In case you didnt know, front-wheel-drive drag racing is one of the fastest-growing automotive sports in the U.S. Until recently, the race field was dominated by small, Japanese race cars. Many of these four-cylinder buzz bombs are capable of shattering the quarter-mile in less than 10 seconds. Its exciting, its popular, and its profitable. All these elements combine to form a multimillion-dollar franchise thats sweeping the nation. Some American cars have seen their share of track time in the process. Ford Focuses and Dodge Neons have both become standard fare at these events as well. Now that one of the most popular import drag racing associations, NIRA, has been absorbed by the NHRA and turned into the Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series, FWD drag racing is now being spotlighted in ways never before thought of. General Motors has seen what has become of this sport and has decided to build two cars around its new 2.2L four-cylinder ECOTEC motor: a Pontiac Sunfire driven by Marty Ladwig and a Chevy Cavalier driven by Stephanie Reaves. This motor, making only 150 hp in its normally aspirated street-bound version, has been massaged into a race-bred monster capable of spitting out in excess of 750 hp at the crank. Both cars will be front-wheel-drive, but the Chevy will be a tube-framed, Outlaw Class car, while the Pontiac will be a unibody racer. Look for them this season at an NHRA race near you.
Road to the Races
GM invited Super Street to its secret skunkworks to show us the process behind designing the powerplant for its two new drag stars. For one thing, the engineers didnt pull any punches in the quest for horsepower. They wanted to prove that this new motor, based on the stock block and internals of the motor found in your dads Cavalier, is capable of extraordinary numbers with only a little help. The testing methods used were not unlike those of the Spanish Inquisitionkeep doing bad things to it until it breaks. The stock motor was strapped to an engine dyno and pumped full of nitrous until something gave out. The broken part was then replaced and the entire process started all over again, resulting in a bone-stock motor capable of putting out over 350 hp on nitrous alone. But of course, if you want to be competitive in the drag-racing world, doubling those numbers is a must. Thats when GM turned to Innovative Turbo to add the breath of life to the motor, and the next stage of development was underway.
Taking off the spray and adding boost was the hot ticket. The newly turbocharged motor immediately made safe power in the 350hp range on very low boostabout 2 pounds. As the pressure was turned up and more parts were reinforced or replaced the GM powerplant finally saw the numbers it was looking for: 650 hp at 19-plus pounds of boost. The other goal GM was trying to reach was to produce a high-revving, high-powered motor that would last 20 or more runs down the track before requiring a teardown session. Having a car out of commission during a race due to failure or rebuild does not make for a profitable or fun race weekend. GM retained as many of the off-the-shelf parts as it could, allowing for fast, inexpensive repairs versus making replacement one-off parts. The stock block, sleeves, main bearings, chains, guides, and many other bits and pieces all made it up to and even beyond the target horsepower numbers. This shows the John and Jane Does out there with Sunfires and Cavaliers what can be done to their trusted daily driver with some investment and proves what homegrown muscle can accomplish.