a monster motor when it comes to making horsepower."

The Desert NHRA Sport Compact Nationals is the first event of the second half of the 10-race campaign. When the series converges on Las Vegas Motor Speedway on July 16, almost a month will have passed since its last meet allowing teams to restock on parts and reload for round two of the season. Hoyos is the defending champion at the Desert Sport Compact Nationals. "When you're in the middle of a championship hunt you do suffer some parts carnage along the way," said Hoyos. "You value the time when you can regroup, get parts together, refresh your engines, and it is crucial to be able to do that when you've been racing as much as we have. Our Chevrolet now has three spare Ecotec motors, Marty (Ladwig) has three spare motors for his Pontiac, we have spare transmissions and we're looking really, really good from that standpoint. Following the Denver race the motor showed almost no signs of degradation and when you're running as well as we did there, you tend to be a little easier on parts.

"With the win and the 20 bonus points for setting the national record, you might say that the stars aligned rather nicely for us. By achieving the maximum points available at a national event, we were able to pick up quite bit of ground on first place - we closed the gap. If we can duplicate Denver sometime during the next five events, we will be knocking on the door and within 20 points of first. The championship will come down to who is the better team, and I have a lot of confidence in the guys who make this Ecotec-powered Chevrolet a fast racecar."

While spirits are understandably high regarding the prospects of Hoyos' Chevy Cavalier, there's also a lot to cheer about in HOT ROD where Marty Ladwig's Pontiac Sunfire has been the class of the field. Adjusting to rules changes and NHRA-sanctioned weight additions to the Ecotec-powered Pontiac (implemented to help the rest of the category catch up), Ladwig's first-place lead has grown to 145 points over second-place Gary Gardella.

"Our plan going into the season is that we wanted to run fast and be consistent," said Ladwig. "So far, that's been the case. The Pontiac Sunfire has been very reliable, the engines, the transmissions and the work that was done to improve the Sunfire's aerodynamics has made the car very, very fast. Right now we're about as good as you can be, and from a driver's standpoint this Ecotec-powered Pontiac is everything you could want in a competitive racecar."

Ladwig uses the same Ecotec horsepower that has dominated the PRO FWD category, but a big reason for the increase of performance in the HOT ROD Pontiac Sunfire can be attributed to the improvement and reliability of the Sunfire's production-based GM Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. With only a few modifications, Ladwig's Hydra-Matic system is the same transmission used in the Pontiac Grand Prix and Bonneville.

"I've never driven a car that's been as consistent and as fast as this year's Pontiac Sunfire," said Ladwig. "I can climb into the car and not worry about anything going wrong mechanically, concentrate on driving and know that I have the best racecar in the category.

"It's amazing how well the Hydra-Matic automatic transmission performs, and is able to withstand and apply all the horsepower, because it wasn't originally designed to have to endure this kind of workload. I mean, converting 1,100 horsepower with a production-based transmission, how incredible is that? It's also been very reliable, but the engineers from GM Powertrain haven't stopped working, they're making more improvements to the Hydra-Matic to get even better performance. Every race the GM Powertrain engineers continue to do that, and as a racer who's been around high-performance all his life, I'm very impressed."

At the halfway point of the season, Ladwig has driven the GM Racing Pontiac Sunfire to three wins at West Palm Beach (Fla.), Englishtown (N.J.) and most recently at the Sport-Compact Mile-High Nationals in Denver. Ladwig's three low-qualifying efforts lead the category this year, and the 8.184-second run posted at Englishtown is an NHRA HOT ROD national record. After his recent win in Denver, Ladwig now has seven career victories and last year at Las Vegas he stormed to the No. 1 qualifying position. He's still looking for his first win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"I'm real pumped up about going to Las Vegas because we can put a lot of distance between ourselves and our closest rival," said Ladwig. "We can also move that much nearer to the championship. This year, working with our AK Racing program, it's been quite an experience working with such a sharp bunch of guys. The crew is on top of everything and I never have to worry about a thing. They are a very professional group and they attack problems from a very analytical standpoint.

"I smile to myself when I'm driving down the road and I feel so lucky to be involved with this team. I've always driven Pontiac and to be competing in an Ecotec-powered Sunfire under the GM Racing factory banner is a tremendous honor."

The Desert Sport Compact Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on July 16 - 17, is the sixth race on the 10-event NHRA Summit Sport Compact Racing Series. Television coverage can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, July 31, beginning at 6:30 p.m. (ET).

-gm-

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