GM Racing West Palm Beach preview

Jason Hunt's Pro FWD ECOtec-Powered Chevy Cobalt Ready for South Florida Eliminator Marty Ladwig puts Pressure on Points Leader - Two-Time Champ Looks to Erase 44-Point Deficit WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. Aug. 15, 2006 - You can expect a full field of...

Jason Hunt's Pro FWD ECOtec-Powered Chevy Cobalt Ready for South Florida Eliminator Marty Ladwig puts Pressure on Points Leader - Two-Time Champ Looks to Erase 44-Point Deficit

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. Aug. 15, 2006 - You can expect a full field of Pro FWD cars this weekend, including the ECOtec-powered Chevy Cobalt of Jason Hunt, as the NHRA Xplod Sport Compact Series makes its second stop this year at Moroso Motorsports Park. Hunt and the CSI Racing team waved off the season-opening NHRA contest last April at Moroso, but with almost a full season under their belt learning the ins and outs of their Pro FWD Chevrolet, the team is beaming with confidence as they make their way toward South Florida.

"We like our chances," said Hunt, "especially when you look at how well we've run recently. We have a comfortable grip on the car and we couldn't say that back in April. We've been testing and experimenting with some changes we've made on the car, and we're learning what works and what doesn't. We love our Chevy Cobalt. I feel we can run fast anywhere we go, and if we have to push it to increase our performance, then we know how to do that as well."

The CSI Racing team has come a long way with their Chevy Cobalt since they opened the 2006 season with the NDRA event in Phoenix in mid-March. Finally finding their bearings a month later with a win at Valdosta (Ga), Hunt and the Matco Tools Chevy race team have been on a four-month rampage through the competition that includes eight combined national-event victories (two NHRA Pro FWD and six NDRA Pro Outlaw FWD), nine final-round appearances and nine pole awards.

"It looks like the longer the year goes along the better this team gets," said owner and crew chief Charlie Schafer. "The last few weeks have been a blur but they've been fun. Since July, we've won Rockingham (NDRA), Las Vegas (NHRA), Leicester (NDRA) and Atco (NDRA), so we're a little worn out, and the car needs some work. But like any racer, we can't wait to get to the next track."

Hunt's Chevrolet also holds both ends of the national record in both series. In NHRA Sport Compact the Matco Tools Chevrolet set the national e.t. record at Englishtown in May with a 7.51 second run, and the speed record at Las Vegas in July exiting the traps at 196.44 mph. NDRA national records were set at Hunt's home track at Budds Creek, Md. in May with a run of 7.461 seconds, and just two weeks ago at Epping, N.H., when the ECOtec-powered Cobalt earned low qualifying honors and posted a new speed record of 199.27 mph.

"During the first qualifying session at New Hampshire we ran a 7.54 at 197 mph," said Schafer. "It was getting real hot so we decided to sit out the second session because the track temp was approaching 136 degrees. Knowing that it would be cooler in the afternoon we started getting everything ready anticipating we would be pushing it a little bit harder. It was nice clean pass, 7.61 at 199.77 mph - it was awesome."

Running an abbreviated NHRA schedule this year, the CSI Racing team is currently fifth in the NHRA Pro FWD standings and 149 points out of first place. Schafer and Hunt both know that a championship in the hotly contested category is a long shot, especially with only three contests remaining on the docket. But with the recent performance of their Chevy Cobalt, and their on-track success as of late, a top-three finish is certainly in the cards.

"Last week we pulled the engine out of the Pro FWD Cobalt because it had 50-plus passes," explained Schafer. "The guys wanted to take a look at it because we were running it a little hot, and it was acting a little weird so we sent it back to have it serviced. We changed it out on Monday and Tuesday, we got the clutch back from Ace and it's in the car and ready to go.

"We didn't race at West Palm the first time out but we're much better prepared now than we would have been in April. It put us behind in the points chase, especially now that we've decided to run the rest of the NHRA events. With the gremlins we fought in Phoenix and Richmond, it might have moved our learning curve up a race, but who's to say now. Coming into this event we're looking at close to a full field. Rado's getting a handle on his stuff, and Bergenholtz, obviously, being the points leader, is who everyone is aiming at. Plus there are a lot of good Chevy Cobalts to contend with. Marty (Ladwig) is in second place and has run well, Gary (Gardella) will certainly run fast, Bryan's (Jimenez) shown that he can win - it really is anybody's race."

In addition to their on-track activities, the CSI Racing team made a stop on Tuesday, Aug. 15, at the Atlantic Technical Center trade school in Coconut Creek, Fla., to display their ECOtec-powered Chevrolets and team transporter, and to answer questions from students on careers and racing.

"It's a program we do in conjunction with Matco Tools," said Schafer. "We take the truck and the cars, and set everything up like it's raceday. We talk to the students emphasizing how important it is to have a plan and to set goals. Everyone on the team has gotten to where they are now by taking different paths. I was a mechanic and grew up working in the shop that I own now. Jason was an electronics guys who went to a technical school to learn that, working at Kodak fixing all of their tech equipment and scanners and things like that. We've been in the shoes of these students and we all have to start somewhere. Our message is, you're in school, take advantage of the opportunity and learn from it - learn all the electronics you can since cars are all electronics today."

One Chevy Cobalt driver who is still in the hunt for the 2006 NHRA Xplod Pro Fwd title is Marty Ladwig. Currently in second place in the standings, this weekend's race at Moroso Motorsports Park will give the two-time champion (HOT ROD/2003-04) an opportunity to close a 44-point point deficit with first-place Ed Bergenholtz.

"The main thing is to go rounds," said Ladwig. "To do that we want to qualify our Lucas Oil Chevy Cobalt as high in the field as possible so we can get the best out of the ladder. In order to win the championship we need to get to the finals as much as possible and our ECOtec-powered Chevrolet is definitely running good enough to do that."

In his first season juggling the responsibilities as a team-owner/driver, Ladwig can already claim success with a win at Denver, a runner-up at Richmond and a No. 1 qualifying award at Atco (N.J.).

"We're pretty happy with what we've already achieved, and we look at it as a successful season," said Ladwig. "Now we're trying to finish out the year running as strong and as consistent as we can, and then we'll see where we end up."

The Palm Beach Sport Compact Nationals will be telecast on ESPN2 on Thursday, Aug. 31, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern. A repeat broadcast can be seen on ESPN2 on Thursday, Sept. 7, starting at 2 p.m. Eastern.

-credit: gm racing

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