2001 Season Review: Oldsmobile Dominates IRL for Fifth Year DETROIT, Oct. 20, 2001 -- Oldsmobile's motorsports program did not go gently into the night. Instead, it ended with the roar of engines and the thunder of fireworks in the closest...
2001 Season Review: Oldsmobile Dominates IRL for Fifth Year
DETROIT, Oct. 20, 2001 -- Oldsmobile's motorsports program did not go gently into the night. Instead, it ended with the roar of engines and the thunder of fireworks in the closest finish in Indy Racing League history.
The Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Oct. 6 marked the end of an extraordinary journey for America's most experienced car company -- a racing odyssey that took the Oldsmobile marque from rural Lansing, Mich., to Daytona, Le Mans and Indianapolis.
For 100 years, Oldsmobile did not compete in Indy car racing. Although Oldsmobile won championships in NASCAR stock car racing, NHRA drag racing and IMSA/SCCA road racing, an Oldsmobile-powered race car never turned a wheel in anger in Indy car competition. All that changed in 1997 as Oldsmobile celebrated its centennial with the introduction of the IRL Aurora V8 -- a powerplant that would reign supreme in the Indy Racing League for five consecutive years.
The IRL Aurora V8 was a direct descendant of both the production Aurora V8 that powered Oldsmobile's flagship sedan and the IMSA Aurora V8 that scored overall victories in the Daytona 24-hour and Sebring 12-hour endurance races in 1996. Developed and tested under a tight one-year deadline by GM Racing engineers, the naturally aspirated 4.0-liter powerplant won in its competition debut in a rain-shortened race in Orlando, Fla., on January 25, 1997. Few realized the impact that Oldsmobile's first Indy car engine would have on open-wheel racing.
At age 22, company founder Ransom E. Olds constructed his first horseless carriage, an ungainly steam-powered three-wheeler. In perfect symmetry, another 22-year-old, Sam Hornish Jr., tallied Oldsmobile's final IRL victory in a photo finish over Oldsmobile driver Scott Sharp at Texas Motor Speedway. While Ransom Olds' steamer could scarcely maintain a walking pace, Hornish's Olds-powered Panther Racing Dallara circled the immense Texas speedway at a 220-mph race pace.
Oldsmobile engines won 12 of 13 IRL races in 2001
Hornish crowned his championship season with his third victory, scoring Oldsmobile's 12th win in 13 races in 2001. He was one of seven Oldsmobile drivers who celebrated in the IRL winner's circle this season. Other members of this exclusive club were the Lazier brothers (Buddy with a record four wins in a season and Jaques with his breakthrough first career win in Chicago), Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, Indy car legend Al Unser Jr., 1996 IRL co-champion Scott Sharp and 1999 IRL champion Greg Ray.
In five years, a total of 20 drivers tasted victory with Oldsmobile power. Buddy Lazier heads the list with seven career victories with Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8.
Oldsmobile had perfect pole record in IRL series
Oldsmobile racked up a perfect record of 51 pole starts over five years -- 46 poles earned with the fastest qualifying speeds and five awarded on entrant points when qualifying was rained out. Greg Ray stands as Oldsmobile's most prolific pole winner with 14 starts at the front of the pack, including four in 2001.
Five other Oldsmobile drivers started on the pole in 2001: Scott Sharp (three poles), Jaques Lazier (two), Hornish (two on points), Jeff Ward (one) and Mark Dismore (one). A total of 13 drivers started on the point with Oldsmobile engines after Tony Stewart captured Olds' first pole in January 1997.
Nine independent builders produced race-winning Oldsmobile engines
Rick Long's Speedway Engine Development shop in Indianapolis emerged as the preeminent source of race-winning Oldsmobile engines. Speedway-prepared IRL Aurora V8s won 13 races in five seasons, including seven victories in 2001. Eight other independent Oldsmobile engine builders supplied winning combinations to IRL teams: Menard Engine Development (10 victories), Brayton Engineering (seven), Comptech Machine (six), Katech (four), Roush Technologies (four), Ilmor Engineering (two), VDS Engines (two) and NAC (one).
GM Racing, the technical arm of General Motors worldwide motorsports program, produced the major components for more than 1,000 Oldsmobile IRL racing engines over a five-year span. Oldsmobile engines completed 188,387 laps and ran 263,890 racing miles -- a distance greater than a journey from the Earth to the moon.
Chevrolet will continue GM's Indy Racing program
The ebb and flow of history shows that all things must pass, including the Oldsmobile dynasty in Indy-style racing. Although the checkered flag in Texas signaled the end of Oldsmobile's motorsports program, GM's commitment to open-wheel racing will continue with Chevrolet in 2002 and beyond.
The IRL Aurora V8 is dead. Long live the Chevy Indy V8!
THE AURORA RECORD
Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 engine competed in 51 Indy Racing League events from January 1997 to October 2001. The following is a summary of its Indy Racing record:
Victories: 49 of 51 (96.1%)
Pole Starts: 51 of 51 (100%)
Fastest Laps: 47 of 51 (92.2%)
Laps Led: 9,877 of 10,375 (95.2%)
Miles Led: 13,727 of 14,409 (95.3%)
Total Racing Laps: 188,387 of 202,144 (93.2%)
Total Racing Miles: 263,890 of 284,018 (92.9%)
Starters: 1,224 of 1,324 (92.4%)
Finishers: 718 of 765 (93.9%)
1997: Tony Stewart
1998: Kenny Brack
1999: Greg Ray
2000: Buddy Lazier
2001: Sam Hornish Jr.
Engine Manufacturer Championships
1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001
Indianapolis 500 Victories
1997: Arie Luyendyk
1998: Eddie Cheever Jr.
1999: Kenny Brack
2000: Juan Montoya
2001: Helio Castroneves