Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports
BY MARK KENT
Mark Kent is the director of racing for General Motors.
General Motors has had a successful year on race tracks spanning the globe. As the competition grows and the rule makers get savvy, the landscape constantly changes.
Manufacturers competing in motorsports either keep up with this constant change or find themselves running “mid-pack.” We at General Motors plan to build upon our momentum. We won’t settle for mid-pack, either on the race track or in the showroom.
In 2007 NASCAR Nextel Cup competition, Chevrolet captured a record 26 wins on our way to the Manufacturers Championship. Nine of the 12 drivers in The Chase drove Chevrolets, including champion Jimmie Johnson. It was also a great year for Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch and Craftsman Truck Series with Chevrolet capturing the Busch Series Manufacturers Championship and Chevrolet Silverado driver Ron Hornaday capturing the NASCAR Craftsman Truck drivers title. GM also captured championships in NHRA, American Le Mans, SCCA, USAC and SCORE.
We are now looking ahead to the 2008 season. Increasing costs of competing is an ongoing challenge in all forms of motorsports. The new NASCAR template for next year’s Sprint Cup will be an interesting study in a sanctioning body’s answer to reigning in costs while simultaneously advancing safety and improving racing. While the racing has proven to be tight and the cars are engineered for improved safety, we’ll have to wait to see if this new car actually represents a cost savings to the teams. The more-tightly controlled parameters of the “Car of Tomorrow” will save teams initially — with a few less cars needed.
But, it may become increasingly more expensive as the teams get more time with the cars and have to search for new, potentially more expensive means to gain a competitive advantage.
In order to win championships, it not only takes financial resources, but people and processes. It is no longer a competitive advantage to simply have equipment like a seven-post machine. The advantage is having the best people operating the equipment using the best processes, interpreting the results and transferring the learning to the track. This was never more evident than with Hendrick Motorsports and its outstanding performance in NASCAR competition this year. In addition to great drivers, crew chiefs, engine builders and crews, Hendrick Motorsports has a great technical staff. Using these technical resources to properly set up the car so it’s fast as it rolls off the hauler is a great advantage. As a manufacturer, General Motors works closely with all of our teams to find ways to complement their people, processes, parts and facilities with our own GM resources. This approach has been the cornerstone of General Motors motorsports success over the years.
We see the race track as a two-way street for innovation. Innovation is a key to racing success. Remember what I said earlier about constant change. You change or you lose. In an effort to improve racing and reduce costs, sanctioning bodies continue to tighten their rules packages. We work closely with our teams to find ways to be creative and innovative within these new rules packages. I am not talking about cheating. What I am saying is that we need to take the things we learn in the test lab for street cars and use them in competition. Similarly, we can take those innovations learned on the track and incorporate them into our production cars to improve the driving experience and safety for consumers on the road.
Many people in motorsports are embracing innovation. With driver safety in mind, our American Le Mans Corvettes have production-based air conditioning when they run at Le Mans. Is there a more rigorous test for production system than keeping our drivers comfortable, and thus mentally focused, while running 24 hours on the grueling Le Mans circuit? We have also closely watched the way alternative fuels and diesel are being raced in sports cars and are big proponents of making racing more “green.” We have used our racing programs as a means to communicate the benefits of renewable E85 fuel to race fans around the world. In addition to offering E85 capability on many of our production vehicles, we also compete on Ethanol fuels in some of the series in which we race. It is because of the two-way exchange of innovation between the racing and production that GM likes to race those products we sell.
While our engineers glean many lessons from those competing at the top rungs of motorsports, we also pay close attention to the rigors our products endure at the local tracks. Whether it is Chevy Lacettis in Europe, Holden Commodores in Australia or Chevrolet Corvettes, Chevrolet Cobalts or Pontiac Solstices racing at SCCA events across North America, we race to win and we race to learn.
(Original Print Date: December 12, 2007)