IRL: Oldsmobile finds success on the track

INDY RACING SPONSOR SPOTLIGHT: Oldsmobile ahead of the game with Northern Light Series success INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, April 27, 2000 - Through hard work in engine development and marketing, Oldsmobile has dominated the Indy Racing ...

INDY RACING SPONSOR SPOTLIGHT: Oldsmobile ahead of the game with Northern Light Series success

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, April 27, 2000 - Through hard work in engine development and marketing, Oldsmobile has dominated the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, both on the track and in the headlines. With its IRL Aurora V8 engine, Oldsmobile has been an integral part of the Northern Light Series since 1997. Oldsmobile engines have powered the majority of competitors in the series and, despite increasing competition from the Nissan Infiniti engine, has won every event since the series introduced its naturally aspirated engine formula in January 1997 - 32 races - to date.

A 4.0-liter version of the Oldsmobile and Nissan engines were used for Northern Light Series competition from 1997 to 1999, and 2000 marks the first year for new 3.5-liter V8 engines.

Oldsmobile has a solid and successful history in motorsports. Olds cars have paced the Indianapolis 500 nine times starting in 1949 (the 10th will happen in 2000 with the 2001 Oldsmobile Aurora) and won numerous Winston Cup races (including two Daytona 500s) and two Busch Series titles (1989 and 1991) in NASCAR.

Oldsmobile also dominated National Hot Rod Association drag racing for more than a decade. It has collected 14 manufacturer titles to date, 12 of which incredibly came in consecutive years between 1984 and 1995.

But never before has Oldsmobile had such an impact on motorsports, in general, and open-wheel racing, in particular, as it does now with its Indy Racing engine.

According to Oldsmobile Motorsports Brand Manager Pete Langenhorst, the marriage between open-wheel racing and Oldsmobile's flagship Aurora brand came about due in part to the engine's versatility.

"I think the Northern Light Series was looking for a good engine manufacturer, and General Motors has a long history in racing," said Langenhorst, also the Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan brand manager. "I think what caught their eye is that the Aurora engine is a good denominator for participation in the series. The engine provides enough leeway for engine builders to modify it, and to make it competitive in the series, given the new engine rules that were established at the series' inception." The Indy Racing League, sanctioning body for the Northern Light Series, provides teams the freedom to work on their engines and contract with the engine builder of their choice, provided the engines operate within the framework of league rules.

"Our motorsports group, from a technical standpoint, were able in 1996 to put together a nice package with the Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8 engine, and it worked," Langenhorst said. "They did a lot of testing and had a lot of the normal new-engine issues to overcome, and they overcame them. That has spoken well for the record that Oldsmobile has had over the years, with winning every race."

The Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8 engine is the third generation of the engine. In 1992, two years before the Oldsmobile Aurora passenger car made its public debut, a slightly modified production engine powered the Oldsmobile Aerotech engineering research vehicle to 47 world, international and American speed and endurance records. Oldsmobile test drivers set the records by driving eight-consecutive days on a 7.7-mile test track in Fort Stockton, Texas.

The mid-1990s found Oldsmobile developing the Aurora for use in IMSA road course competition, with fantastic results. Oldsmobile won the GTS-1 class drivers and manufacturers title in 1995 and 1996 with the 4.5-liter IMSA Aurora V8. A smaller 4.0-liter version was developed for the IMSA World SportsCar class in 1996. The Series II IMSA Aurora V8 won the Daytona 24-hour and Sebring 12-hour endurance races, the first sweep of those races by an American manufacturer since the Sixties. The IMSA Aurora V8 also won the WSC drivers and manufacturers championships in 1996.

The third and most visible era of the Oldsmobile Aurora's life began in 1997, when Oldsmobile became an Official Engine Supplier of the Northern Light Series. The Oldsmobile Aurora passenger car paced the field at every Northern Light Series event except Indianapolis in 1996, and paced the Indianapolis 500 in 1997.

Oldsmobile Aurora engines were first used in the Northern Light Series in 1997, and the company proved its mettle by winning every event that year, and every event since.

According to Langenhorst, Oldsmobile's Northern Light Series involvement constitutes not only an important investment for Oldsmobile but also a key element of General Motors' motorsports marketing initiative.

"From a series perspective, our Indy Racing involvement is the biggest sponsorship involvement to date," he said. "From a GM standpoint, you've got Oldsmobile in sponsorship with Indy Racing, Pontiac and Chevy with NASCAR, and Cadillac with the American Le Mans series. Those are some big-hitting properties that GM has marketing opportunities with, and it's in a package with which we can get a lot of leverage.

"You have a certain kind of race fan, and if one form of racing is your number-one favorite, then one of the others might be your number-two favorite. The presence GM can make across all that (racing) is big, and we' re trying to hold up our part of the bargain, not only for GM but for Indy Racing as well."

Oldsmobile has primarily used its Official Pace Car program and dealer-based promotions to sell automobiles and trumpet its Northern Light Series success.

"The IRL is looking for race fans to come to the track and enjoy the series," said Langenhorst. "We're looking for people to come to the dealerships to test drive our new products.

"So from that standpoint, our objectives are the same: to show fans on race day that Oldsmobile cars are a great product and the engine is a viable engine while they enjoy a new series that is up and coming in the racing world," Langenhorst said.

Through its Pace Car program, Oldsmobile has also spotlighted its Alero and Intrigue brands. Since the Intrigue debuted at Texas in 1998 and the Alero debuted at Charlotte that same year, the cars have swapped Northern Light Series pace car duties ever since.

But that will change this May when the redesigned 2001 Aurora paces the 84th Indianapolis 500.

The Pace Car program has been an effective tool for dealers to draw in customers, Langenhorst said.

"We've totally revamped our traveling Motorsports Display," he said. "We take it to dealers, unload the cars, and they're available for display for a day. That thing is booked well in advance of any race in that region.

"It's a great tool for us. Dealers put ads in the local papers inviting the public to come and see it."

Once customers arrive, added incentives such as ticket giveaways for the public and for dealers are working to get people in the seats of Oldsmobiles and Indy Racing grandstands.

"For last year's Indy 500, we had a contest among dealers to sell Oldsmobiles, and the top winners were invited to our suite for the race," said Langenhorst. "This went on across the country, so we had dealers from all over the U.S. attending the race.

"We also had several hundred tickets as part of our agreement with the series, which were given to a group of dealers for another contest. The public could test drive a car and win tickets to the race. The dealers took it upon themselves to advertise the contest, and they got more people in the showroom."

Dealers receive advance notice about which Oldsmobile brand will pace the Northern Light Series race in that market, Langenhorst said.

"Dealers often respond with a drive-away contest with that brand," he said. "That's the kind of grassroots programs we've undertaken.

Simple approaches to marketing help Oldsmobile make its relationship with Indy Racing known, helping both organizations, Langenhorst said.

"I think our attempt last year to get more simple things accomplished has increased public awareness of Oldsmobile's presence in the series, and this year we're doing even more," Langenhorst said.

"My philosophy has been to get back to the basics, such as make your name bigger and make it consistent. Changes the colors on the cars and make the decals different in a way that emphasizes Oldsmobile. We then utilize the race venues to get dealers and customers enthused about going to the race."

It's that kind of teamwork, according to Langenhorst, that gets the word out to the public that Oldsmobile and the Indy Racing Northern Light Series are linked as partners. As a result, seats in the stands and in Oldsmobile vehicles will stay filled for years to come.

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