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GM to Increase Bonneville Programme for 2005

GM to Increase Bonneville Programme for 2005

20.7.05. Having quickly established itself as a consistent record breaker on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in 2003 and 2004, General Motors will field factory race cars and one supported independent this year. Once again, the vehicles will be prepared by the SO-CAL Speed Shop.

Chevrolet HHR (Heritage High Roof)
New for 2005 will be the Chevrolet HHR, GM’s hot entry in the small front-wheel drive SUV market. Using a production four-door steel body chopped seven inches, the Chevrolet HHR features a state-of-the-art Pro-Mod drag race-style double-rail chrome moly tube chassis. Chrome moly was used so that traction-demanding weight could be added low down in the car.

The 2.0-litre turbocharged and intercooled Ecotec motor produces in excess of 800 horsepower. Positioned north-south and mounted amidships right between where the front seats should normally be, the Ecotec drives the rear wheels through an air-shifted Jerico five-speed and a Winters quick-change located on a multi-link four-bar system with coil-over shocks. Interestingly, the motor is easily removed because it slides on the upper chassis rails much like a modern drag car.

Chrome-moly tube chassis is clothed with composite body - note how fat the engine has been set back - wonder what's now under the hood?

Driving the HHR will be GM Engineering Group Manager Jim Minneker. No novice to Bonneville, in October 2003, Jim drove the Saturn Ion Red Line Coupe to a new G/Blown Fuel Altered Coupe record that stands at 212.684 mph. The HHR will be running in G/Blown Fuel Competition
Coupe where the existing record is 226.835 mph set by Jim Fueling in August 1990.

Chevrolet Cobalt SS
Hot on the tail of the Saturn Ion Red Line Coupe, the Chevrolet Cobalt SS is a similar Ecotec-powered front-wheel drive sport compact that is a performance leader in its segment. Likewise powered by a turbocharged, intercooled Ecotec producing in excess of 800 horsepower, the Cobalt SS was a rocket ship off the trailer. Driven in August 2004 by three-time NHRA Sport Compact Champion Nelson Hoyos, the Cobalt blistered across the salt at a staggering 243.127 mph—31 mph faster than the Saturn record. Unfortunately, because the car was so new and not yet available to the public its speed could not be counted as a record. More testing was conducted in October
2004 with GM engineer Jim Minneker behind the wheel and the Cobalt SS is set to return to Bonneville this August with GM engineer Mark Dickens handling the driving.

Ecotec Lakester
Running for the second time will be the Ecotec Lakester which in 2004 set the G/Blown Gas Lakester record at 179.381 mph. Driven by another GM engineer, Mark Dickens, the Ecotec Lakester is a modern rendition of the original SO-CAL Belly Tank that ran 198 mph in 1952. Alex Xydias’ original tank was digitised and under the direction of Frank Saucedo, GM designers at their California advanced design studio created the new shape.

The composite body envelopes a Top Fuel-style tube chassis powered by a supercharged and intercooled 2.0-litre Ecotec motor that is almost stock and produces between 200 and 300 horsepower depending upon the tune. The chassis features full Formula-style independent suspension with cantilevered shocks, F-16 fighter plane-style canopy and billet-aluminium wheels. When the Ecotec Lakester set a record Reuss said, “This is just the beginning of a development program. We plan to continue the evolution of the Ecotec in the land speed racing arena.”

Supercharged 2.0 litre Ecotec provides in excess of 800hp!

Haas Racing ’34 Roadster
Although not a true factory team, GM nevertheless continues to support Haas Racing’s Bonneville efforts with Ecotec motors and technical help. The switch from a supercharged GM V6 to an 800
horsepower turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-litre Ecotec enabled driver Todd Haas to set a new G/Blown Fuel Roadster record at 193 mph in August 2004. For the October event it was decided to really show the versatility and flexibility of the Ecotec by driving the Roadster to Bonneville and racing it. Todd, David and his brother Tom all took turns driving the car the 700-plus miles from Pomona to Wendover without incident. Well, except for when a cop pulled David over and asked him what he thought he was doing. Without further delay, the team rolled onto the salt, made a few changes from street to race trim and Todd bumped his own record to a very respectable 210.881
mph. Haas Racing will return to Bonneville this August with a slightly redesign car that will run in the Blown Fuel Modified Roadster class where they hope to set new records.

If events pan out as they have in the past, GM’s return to land speed racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats will be both exciting and fruitful.

A Short History of GM’s Land Speed Racing:
GM can trace it’s land speed racing involvement all the way back to 1952 when Eddie Miller Jr’s aluminium-bodied lakester won Best Engineered Vehicle. The car, it is said, led Pontiac to naming one of its most exciting cars the Bonneville. Later, in 1959, the famed Mickey Thompson appeared on the salt with four Pontiac’s driving four wheels in the Challenger streamliner. The car ran 362 mph.


Fast forward 30 years and it was the turn of Gale Banks who fielded a factory GMC pickup that ran over 200 mph. Ten years later Mike Cook raced a front-wheel drive four-door Pontiac Bonneville to more than 200 mph.

Then, in 2003, Mark Reuss, Director, GM Performance Division decided that a serious assault on the salt was necessary to prove the capability of GM’s new dohc four-cylinder Ecotec. The motor has
dominated sport compact drag racing helping GM win three championships. Detuned, the Ecotec has proven just as reliable for the long, 7-mile flat-out haul at Bonneville. That first year, Jim Minneker driving an 800 hp Ecotec-powered Saturn Ion Red Line Coupe bumped the G/Blown Fuel Altered Coupe record almost 30 mph to 212.684.

The following year, GM fielded not one but two race cars: A brand new Chevrolet Cobalt SS and the Ecotec Lakester. Because it was too new, i.e., not available to the public to purchase, the Cobalt, driven by Nelson Hoyos and Jim Minneker, was eligible to run for time only and not a record nevertheless Nelson achieved a top speed of 243 mph. The Ecotec Lakester was another smashing success and with GM engineer Mark Dickins behind the butterfly wheel set the G/Blown Gas Lakester record at 179.381 mph.

Meanwhile, pitted alongside  was Ron Main with Eco Fire. Likewise powered by an 800 horsepower Ecotec, Eco Fire made its fastest ever pass at 343 mph and set a new G/Blown Fuel Streamliner record of 309.607 miles per hour.

Story & photos: Tony Thacker

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