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Marty Ladwig Takes Record-Breaking Chevy Cobalt to NHRA Sport Compact Spring Nationals Points Sweep at Virginia Builds Momentum for Championship Run With a race win two weeks ago at Virginia Motorsports Parks securely tucked away, and the ...

Marty Ladwig Takes Record-Breaking Chevy Cobalt to NHRA Sport Compact Spring Nationals

Points Sweep at Virginia Builds Momentum for Championship Run

With a race win two weeks ago at Virginia Motorsports Parks securely tucked away, and the performance level of his Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalt beginning to hit its stride, Marty Ladwig made it loud and clear that he too will be a contender for the 2007 NHRA Xplod Pro FWD title. But it's going to be crowded at the top of the points standings, with a handful of drivers nudging and pushing their way toward the front of the pack including four competitors in Chevy Cobalts who have the potential to be crowned champion at season's end.

"There is a good core of racers and a lot of new people coming into the sport," said Ladwig. "The competition has been extremely close, especially in Pro FWD where you have no less than six cars that have the potential of winning the championship. That's great news if you're a racer and a fan of the sport.

"Last year I had a car that really wasn't made to compete in Pro FWD, but I worked with it and did well enough, that, over the winter we were able to increase our sponsorship and build the new Cobalt. The goal now is to keep improving because the class has grown and the competition is really tight. In year's past the spread from No. 1 qualifier to the last qualifier was a few seconds. At our last race in Richmond the entire Pro FWD field ran in the sevens. There's more competition, but at the same time, it's more rewarding when we do well."

At the recently completed Virginia NHRA Sport Compact Nationals in Richmond, Va., the Lucas Oil Chevy Cobalt driver dominated the Pro FWD class. Ladwig earned the maximum amount of points by claiming No. 1 qualifying honors, winning the event and running a national-record elapsed time of 7.312 seconds. He also eclipsed the 200-mph barrier for the second time in his career by running a top speed of 200.17 mph during the first round of eliminations.

"All the work that we did over the winter, we were hoping that the new car would work out," said Ladwig. "It's really nice when the plan works out the way you want it to. This Chevy Cobalt is much more stable than the 2005 car in which we ran such great numbers. We had to do some fine tuning as far as trying to control all the power that we we're making, but racing at Virginia on the new surface - that was certainly a plus. Everything we've learned since the inception of the program six years ago has gone into the development of these new purpose-built Pro FWD Chevy Cobalts. As far as the engines, the aerodynamics, chassis, safety - we applied it all to this vehicle. We know it should run as good if not better as our previous cars, and so far that seems to be the case."

One of the most successful sport-compact drivers to strap on a helmet, Ladwig made drag racing history in May 2005 at the NHRA Sport Compact Northeast Nationals in Atco (N.J.), when his Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalt became the first front-wheel-drive car to break the magical 200-mph barrier. Ladwig ran an unprecedented speed of 202.02 mph in a final-round victory over Jason Hunt at that event. Ladwig's methodical approach to racing has helped the San Antonio resident establish several career highlights including two NHRA HOT ROD championships (2003-04), 14 NHRA national-event victories, 24 final-round appearances, 18 No. 1 qualifying awards and success in both the NHRA HOT ROD and NHRA Pro FWD categories.

"I've had the opportunity to learn from some really good racers including Vance & Hines, Dave Schultz, and many of the GM Racing engineers I've worked with over the years," said Ladwig. "The experience in learning from others teaches you to look at the big picture. If the run is already blown because the tires spin, or the car bogs off the line, there's really no reason to abuse the equipment. It's better to save what you have for the next round and not to make a run for its own sake. If there's nothing to be gained, then I like to try and save it for the next round.

"As a factory driver my job was to step on the gas, and the goal then was to push the equipment and the engines as hard as we could so that we could figure out their tolerance limits. That's primarily why we were able to learn so much and why the performance of the Ecotec engine is where it is today. But now that I'm running my own program people ask me, 'why did you let off the gas?' 'Well, it started to get squirrelly, and it's my car.' At Moroso I could have won round one, but then I wasn't sure what the car was going to do and I'm not going to crash at the first race of the season. My thinking process has changed. I'm racing to win, but I can be conservative as well. I'm not going to wreck the car or blow-up unnecessarily."

Last year, Ladwig fielded his own sport-compact team for the first time and recorded his fifth straight top-five finish by ending the year in second place. The Chevy Cobalt driver earned No. 1 qualifying honors at Atco (N.J.), advanced to the finals at Richmond and won at Denver, giving him at least one national-event victory every year since 2002. This year, Ladwig is not only aiming to win his third NHRA Sport-Compact champion, but he's also hoping to be the first Pro FWD competitor to break past the 6-second barrier.

"Breaking into the sixes is something we'll work toward gradually," said Ladwig. "I don't want to try and do it now, but if all the conditions come together as far as the track and the weather, then we'll take a shot. My No. 1 priority is to be consistent, go rounds and try to win the Xplod championship. Toward the end of the year is when I'll be aiming to run in the sixes, probably at Indy, during the U.S. Nationals.

"The 200-mph run at Richmond was a nice straight, smooth pass. I'm not saying that it wasn't exciting, but the car was unbelievably smooth. I wouldn't have thought we had run as fast as we did. It was that straight and clean. The performance on these cars will surprise you when they run that smooth. Hopefully, we'll be able to repeat our performance from the last race because our goal at Richmond wasn't to put up a big number. We didn't run maximum boost or put in a banzai setup, we just had in our normal tune-up. It was a little surprising but very gratifying. The plan now is to creep into the 7.20s and try to improve with each run. We got really good data and the plan now is to creep down from the 7.30s, reset the record each race and try to get the bonus points that come with that."

Ladwig knows that winning championships and establishing new records takes reliable, high-performance hardware, and with his new Ecotec-powered purpose-built Chevy Cobalt, he's confident that he has all the components to reach his objectives.

"The whole GM Racing program before was to do all of the development, figure out what works, what needs to be improved and then to be able to hand over the hardware and information that would allow people to reliably and affordably race," explained Ladwig. "They invested a lot of time and money so that average racer doesn't have to."

Ladwig now heads to the next race on the schedule in Englishtown, N.J. where the Lucas Oil Chevrolet driver has experienced tremendous success over the years including two No. 1 qualifying awards (2003, 2005), two wins in Hot Rod (2003-04), and a runner-up in Pro FWD in 2005.

"Winning, and running as well as we did in Richmond was a big boost to our confidence," said Ladwig. "Now we can really look toward the future and feel confident that we can win the championship. That's the goal, we have a good start, and we'll keep doing what we're doing. Winning makes you want to work that much harder and that much longer because you know you have a shot at the rest of the season.

"When you run as well as we did at Richmond, you can't wait to get to the next race. The racetrack at Englishtown has a reputation of being well prepped and we usually have the ability to go fast there. The potential is certainly there to repeat the kind of performance that you saw from us at Richmond."

The 7th annual NHRA Sport Compact Spring Nationals on May 4 - 6 at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. is the third race on the 10-event schedule.

-credit: gm racing

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