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GM surprised by Cobalt's speedy success



Published: Wed, August 31, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Racing victories show how well-built the car is, a company official says.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

The Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cobalt is proving tough to catch on the racetrack.

A Cobalt SS Supercharged has won three of eight races in a circuit that's designed for cars that are changed little from street versions.

Multiple victories have surprised Ken Wasmer, a project engineering manager for General Motors who travels with the race team.

"In our first year in this series, we were just hoping to win at least one," he said.

The racing Cobalts are similar to production cars, so the victories show how capable the Cobalt SS is on the road, he said.

Comparison

The brakes and the dashboard in the race cars, for example, are the same as those in the production cars, and the suspension received only minor changes.

The engine is the same, except the size of the pulley on the supercharger was changed to provide more boost. GM is developing a kit that will allow car owners to make the same adjustment.

Wasmer said one of the benefits of racing is the development of these kits. What's learned on the tracks can be packaged and sold to car owners who want to customize their Cobalts.

Trying to lure these people, called tuners, away from imports was the big reason GM developed the Cobalt SS, the top-of-the-line Cobalt. Production of the SS started in January at GM's Lordstown plant.

Wasmer said the quality of the design and construction is leading to the victories on the track. The Cobalt's solid structure and suspension provides improved handling, both on the racetrack and the street, he said.

Race team members are finding ways to improve the car, however. They learned, for example, that higher-temperature grease gives the car a better boost. They also have found ways to improve wiring and drive train, he said.

Track record

The most recent victory came Sunday at the Grand-Am Cup 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course near Mansfield. It was the eighth race in the 10-race Grand American Cup. This circuit differs from others in its use of cars that are close to production models. NASCAR teams, for example, use only the shells of production cars and install custom-made parts.

The Cobalt competes in the Sport Touring class, which had 30 entries Sunday. The four Cobalts that were entered by GM were the only American-built cars in the class. The other Cobalts finished 11th, 14th and 25th.

In addition to the three victories so far, the Cobalts have 11 other Top 10 finishes.

Wasmer said the Cobalts have performed so well that none of the engines has been damaged in the races. The only time a car didn't finish a race was due to a crash.

The Chevrolet Cavalier, which was replaced by the Cobalt, used to race in the circuit, but the racing team wasn't affiliated with GM. The company just entered the competition last year with the Cadillac CTSV and then entered the Cobalts this year.

shilling@vindy.com




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