Jim Campbell spends more of GM's money on racing in a single year than you will probably make in a lifetime. Chevrolet competes is the biggest of the big leagues in racing, stretching from NASCAR to NHRA to Rolex Grand Am to American Le Mans Series, Indycar, and the World Touring Car Championship, right down to the local quarter-mile bullrings in your neighborhood and the club gymkhana on the high school parking lot. We thought it might be a good idea to check in with Campbell at midseason in 2012 to see where Chevrolet is, and where it might be going in the future. We sent our man in Detroit, Jim McCraw, to sit down with Campbell and get some answers. His report:
"Jim Campbell is vice-president of performance vehicles and motorsports for General Motors. In his briefcase, he has hard-card, go-anywhere credentials for every major racing series in America and Europe, and he goes to the races almost every weekend between February and November. He has a firesuit that he has to wear in the pits at ALMS races. He sits in an office 30 stories up in Detroit's Renaissance Center looking down on the Detroit River and across to Canada. His office is festooned with trophies, car models and racing memorabilia from all of the series Chevrolet runs in. The decor includes a plaqued replica of the first Indianapolis 500 entry list, from 1911, showing Arthur Chevrolet entered in car number 16. He's been with GM since he was a college student in 1987 (BA from Michigan, MBA from Notre Dame), and Chevrolet since 1998, in various sales, marketing, fleet and commercial vehicle positions. His job is to integrate engineering, marketing and sales in such a way as to sell more Chevrolets, and get people out of other brands and into Chevrolets, based on the brand's racing success. Even though he's only had the racing job for a little over two years, he seems absolutely consumed by it, a real fan of racing and a student of what it takes to be successful. We started by asking him about the amazing profusion of new Camaro models."
SC: The Camaro is seemingly everywhere now. You've got the Stevenson Racing Team in Grand Am, you've got the 1LE package ready for SCCA homologation, you've got the old Pontiac bodies switched over to Camaros in NHRA Pro Stock drag racing, the COPO Camaro packages running in NHRA Stock Eliminator, and teams racing in NHRA Super Stock Eliminator. How did you manage to get so many concurrent Camaro programs going all at the same time with the budget and the manpower you have?
JC: What's happening with Camaro is exciting from many perspectives. Camaro continues to lead in the sports segment over our crosstown rivals. In the performance space, the heart and soul of that car are about performance, along with style and affordability, but performance is the key ingredient. Our focus is really delivering performance programs that keep the enthusiasm high in Camaro owners in all the programs you mentioned. We do that with meaningful, credible performance programs that continue to reinforce the performance credentials of the Camaro. The good news is, the Camaro still has momentum, and we can attribute that to a combination of the range of product offerings combined with all the performance programs we surround the car with. I'm very pleased with what's happening with Camaro.
SC: Can you tell us something more about the decisions you've made regarding where and how the Camaro races?
JC: You can't do everything at once, so we made some choices about what we were going to do with the Camaro, like our effort in the Rolex Grand Am series in both the GS and GT classes. We had a number of privateers who took the Camaro and began racing it with some support from us, while we were reorganizing the company (under bankruptcy), teams that were capable of taking the car's performance up a level. It's highly competitive in the Continental Tire Series GS class and then the Rolex Grand Am Series for GT cars. Our performance there continues to improve, and we had a win in GT at Watkins Glen with Stevenson Racing and we also won the Daytona Prototype class at Watkins Glen with the Corvette Daytona Prototype.
SC: In addition to the RS, the SS and the ZL1 Camaros, you've created the Camaro COPO package. How did that come about?
JC: The COPO Camaro is a project that we had wanted to do for a number of years. The timing was not right. The plan was right, but the timing wasn't right, so we developed a proof-of-concept for NHRA Stock Eliminator, and introduced it at the SEMA Show in November, 2011. We then measured the interest and the demand for individuals to buy this package and compete with it, and the demand was fantastic, so we made the decision to put it into production. We are going to build 69 of them for the grassroots racers to race in Super Stock, AA/Stock or A/Stock. We're very excited about that program. It can also be used on street courses or road courses in addition to drag racing. The entire car is a single part number in our catalog, with three engine choices, the naturally aspirated 427 for A/Stock, a 327 with a 2.9-liter Whipple supercharger, and a 327 with a 4.0-liter Whipple supercharger. The customer picks an engine, a color, a graphics package, with the additional possibility of building his own engine in our Wixom facility. The Collector's Package comes with all three engines, serial number matched to the car!
SC: As if that's not enough, you've introduced the 1LE package for the street Camaro as well. Can you tell us more about that?
JC: The 1LE package give you so many of the attributes of the ZL1 on a more standard Camaro, so it allows us to address the needs of the Camaro buyer who wants to take the performance level up. It slots between the SS and the ZL1, essentially, at a price under $40,000. The 1LE suspension package is designed so that the car can compete successfully in the SCCA T2 class, and SCCA has approved the parts kit for competition, so that owners of older cars can bolt on the 1LE parts and go racing. From professional racing down to the grassroots racer, we continue to reinforce the performance credentials of the Camaro.
SC: Greg Anderson, Jason Line and others have just switched over their NHRA Pro Stock bodies from the Pontiac GXP to the new Camaro, and they're already having some success, first and second in the points race. How's the Pro Stock program going?
JC: So far, so good. We just missed getting the win at the Summit Racing event at Norwalk with the Summit Racing Camaro teams. We just have to work on consistency and improvement from week to week. With a brand new body, they're still looking for all the way to tune it in and refine the performance. I think we've got a lot of upside in Pro Stock.
SC: Would you consider working with an NHRA Funny Car team and with the NHRA technical people to develop a Camaro Funny Car body?
JC: Our first priority was to get the COPO Camaro program going for Stock Eliminator and then the ZL1 program for Super Stock, and then the new Camaro bodies for NHRA Pro Stock. There are no announcements to make as to where we're heading with Funny Car, but I think that there's a possibility of getting into that category. It would make sense. It would help us on awareness all the way through that series.
SC: Even though they're currently leading the points race, the factory ALMS Corvette team run out of Pratt & Miller has not had a very good run since the consolidation of ALMS GT classes and the advent of the new widebody cars, either at home or at Le Mans, which they practically owned previously. Can you fill us in on some of the background in ALMS GT that has made it so difficult for such an experienced team to struggle so mightily?
JC: We won two races in 2011 under the new rules, one of which was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where we beat Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and others. When you win the 24 Hours of Le Mans and beat those kinds of competitors, it says a lot about our team and the focus they had, to win the 24 Hours. We've been there 13 times and won our class seven times. The American Le Mans Series is a highly competitive series. The GT category is the most competitive I have seen it in many years. If you were to evaluate the competitive set, which we do every week, looking for ways to beat them, it's a tough competitive set. There is no team that's going to run away with it. For one thing, the sanctioning body keeps the performance envelope of each car very tight, and they are very disciplined about it. The brands, and the teams, are all very competitive. Every win we get in ALMS is well-earned and savored. When we don't win, it's all about how we respond. Obviously, we did not win Le Mans this year, which was extremely disappointing, but, I will tell you that, when I watched the team respond to the challenges we had during that race, I was very proud of the way they responded in moments when many teams give up. This team did not give up. Whether we win or lose on the track, we take away learnings about how we can improve the Corvette in aerodynamics, lightweighting of parts, driver systems, reliability and durability of components. What makes great sports cars at the track makes great sports cars for the street. I've watched the Corvette team since we introduced it in 1999, and I was there at their first race at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
SC: The Chevrolet Cruze is being raced in the World Touring Car Championship series in Europe, winning the driver's and manufacturer's championships by huge margins two years in a row in 2010-2011, but does it have any potential here in the U.S. in road racing or even rallycross?
JC: That program is run by Chevrolet Europe, and my responsibilities are here in North America, but I do coordinate with the program manager of that program. We've won both the driver's and manufacturer's championships in the WTCC two years in a row, and we're leading the points in both categories this year. But there was a recent decision that this will be the last year for that program, so the total focus is on winning both titles. We're excited, because there will be a WTCC round at Infineon in Sonoma, California this September. But we will be ending that program at the end of this season. We have had a lot of great learnings on that program, and we've created a lot of awareness of the Chevrolet Cruze around the world with it. The Cruze is now the highest-selling individual Chevrolet nameplate around the world, with over a million units sold around the world. But I think running the new Chevrolet Sonic in a B-Spec series in five or six different series will be something we will be looking at, and we're also looking at global rallycross.
SC: Chevrolet engines have reappeared in Indycar in 2012 for the first time in many years, and they continue to be successful. Can Ilmor Engineering keep up with the increasing demand for more power, more torque and more supply of these engines this year and next?
JC: First, we are thrilled to be back in Indycar. It goes all the way back to the beginning of our heritage with the Chevrolet brothers at Indy in 1911 and Gaston Chevrolet's win at Indy in 1920. Being back in open-wheel racing is very exciting. In our recent history there we had 104 wins in open-wheel racing, and seven wins at the Indianapolis 500, so it's great to be back. I'm very, very pleased with the progress of our engine development. We won the first four races of the season with the new Chevrolet Indy engine, and we've won seven of the first ten races. Ryan Hunter-Reay won at Toronto and took over the points lead. But we're paranoid about the competition (from Honda and Lotus), so we push every single day. It's about power, fuel efficiency, and durability, as well as getting engine integration with the chassis so the drivers can drive the new car as fast as possible.
SC: You could have passed up this opportunity, as Ford has done, but you didn't. Why?
JC: The new engine rules, concentrating on small displacement, only 2.2 liters, V-6 engines versus V-8 engine, direct fuel injection, turbocharging, and the use of biofuels are all technologies that we have in our current powertrains or we're developing for future powertrains. When you enter a race series, you can go into it with a spec engine that everyone has to use, or you can go in as one of the competitors. True development comes when you are competing against other manufacturers. That's when we push ourselves, that's when we innovate the quickest, that's when the competitive flame burns brightest. That's what we get in every series we're in. But we need to keep a tight handle on the engine rules so that the costs don't escalate, and that's up to the sanctioning body to do, but we provide them a lot of input.
SC: How much power do these things make on ethanol fuel?
JC: In general, the engines, running on a street course, where the boost levels are higher, produce more than 700 horsepower. On the big ovals, we're about 500-550 horsepower, and then on the smaller ovals, you're somewhere in between.
SC: Until this year, Chevrolet was only an engine supplier in Rolex Grand Am, but now you have cars that are clearly identifiable as Corvette prototypes. You've got a much larger penetration in Rolex Grand Am Prototype racing this year with the fleet of new Chevrolet-powered, Corvette-bodied Rileys, but the SunTrust, Gainsco, Spirit of Daytona and other teams are still chasing the BMWs and the Fords in the points at midseason. Catch us up, please, on the new Corvettes in the Rolex Grand Am series.
JC: We revealed the Corvette Daytona Prototype on November 15th of last year to a full house, with 16,000 people viewing that reveal online. What that shows us is the increased relevancy of racing on the track, not only on the powertrain side but also in terms of a relatable, relevant car for the fans. We have great teams in Grand Am that helped us develop that body, between our efforts and their efforts, in about eight months. We had our Corvette designers, Kirk Bennion and Tom Peters, working with Mark Kent of GM Racing and Pratt & Miller, all working within the liberalized body rules for 2012 to take advantage of those new rules to make the cars more relevant to the production Corvette.
We didn't get off to a great start at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, we have won six races so far. We're going to have a tough battle, right to the end, in the driver's championship against BMW and Ford.
SC: As you travel around to the sports car races, are you seeing more and more Corvettes and Camaros in the parking lots these days?
JC: My first job at Chevrolet was the Corvette and Camaro business, and I partnered with (retired) Corvette chief engineer Dave Hill. When we introduced the Corvette Racing program in 1999, at the Rolex 24 hour race, we invited all of our owners and fans to join us. They came from all over the country. Some came from other parts of the world. We enabled them to take a lap around the same track that the Corvette C5R would be racing on. The support we've had from the fans and owners for the C5R and C6R racing programs has been nothing short of phenomenal. In many ways, they are the reason we do these programs. Now we have Corvette Corrals or Camaro Corrals at every single race so that our owners can come together and enjoy the races in their own area.
SC: How has the Chevrolet Performance parts program progressed since the economic downturn? Is the system as capable as ever of turning out the parts that racers need, and improving on the parts already in the system?
JC: Our performance parts business over the years has always been very strong, and yes, there was a downturn in 2008 and 2009, but less so than our competitors. Our foundation is crate engines, transmissions, and more recently, electronic engine controllers. That's the heart and soul of our performance parts business, with all other parts and pieces that surround that. Now we are seeing some of the pent-up demand that accrued during 2008-2009, when people deferred the purchase of a crate engine or a transmission, or maybe a project car got put on hold, we're seeing that business come back. For the last three or four years, the team has been working on a family of E-Rod crate engines for use in certain states like California that have stiff emissions regulations. We have an LS3 E-Rod, an LSA E-Rod, and a 5.3 E-Rod, and they are all approved for California emissions. We're the only ones in the market that do that right now. You will see us focus on a lot of other street-level performance and parts in the future aside from crate engines and transmissions.
SC: Is the parts program currently making it possible for more kinds of racers to race their cars on the weekends? What about Cruze and Sonic performance parts? Will there be enough market there to make a case for high-performance parts for these small cars?
JC: Well, I can't comment on the specifics of our future products, but we are looking at some of our smaller engines. Clearly, there will be an opportunity in that area below the V-8, but I can't comment. We also have another program that no one else has. You can now buy an LS7 crate engine, come to our Wixom Performance Build Center where we build the LS7, and build it yourself, paired up with an expert builder. When it's finished and cold-tested, we will ship the engine to your location under a full warranty. We have that on the both the LS7 and the LS9 engines.
SC: You're surrounded by high-performance cars and racecars every day of your working life. Do you have any toys at home in your garage at the moment? If not, are you looking around for something to race or restore?
JC: I've worked on virtually ever race program in the company since I started in 1988. So now, to be in a position where I can work on motorsports and high-performance parts and high-performance variants, is a dream come true. I have the opportunity to drive our performance products on a daily basis, so right now, I don't have a project car. But the car I am focused on obtaining is a 1969 Chevelle. That was my first car. I had it in high school. I burned more than one set of tires off of it. It had a 350 in it, automatic, metallic gold with a white vinyl top. It had an AM radio, but I put the FM converter in it. I loved that car, and I yearn to have it back, or to have a car like it. The '70 Chevelle is now very strong in the collector market, but I like the '69. So, somewhere out there is a '69 Chevelle that will be my project car.
SC: Thanks for the update, Jim! We'll see you at the races!!!