BANKING ON SUCCESS Oldsmobile Races for Milestone 25th Indy Racing League Victory on High-Banked Atlanta Motor Speedway HAMPTON, Ga. - It's been a long and winding road from the twists and turns of...
BANKING ON SUCCESS
Oldsmobile Races for Milestone 25th Indy Racing League Victory on High-Banked Atlanta Motor Speedway
HAMPTON, Ga. - It's been a long and winding road from the twists and turns of Road Atlanta to the high-banked corners at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Oldsmobile's motorsports odyssey began four years ago on the undulating Road Atlanta circuit when Irv Hoerr scored the IMSA Aurora V8's first victory in the Grand Prix of Atlanta. Since then, racing versions of the Aurora V8 have won a total of 42 races and ten driver and manufacturer championships in international road racing and Indy car competition. With a 77 percent winning average in factory-supported series - and a perfect record of 24 consecutive victories in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League - the Aurora V8 motorsports program has been a roaring success.
Now 50 months after that first Aurora victory celebration, Oldsmobile can notch its milestone 25th win in IRL competition at the upcoming Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday night, July 17. Instead of turning left and right through the rolling red-clay hills of the Georgia countryside, Oldsmobile drivers will be racing under the lights on the glittering Atlanta Motor Speedway 1.5-mile oval, the peach state's largest sports facility.
Racing versions of the Aurora V8 have competed at venues ranging from Le Mans and Daytona to Laguna Seca and Indianapolis - but GM Motorsports IRL/Road Racing Group manager Joe Negri regards the 1.5-mile Atlanta superspeedway (along with its sister tracks in Charlotte and Fort Worth) as the most difficult test for an engine.
"Like other high-banked 1.5-mile ovals, Atlanta Motor Speedway makes strong demands on engine durability," Negri explained. "With the high-downforce wings mandated by the IRL rules, drivers are often able to run flat-out for 20 or 30 laps. Running for such extended periods without lifting off the throttle means that the engine never has a chance to 'breathe' and cool off highly stressed components such as pistons.
"The 1.5-mile superspeedways are more demanding than either a one-mile short track or the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval," Negri continued. "On the short tracks, the drivers have to lift for traffic, while at Indy, a driver has to have a near-perfect car setup to run flat-out. With the high-downforce setups used on 1.5-mile tracks like Atlanta, most of the cars are hooked up and the engines must work continuously to overcome the aerodynamic drag."
Much has changed for Oldsmobile's motorsports program since the Aurora V8's breakthrough victory four years ago at Road Atlanta. The original IMSA Aurora V8 was wrapped in full bodywork, supported by a tubular steel frame, and burned unleaded gasoline. Today's IRL version races with open wheels, does double-duty as a fully stressed chassis member, and consumes pure methanol fuel.
The shift from road courses to wide-open oval tracks also required a radical change in engine tuning. Road racing rewards a wide torque curve that encourages the driver to downshift and brake; ovals place a premium on high-speed horsepower. As a result, not a single part is interchangeable between the road racing and Indy car versions of Oldsmobile's championship-winning DOHC V8.
One thing that hasn't changed since 1995 is the core group of General Motors engineers who are responsible for the design and development of the racing Aurora V8. Negri and GM engineers Roger Allen and Dave Spitzer have been members of the Aurora motorsports team since the program's inception. Dozens of other designers, engineers, and technicians have also contributed their expertise to the program at various times.
Competing against Nissan's Infiniti Indy, the IRL Aurora V8 is undefeated in five IRL races this season. At the midpoint of the 10-race IRL season, Oldsmobile leads Nissan 55-35 in the manufacturer championship standings. Twenty-six of the 27 drivers entered in the Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 are using Oldsmobile engines, including Indy 500 winner and defending race champion Kenny Brack, points-leader Scott Goodyear, and red-hot Greg Ray, winner of the preceding race at Pikes Peak International Raceway.
"There are indications that the Nissan engine is finally becoming more competitive, but the results show that the IRL Aurora V8 is still a better overall package - and we are working hard to maintain that competitive advantage," Negri commented. "It has been 2 1/2 years and 24 races since the IRL introduced the 4.0-liter engine formula, and only one car is running a Nissan engine. Team Cheever is certainly capable of winning a race for Nissan this season - the team has already shown its ability by winning three times with Oldsmobile engines. If Cheever should win, I believe it will be due to a good chassis setup, good tire management, good driving, and some racing luck rather than any decisive horsepower advantage.
"One of the areas where the IRL Aurora V8 has a clear competitive edge is the support system that we have created for Oldsmobile teams," Negri noted. "We have developed an international network of suppliers, an efficient parts distribution system, and a talented group of independent engine builders. GM has produced over 600 IRL Aurora V8 blocks and more than 1,000 cylinder heads. We have parts in stock, and we are continuing to improve the quality of the components on a regular basis."
GM Motorsports is also gearing up for the introduction of a 3.5-liter version of the IRL Aurora V8 in 2000. "We have already tested 3.5-liter engines on the dyno, and we have developed a good baseline package," Negri revealed. "At this point, we do not foresee the change to 3.5 liters affecting the competitiveness of the Oldsmobile engine. We also do not anticipate that a significant redesign will be required to optimize the IRL Aurora V8's power level under the new rules."
Oldsmobile is banking on its aggressive engine R&D program and a strong commitment to customer service to continue the IRL Aurora V8's success in Atlanta - and at every other track on the IRL circuit.