General Motors eyes Indycar return

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It has been reported that General Motors has decided to return to racing in a big way, building a Chevrolet twin turbo V6 engine for the new 2012 Indycar formula. It is said that Chip Ganassi’s team will race a new Chevrolet engine in 2012 and that GM Racing will ramp up its motor sport involvement next year with sharply expanded support for its Grand-Am Daytona Prototype and GT teams, a similar increase in NHRA drag racing and a two-car Cadillac CTS-V Coupe team to compete in the World Challenge GT series. According to Autoextremist.com, GM’s new race programme will be announced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday.

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GM was saved from bankruptcy last year by a US$50 billion bailout from the United States government. But the company has rebounded over the past year and plans a stock offering aimed at selling 365 million common shares at $26-29 to raise $11 billion. The plan is to cut US government ownership in GM from just over 60 per cent to around 43 per cent.

The new racing programme will be an integral part of GM’s aggressive effort to promote itself as a reinvigorated, technologically assertive company. Ganassi’s NASCAR team races Chevrolets but Ganassi has held talks in recent months with Ford about switching brands. It is reported that GM’s new strategy has convinced Ganassi to remain with Chevrolet in NASCAR and make the move to Chevrolet Indy engines in 2012.

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Will Chip enjoy an exclusive arrangement with GM for Indycar racing? That’s unlikely because the company has had a long-time relationship with Roger Penske, who partnered Chevrolet in building the successful Ilmor/Chevrolet Indy V8 from 1987-93. That engine won six consecutive Indy 500s from 1988-93 and GM won the race five more times with an Oldsmobile engine from 1997-2001 plus the ’02 Indy 500 with a Chevrolet-branded Cosworth engine.

GM’s return to Indianapolis will be a big shot in the arm for Indycar racing. It will be the first time since 2005 that Honda has faced competition in American open-wheel racing and it will be interesting to see if GM’s move draws other major manufacturers back to Indy.

Another question is who will partner GM to design and build the new engine? Penske probably holds the right cards through Ilmor Engineering, whose American division currently rebuilds Honda’s Indy engines. General Motors has bounced back after years of decline and the same scenario may now be on the cards for Indycar racing.

Meanwhile in NASCAR Denny Hamlin has taken the championship lead from defending champion Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin seized the lead from Matt Kenseth on the final restart at the Texas superspeedway to score his eighth win of the year, while Johnson finished ninth after a couple of poor pitstops. With two races to go at Phoenix next weekend and Homestead-Miami the following week Hamlin leads Johnson by 33 points, with Kevin Harvick another 26 points behind.

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Harvick kept himself in the championship fight by finishing sixth in Texas, but at this stage the battle appears to be between Hamlin and Johnson. Hamlin celebrates his 30th birthday on Thursday and if he pulls it off he will win his first Sprint Cup championship and the first for Joe Gibbs’ Toyota team since 2005, when Tony Stewart won the title aboard a Gibbs Chevrolet.

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