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!!!