Chevrolet's first year back in the IZOD IndyCar Series since 2005 ended with the manufacturer's championship, clinched at Sonoma, the driver's championship, won by Ryan Hunter-Reay, and 11 of 15 race wins from five different drivers (Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Ed Carpenter).
But General Motors' success in 2012 has not been limited to IndyCar, having also captured the American Le Mans Series manufacturer's and driver's championships (Corvette C6.R, Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner), winning seven races and in contention for the manufacturer's title in Grand-Am's Rolex Series with the first-year Corvette Daytona Prototype, manufacturer and driver titles in Pirelli World Challenge (Cadillac CTS-V, Johnny O'Connell) and six of 12 Chase for the Cup participants as Chevrolet seeks its eighth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup driver's title since 2005.
RACER web editor Tony DiZinno caught up with Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports, to discuss GM's whirlwind year.
RACER: For your first year back in IndyCar, what does winning this manufacturer's championship mean to Chevy/GM?
JIM CAMPBELL: It's a proud moment for Chevrolet to win a manufacturer's championship upon our return to the sport. It's a great effort between our Chevy powertrain engineers, Ilmor, Pratt & Miller and every single one of the teams, crew chiefs and drivers. We have worked together on a key partners approach, we use it in a lot of platforms, and it works. The teams work on points of difference on their own. Proud of how our team came together this year.
What did Chevrolet's return to IndyCar do from a marketing/activation standpoint for the brand?
JC: In terms of our return, there are four key motivators. The first was that the rule set aligned with what's going on on our production and development side. It's around smaller displacement, technologies like direct injection, boosting, use of biofuels, and those are all elements that happen on production development. We're learning a lot in this series on those.
Second, when you win big races, championships, it does lift the opinion of how people view you. That provides a very good sequence in that customers will put you higher on their shopping lists, and definitely helps on the image side.
Third, the venues we race at are great for interacting with current and prospective customers. We have significant displays at our events.
The fourth thing is we're rotating engineers through the program. They tend to spend 18 months to two years on the race side, and then go back to the manufacturing side. They learn what I call “race time,” which is solving problems, capturing information in very short durations, with high quality. You have to be ready.
From a competition standpoint, how did GM progress past the “Turbogate” issue with Honda earlier this year, and would it be prepared to take on further leases (as it already did this year) if Lotus was to drop out of the series?
JC: There's no doubt coming into this season, the goal and whole mantra for us was “never give up.” We apply that to all race programs and it stems from our co-founder Louis Chevrolet. That was our focus.
We'll stand up for ourselves when it comes to the rules, and working with the sanctioning body. That's what we did. We did the due process in terms of the protest and appeal. And then you need to move on, which we did. Everyone is focused on on-track performance. We won 10 of 14 races coming into this weekend (that became 11 of 15 with Ed Carpenter's win, -Ed.) and clinched the manufacturer's championship, and we'll have a great outcome on the driver's side.
As to whether can we take on more, we did add other teams already this year. But since there's only one current team left, they can be absorbed by either us, or our competitors.
Shifting to the sports car side, what is your take on the sports car merger and having run Corvette programs in both series (DP/C6.R GT)?
JC: We've ran in both series for quite a while. This is the first year with the Corvette Daytona Prototype, but we'd ran Chevrolet powertrains and Camaros in GT for some time. For us, we really love both series, but we're very optimistic about the potential the merger can bring for sports car racing.
It comes from a combination of areas. One, it allows us to really tighten up and clean up all the classes, and you can really leverage the potential track schedule to get the best circuits throughout North America. In terms of activation, between all the OEMs, sponsors and partners, there's now an efficient, singular focus.
There's a lot of hard work ahead. I've had encouraging conversations with Jim France and Don Panoz. When they told our team of the news, they indicated immediately they're looking for input from us as a manufacturer and other OEMs, partners. They're open to suggestions and this is the time to do it – now. We'll make some tough calls and figure it out.
Do you see a scenario where both programs, the Corvette DP and Corvette Racing GT programs, will continue?
JC: It's a little early to say and will depend on how the class structure shakes out. We're wide open to it. We're running two now. We're passionate about both, what they bring both on a technical basis and on the fact some fans like certain classes more than others. We'll be ready in an affirmative way.
R: Another title up for grabs is the Corvette DP manufacturer's championship at Lime Rock.
JC: And that's an absolute shootout as well. We have seven wins with the DP. We're so proud of the teams we run with on the Daytona Prototype side, also the Camaro GT/GS. They've spread their wins out, which helps us on a manufacturer basis.
The Corvette community – our owners, fans – have really embraced that program. They're still learning about it, but they embrace it more and more each race. Have a great wealth of support on the GT side of ALMS, too.
R: Your thoughts on the year for Cadillac in Pirelli World Challenge?
JC: Yeah, that went well with the Cadillac CTS-V, as we got the manufacturer's championship there and a 1-2 in drivers with Johnny O'Connell and Andy Pilgrim. Last year was a tougher year there as it was a development year. We made good progress this year and got more in sync. We got excited about it. That series is hyper-competitive as well, and the sanctioning body does a great job of performance balancing. But still a lot of work ahead there, too.
R: Six of 12 in for NASCAR's Chase for the Cup – thoughts there, plus Jeff Gordon's drive to make it in at Richmond?
JC: I think Jeff Gordon did an amazing job of fighting his way back in, at any point during that race the team could have given up but didn't. They leaned in, and pressed and secured the spot.
There's momentum for all six teams, though. Excited about the prospects, but we know it's race by race and anything can happen.