GM Ecotec Lakester: Salt Flats Redemption

Don Sherman
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A year ago, I enjoyed five runs across the Bonneville Salt Flats in the coolest car at the SCTA's World Finals event-GM's stunning Ecotec Lakester (SALT LUCK, Automobile March 2005). It was not enough. True speed addicts never receive their minimum daily requirement of salt.

Another reason for returning to Bonneville is because I posted sufficient speed to break the existing 177+mph G/BGL (2.0-liter supercharged gasoline Lakester) record but was denied entry into the record book by an officiating error.

Mark Reuss, GM's Executive Director in charge of the Performance Division which built and campaigned the Lakester in cooperation with the So-Cal Speed Shop, patiently heard my plea for additional seat time. Luckily, my aspirations were in mesh with GM's plans to continue racing at the salt as a means of proving that its Ecotec 4-cylinder can stand tall next to the GM V-8s that have powered previous racers to record speeds.

Reuss had secured funds to upgrade both my Lakester and the 1000-hp Chevy SS Cobalt that exceeded 240mph in the hands of Jim Minneker. A second pot of cash paid for the construction of a chopped-top, rear-drive Chevy HHR aimed at the 226-mph G/BFCC (2.0-liter blown fuel-burning competition coupe) record.

To speed up the Lakester, GM contracted with the Auto Research Center (www.arcindy.com), an Indianapolis-based wind tunnel, to construct and test an intricate 40-percent scale model. Aero add-ons we used last year were all "engineered" by eye-ball. Testing our low-mounted splitter, tail diffuser, vertical stabilizer, and other tweaks in the $1000-per-hour, moving-ground-plane tunnel and confirming those results with full-scale coast-down tests at GM's Mesa, Arizona, proving grounds revealed precisely what works to cut drag without sacrificing stability. The biggest improvement came from replacing our Dunlop tires with Goodyear rubber four inches smaller in diameter and an inch or so narrower in section width.

Last October, the supercharged and intercooled Ecotec engine was box-stock to prove its mettle as a crate engine. (GM's Performance Parts organization will sell you one over the counter at any GM dealership.) This year I had an additional 60-hp at my disposal thanks to wilder camshafts, ported intake passages, forged pistons, and a higher redline.

The GM team arrived almost ready to race. Tom Gierman, my new crew chief, had a few lessons to learn but the Ecotec Lakester was itching to speed.

The very first run was a heartening 193mph in spite of a surface as rough as a cheese grater. To avoid blurred vision, I had to make sure my helmet didn't contact the buzzing roll cage.

Unfortunately, preparations the next morning for the return run, revealed a 6-inch split in the water tank. After repairs, I requalified that afternoon with a very satisfying 203 mph dash across the salt.

Breaking the 200-mph barrier is a thrill but not because of any Star Wars sensation of hyper speed. All that registers in my mind are rpm and mph digits, bright orange markers spaced at mile intervals, and two black lines defining the course boundaries. The bright-blue sky, the pure-white salt, the spinning front tires are merely extraneous visuals filtered out to help focus on the business at hand. That business includes very gentle nudges of the steering wheel, three clutchless upshifts, and revving the engine to the 7200-rpm in each gear.

After a Sunday afternoon high, my Speed Week went downhill. For some unknown reason, I hit a barrier at 6000 rpm and 179 mph during the Monday morning return run. Luckily, this was enough to constitute a 189.205mph entry in the record book. Tuesday morning it rained. After a long wait, I posted another 193mph top speed while driving into a 13-mph headwind on Bonneville's 3-mile course. The 5-mile course I used during the previous three days was a soggy mess.

Two hours later, the sky turned black, porta potties were tipped by 50-mph winds, and biblical rains fell. The next morning, the 2005 Speed Week was declared over. But I left Utah with a happy heart thanks to the record in my pocket.

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