GM Racers Ready to Kick-Off the 2006 Sport Compact Drag Racing Season New Year Gets Underway at Firebird Raceway PHOENIX, March 14, 2006 - The NDRA sport-compact drag racing season gets underway this weekend at Firebird International Raceway...
GM Racers Ready to Kick-Off the 2006 Sport Compact Drag Racing Season
New Year Gets Underway at Firebird Raceway
PHOENIX, March 14, 2006 - The NDRA sport-compact drag racing season gets underway this weekend at Firebird International Raceway with the running of the 2nd annual Spring Break Nationals. This was the lone NDRA Pro 4 Cylinder event last year where Chevy Cobalt driver Gary Gardella failed to take home the winner's trophy, losing a close final-round battle to eventual NHRA HOT ROD champion Ron Lummus. But after an eventful offseason for the 26-year-old Gardella, and a productive week in February testing his ECOtec-powered Chevrolet in Bradenton, Fla., the current NDRA Pro 4 Cylinder champion and his DuPont/Hot Hues teammates are fully prepared to defend their 2005 driver's crown.
"I'm looking forward to being back on the track and racing again," said Gardella. "We have a few new guys, a new atmosphere, and I think this year is going to be so much fun for the DuPont/Hot Hues Chevy Cobalt team. We want to go out to Phoenix, run fast and put on a good show. (Crew Chief) Jon (Perry) has studied a lot of the data from last year when we were racing on hot racetracks, and he feels confident that we can improve our performance at those type of venues. We want to make sure this Chevrolet goes fast regardless of where we're racing."
To say that was a breakout year for Gardella would certainly be an understatement. The 26-year-old driver of the DuPont/Hot Hues Chevy Cobalt won 10 of the 11 NDRA contests he entered last season (he was runner-up at the season-opener in Phoenix) en route to his first Pro 4 Cylinder championship, and three of the five NHRA HOT ROD events in which he competed (he was runner-up twice). In addition, the recently married New Jersey resident earned 11 No. 1 qualifying awards (NDRA/NHRA combined) and set the Pro 4 Cylinder national e.t. record at Norwalk in October with a run of 7.781 seconds.
"We're hoping to come out strong and advance to the final rounds from the very beginning," said a confident Gardella. "We're looking at '06 as a clean slate and we're starting from scratch. Anything can happen and that's why we like to start off with a fresh new look and run strong from the very beginning. Of course, there are going to be a few bugs to be worked out. Last year our Chevy Cobalt was so consistent, but that was because of the performance of our ECOtec engine, our Hydra-Matic transmission and the prior research and development on behalf of GM Racing."
Fans of the DuPont/Hot Hues Chevy Cobalt can also look forward to a new paint scheme on the car designed by legendary motorsports artist Sam Bass. The new look ECOtec-powered DuPont/Hot Hues Chevrolet will run in competition for the first time this year at the Spring Break Nationals.
"DuPont and Hot Hues brought in Sam Bass who created an incredible rendering for the racecar that looks sharp. We were sorry to see the candy-apple red scheme go away but this is a truly remarkable paint job. Our Chevy Cobalt is looking beautiful. We've got a first-rate organization and our goal is to display that on and off the racetrack. We've been working really hard. We also purchased the GM Racing transporter and spent a lot of time working on that, put a nice paint job on it, and it's come around nicely. We're pretty excited for the upcoming season."
Gary Gardella isn't the only competitor sporting a Chevy Red Bowtie this year who will be trying to defend an NDRA title. Jason Hunt captured the 2005 NDRA Pro Outlaw FWD championship after an incredible season in which he was virtually unstoppable, posting eight victories on the circuit, three runners-up and earning No. 1 qualifying honors seven times. Hunt also made an abbreviated appearance on the NHRA Pro FWD tour where he posted a win at Englishtown, two runners-up and two No. 1 qualifying awards. Now Hunt will shift gears and climb into a Chevy Cobalt for the 2006 campaign.
Two-time Turbo 4 champ and Jason Hunt CSI teammate Brian Ballard will debut his new Chevy Cobalt in the NDRA Turbo Street wars. Ballard won four events in the Turbo 4 category en route to the 2005 title.
Although not appearing at this year's NDRA Phoenix event, Marty Ladwig, the runner-up at last season's race, will climb back into an ECOtec-powered Chevy Cobalt and compete for the NHRA Pro FWD championship beginning with the South Florida NHRA Sport Compact Nationals in Jupier, Fla., on April 1 - 2.
Ladwig made drag racing history last May at the NHRA Sport Compact 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 in a quarter-mile running an unprecedented speed of 202.02 mph in a final-round victory over Jason Hunt. The 200-mph-run in New Jersey is just one of several career highlights for Ladwig that includes two NHRA HOT ROD championships (2003-04), numerous national-event victories and success in both the NHRA HOT ROD and NHRA Pro FWD/NDRA Pro Outlaw FWD.
"I've spent the last four seasons racing GM hardware, so I know what an excellent package the ECOtec Chevy Cobalt is," said Ladwig. "I'm familiar with the extensive research and development that GM has put into all of its drag racing programs, not only from an on-track performance standpoint, but also their emphasis on safety and moving the sport to the next level. I'm looking forward to another great season in my Chevrolet and competing for the NHRA Pro FWD championship. Looking at the number of great teams and drivers who will be entered in Pro FWD this season we're hoping to run fast enough to stay at the front of the pack. It certainly will not be easy."
At the 2005 NDRA season finale in Norwalk, Ohio, Ladwig's Chevy Cobalt ran the quickest e.t. in the history of the Pro Outlaw FWD category stopping the timers in 7.292 seconds, and his 7.124 second e.t. at the NHRA finals in Pomona last October is the best-ever in the NHRA Pro FWD class. Heading into 2006, Ladwig holds both the NHRA Pro FWD and NDRA Pro Outlaw FWD elapsed time and speed records.
"That was just a culmination of all the hard work and effort the GM team had put forth throughout the year," said Ladwig. "Regardless of the results, they never gave up, they never quit and I was fortunate to be a part of it. That was incredible, at both Norwalk and Pomona, you could tell our Chevrolet was on a really good pass, and to run the fastest elapsed time by a front-wheel-drive car at both venues was a great experience. All year long we knew we had a really good car, and the potential had always been there to run the big numbers. To finally achieve that toward the end of the season says a lot about the dedication and perseverance of the crew."
"This is going to be a great year," said Carmen Smith, program manager for sport-compact drag racing/drifting at GM. "Gary Gardella is back for a run at a second NDRA championship. He's facing a new class with new rules this year and has a competitor in another Chevy Cobalt race car: Bryan Jimenez. That should make for some great side-by-side Cobalt racing. You will see Hydra-Matic transmissions in NHRA's Pro FWD class for the first time and we're very excited about two new entries at the sportsman level: Brian Ballard and Jason Whitfield in Turbo Street Cobalts. Our Cobalt Phase5 cars will be back making consistent rounds this year. Erica Nocita's Cobalt Phase5 will be hitching a ride in Gary Gardella's race trailer for the first half of the season, so we'll get to see her at some east-coast events, and you just might see an ECOtec in NDRA's Extreme category, which is definitely exciting."
The 2nd annual NDRA Spring Break Nationals at Firebird International Raceway on March 18 - 19, is the first race on the 10-event NDRA championship schedule. GM Racing and Chevy Cobalt, in conjunction with the NDRA Spring Break Nationals, will host a season kick-off breakfast on Saturday, March 18, from 8:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. at the GM Racing Pit area at Firebird International Raceway. All members of the media are invited to attend.