LAS VEGAS – GM's new R07 engine may not be ready for prime time.
Introduced last fall, the new engine is the first to be designed specifically for racing by GM. It was touted as the being the successor to the production-based engines that had been used by GM in stock car racing since the mid-1950s.
In using what is referred to as a "clean sheet of paper" while designing the engine, GM's engineers were confident they had addressed the kinds of issues that plagued previous designs, in turn building a race-ready powerplant.
However, the planned rollout of the new engine into Nextel Cup competition, which originally was slated for sometime later this month or in April, has been delayed.
When asked to comment on the delay, GM Racing program manager Pat Suhy said that teams were still testing the new engine and were not yet comfortable with giving up their current engine, the very reliable SB2 – which won its first race when Dale Earnhardt took it to victory lane at the season-opening Daytona 500 in 1998.
Although the new engine has not seen a lap of real competition, teams are able to simulate the stresses of a race weekend on their shop dynamometers, which are used to measure power and durability of engines.
Those tests include running the engines until they are hot, letting them cool down and then heating them up again, which is known as heat cycling.
What teams have found hasn't been all that comforting.
"We've blown at least one of them up," said one senior team member who asked to remain anonymous. He did stress that failures do occur whenever teams work on something totally new.
And, he added, he expects Chevy teams will continue to test the new engine, including on actual race weekends,
"But don't expect it to be under the hood of any championship contender's car – not yet," he said.
Busch's innovative idea
Kyle Busch's assessment of the new, harder Goodyear tires brought to the newly reconfigured and repaved Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend painted a clear picture of the challenge faced by the Cup drivers.
"The tires are so hard, it difficult to feel the car on the track," Busch said.
"Until it's too late," he added.
Despite being a native of Las Vegas, Busch isn't fond of the track's new paving. In fact, he has a suggestion for what NASCAR might tell track owners who, in the future, decide to repave their tracks.
"NASCAR should tell the track owner, 'That's OK, we'll come back in three years,' " Busch said, referring to the time it takes for new track surfaces to naturally weather themselves.
Johnson takes to the road
The Nextel Cup trophy on his mantel may say to the world that Jimmie Johnson is the best of the best in stock car racing, but according to the defending champion, there's still room for improvement.
"I just want to be better in road course racing," said Johnson, who has yet to win a NASCAR road course event. His best showing is a fourth-place finish at Watkins Glen (2003) and a start from the pole the following year at the same track.
To help him achieve that goal, Johnson went inside the GM family and secured a ride in a Cadillac CTS-V for the SCCA SPEED World Challenge GT race at Lowe's Motor Speedway on May 24.
The event is a timed, 50-minute race that will take place following qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 on the track's 1½-mile banked oval, which will be modified to create road racing elements.
Johnson found the feel of the Cadillac quite similar to his Cup car when he tested it at Sebring, Fla.
"I'm hopeful I can learn some tricks and get some more seat time on road courses that will help me in the Cup Series," Johnson said.
As part of his tutelage in the Cadillac, Johnson spent time working with veteran road racer and 2005 World Challenge GT champion Andy Pilgrim, who also tutored Dale Earnhardt prior to the NASCAR legend competing in a Corvette for the 1999 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
"I had a great time, and Andy couldn't have been more help," Johnson said. "He really helped me get up to speed and get used to a track I'd never seen before. And Sebring is really a tough course. When I left there at the end of the day, I was where I needed to be."
The four-door Cadillac sedan, ironically, has the same front splitter and rear wing setup as Johnson's new Cup ride, the Car of Tomorrow. But his focus during the test was more on honing his road course skills and not on the aerodynamics of the car.
However, he did pay close attention to how the engineers set up the chassis on the Cadillac and expects it will be similar to the setup on the Car of Tomorrow.
"The adjustments we made on the car … was mainly shock stuff," Johnson said. "And I think that's going to apply even with our racing because you know where the splitter needs to be and that's as low as possible and then you want maximum rear grip so you tilt the wing up as much as the sanctioning body will give you.
"So, it was interesting to be out there and see how close the CTS-V was to a Cup car. It's very similar."
In the garage
Canadian racer Patrick Carpentier, who has been looking for either a Busch or Cup opportunity, was spotted walking around the Cup and Busch garages Friday, shaking hands and keeping himself visible to the NASCAR community.
The open wheel veteran, whose current regular driving gig is in the Grand Am series, has expressed a strong desire to bring his talents to NASCAR. Carpentier continues to gain experience in a stock car by competing in the NASCAR Canadian Series when his sports car schedule permits.
Among the teams Carpentier was seen talking to was Richard Childress Racing.
Also in the garage was open wheel refugee Ryan Hunter-Reay, seen wearing Robby Gordon Racing attire. But before Gordon can put his good friend Hunter-Reay in a Busch car for his own team, the driver/owner needs to secure adequate sponsor funding.
Late last year, Hunter-Reay's smooth transition from Indy-style cars to stock cars caught the attention of GM racing execs when he took part in their driver evaluation program.
The manufacturer-driven program featured more than a dozen drivers from across the country, including third-generation driver Jeffrey Earnhardt (who has signed with DEI), 18-year old Joey Lagano (who has signed with Joe Gibbs Racing) and 17-year old Landon Casill (who has signed with Hendrick Motorsports).
In the interim, Hunter-Reay is keeping himself busy driving anything he can. He competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, and in the past week he spent a day behind the wheel of a late model stock car at Irwindale Raceway.
"We're also working on putting together a deal for a couple of ARCA series races in the near future," Hunter-Reay said.