No. 979
January 16, 2018

About The UjianNasional

Author, commentator, influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. Editor-in-Chief of .

Peter DeLorenzo has been in and around the sport of racing since the age of ten. After a 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising, where he worked on national campaigns as well as creating many motorsports campaigns for various clients, DeLorenzo established on June 1, 1999. Over the years DeLorenzo's commentaries on racing and the business of motorsports have resonated throughout the industry. Because of the burgeoning influence of those commentaries, DeLorenzo has directly consulted automotive clients on the fundamental direction and content of their motorsports programs. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the sport today.

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March 18, 2009

GM's spineless cost-cutting weasels have GM Racing in their crosshairs.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

I've been writing about the Detroit Three's love-hate relationship with racing since Day One of this publication (June 1, 1999), and I can tell you emphatically that if you go back throughout history a Detroit car company's infatuation with racing and motorsport is usually directly commensurate with the knowledgeable enthusiasts at or near the top of the company. Now, these enthusiasts were never just restricted to the engineering departments - as some in the engineering persuasion would have you believe - because there have been many talented and even legendary marketing/advertising/PR types over the years who have contributed tremendously to car company racing programs around the globe. Walter Hayes, the ex-journalist and PR man who helped guide Ford's scintillating foray into big-time motor racing in the 60s is probably the most famous - and most decorated - of all of these non-engineering enthusiasts, and his contributions are legendary (the magnificent Ford-Cosworth DFV V8 F1 engine would never have happened without the direct stewardship of Hayes).

I would like to say that an automobile company going racing should be analogous to the human need for water itself, that racing should be the closest thing to basic sustenance that a car company can be a part of, that the fundamental pursuit of faster, lighter, more durable and more aero and fuel-efficient in the white-hot heat of competition should define every car company thriving on the planet today.

If only it were true, that is.

Unfortunately, throughout history car companies and their racing programs have often been caught up in tumultuous, contentious and too often acrimonious internal struggles, with it inevitably coming down to the corporate bean counters who refuse to make the connection between advanced technical development and improving the future production product in one corner, and the enthusiasts who chafe at the idea of financial-types who know less than nothing about what they're looking at yet who are making multi-million-dollar decisions that could have long-lasting negative connotations for the company in the other.

There is often little common ground to be found between these polar opposite camps as you might imagine, yet when times are good if the right people are championing racing at the right time good things can be accomplished. Or even better, if the fundamental philosophy of the company hinges on high-performance, excellence and achievement, then racing becomes part of the very air that these companies breathe. The former description usually has defined the domestic automobile manufacturers at one time or another over the years, while the latter description best describes the automobile companies that have made racing part of their credo, companies like Audi, BMW, Honda, Ferrari and Porsche.

It's easy for some of the more famous car companies mentioned to go racing, because they don't have to "justify" something that's innately part of their corporate philosophy. With these companies the only meetings with purchasing that take place are to figure out how best to accomplish the goals of the company, which naturally includes a properly executed racing program. That means that the bean counters' assignment only extends to figuring out how to get it done with the most efficient use of the funds available, not why they're doing it.

As you've probably already guessed, that's a fundamental difference between those aforementioned European and Asian companies and the Detroit auto companies. GM, Ford and Chrysler can all claim that racing is part of their "DNA" as they're wont to say, but the reality is much less noble of thought and grandiose in scope, as racing programs have to be "justified" within an inch of their lives, and even then it's a crap shoot if they'll survive from year to year.

Oh, there have been times when Detroit did go for it. GM with Pontiac in the early 60s and with its clandestine "we're not really GM engineers and we're not really on vacation in the Bahamas" efforts with the fabulous Corvette Grand Sports. And of course there were the classic "back door" efforts with "front door" talent when GM was heavily involved with such luminaries as Jim Hall and his magnificent Chaparrals, Roger Penske, Bruce McLaren and Smokey Yunick, just to name a few. And Chrysler with their legendary efforts in NASCAR with the Pettys and such, and of course with Don Garlits and many others in drag racing.

But of the Detroit Three, however, none of them could touch the Ford Motor Company for its "Total Performance" effort in the 60s. Racing in literally every kind of major league racing there was back then Ford swept everything in sight, from U.S. road racing wins with Shelby American's factory Cobras, and international wins with the Cobra Daytona Coupe (including a World Manufacturers Championship in GT) and overall wins with the Ford GT at Daytona, Sebring and of course the 24 Hours of Le Mans (four straight wins from 66-69), to the Indianapolis 500 and Formula 1, nobody came close to Ford's stellar accomplishments. And none have come close to this day.

In the modern era, much of Detroit's racing efforts at the factory-supported level have been confined to NASCAR, which ironically has become a spec-based series offering the participating manufacturers little for their involvement. Yes, Ford and GM have partnered with boutique engine manufacturers for separate forays into IndyCar racing, but there's no question that NASCAR remains the dominant theme.

The lone exception? GM's outstanding Corvette Racing Program. Now going into its tenth season, the Corvette Racing program has been the longest running and one of the most successful factory road racing programs ever conducted by an American automobile company. The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the season-opening race of the 2009 American Le Mans Series to be held on March 21, will mark the start of Corvette Racing's 10th anniversary in international road racing. The team made its competition debut back in February 1999 at Daytona, and competed in its first Sebring 12-hour race the following month, finishing fourth in the GTS class. Since that low-key beginning, Corvette Racing has become one of the most dominant production sports car teams in the world, winning eight consecutive ALMS GT1 manufacturers and team championships, seven straight drivers' titles, and most impressive, five class victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Corvette racing program has become a global ambassador for GM's technical prowess, and if you've ever been to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and seen the crowds cheer on the big, booming, V8-powered all-American sports cars you'd know exactly what I'm talking about. The fact that GM has never used the Corvette Racing program to enhance the company's reputation here and around the globe is one of the great mysteries of this business, bordering on something worthy of a criminal investigation. To say that there are some people down at GM headquarters who don't understand the brand-building power of Corvette and Corvette Racing is a gross understatement, but I can also assure you that there are people down there that wouldn't know a brand-building opportunity if it hit them across the forehead with a 2 x 4.

With GM's "duck-and-cover" mentality (see this week's Rant - ed), it's clear to me that GM racing is under the microscope. It's one thing to have a legion of bean-counting bureaucrats normally opposed to racing just on general principals hanging around on a daily basis, but it's quite another to have these same number-crunching zealots running around armed with a directive from the top of the corporation to cut anything and everything that moves. And rhyme or reason doesn't have to factor into these decisions either, not even close, as a matter of fact.

It's a known fact that GM's NASCAR involvement has been trimmed back gradually since last fall. Promotional contracts with individual tracks have been either curtailed or canceled altogether, and team expenditures have been reduced whenever possible. But you also have to understand something else about GM and GM Racing when it comes to NASCAR, and that is there are factions within the company and its racing arm who are blindly aligned to NASCAR, which doesn't necessarily bode well for Corvette Racing. Because if push comes to shove, the embedded NASCAR acolytes within GM wouldn't hesitate to throw Corvette Racing under the bus in a heartbeat if given the opportunity.

The ALMS season-opener at Sebring will mark the final appearance of the Corvette C6Rs in the GT1 class in the 12-hour endurance classic. The team is then scheduled to run at Long Beach in April in preparation for their last go at the GT1 class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. After Le Mans the team will return to the U.S. to run its new GT2 Corvette C6Rs for the rest of the ALMS season in preparation for a full run in the new global GT classification (GT1 and GT2 will merge to become just "GT") that will take effect in 2010.

I can't even imagine a scenario where the Corvette Racing program would be curtailed or the team neutered in any way, even with the spineless cost-cutting weasels on the loose at GM. They wouldn't knowingly squander one of the company's most glorious, image-enhancing assets, would they? They couldn't possibly be that stupid down at the RenCen, could they?

Maybe it's best not to ponder these questions at all given the history of the players involved and just go with the following four simply powerful words: Long Live Corvette Racing.

And may those spineless, cost-cutting weasels who don't know any better find other things to amuse themselves with.

(Richard Prince/GM Racing Photo)
Le Mans, France, June 9, 2008. In keeping with tradition, the Corvette Racing team pauses for a photo after going through scrutineering in Place des Jacobins in downtown Le Mans.


See a special live webcast event hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy with The UjianNasional himself, Peter De Lorenzo, along with auto industry veteran Jason Vines this Thursday evening, March 26, at 6:30PM EDT at . Tune in to see "the bare-knuckled, unvarnished, high-octane truth" and expect a no-holds-barred discussion about what's going on in the industry right now, along with anything else that pops up in our minds. You can chat with us "live" too. Again, that's Autoline Live this Thursday evening, March 26, at 6:30PM EDT at Click for a preview! 


Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD

(Ford Racing Archives)
Mike Costin, Keith Duckworth and Walter Hayes pose by the 400th Ford Cosworth DFV F1 Engine - the most successful Formula 1 engine in history - in 1986. Hayes was instrumental in bringing the parties together that created the racing engine for the Ford Motor Company.