Inside the GM Powertrain Performance and Racing Center

Gary S. Vasilash

GM has a serious commitment to advancing the art and engineering of powertrains—and its support of racing is part of it. Here’s a look at a new facility dedicated to developing engines for cars that go fast. Really fast.

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General Motors is investing big in its powertrain capabilities in Pontiac, Michigan, where its Global Powertrain Engineering Center is located.  “Big” to the tune of $200-million.

In February 2016, as part of that development, it opened the GM Powertrain Performance and Racing Center, dedicated to furthering the development processes for the various engines for the various racing series with which GM is involved. The series includes NASCAR, NHRA, IndyCar, IMSA and more.

Jim Campbell, GM U.S. vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, notes that in 2015 GM achieved six manufacturer and five driver championships, and went on to say, “This new center is a valuable tool in developing powertrains with the right combination of performance, durability and efficiency to help our drivers and teams win races and championships.”

The GM Powertrain Performance and Racing Center is housed in a new 111,420-ft2 facility.  Importantly, it is connected to the Global Powertrain Engineering Center, so there is the ability for there to be interaction between those who are working on the racing engines and those who are working on production engines.  An objective of this co-location is to facilitate technology transfer back and forth between the two groups of people.

While technology development tends to be a reasonable rationale for supporting racing programs, there is also a benefit in terms of the engineering talent that can be nurtured and developed by having engineers work on high performance engines.

When asked about the importance of the Performance and Racing Center and its relevance to engineers and a company overall, Bob Lutz, former GM vice chairman and current chairman of VLF Automotive (which uses a Chevrolet ZR1 V8 that produces 640 hp under the hood of its Destino model), answers that in any company there is always “a core group of really enthusiastic young engineers.”  He says that these people tend to be quickly identified, and that there are probably some fairly obvious clues, such as their participation in Formula SAE while going to school.

“They’ve got racing, high performance, and a competitive instinct in their blood,” Lutz says.  “A company like GM will find those people.”

One benefit: “They work with incredible energy.  I always say a motived engineer during an eight-hour day will accomplish three times what an unmotivated engineer will do.”

Not only do they work hard, but Lutz says, “those are the people who will drive the state-of-the-art forward.”

Which clearly means that you want them working on your team—your racing team.

And this is precisely what GM is doing, because as Dan Nicholson, vice president, GM Global Powertrain, explained on the occasion of the opening of the center, “We race to win and learn. This new facility offers unprecedented opportunities to connect our racing engineers and powertrain engineers, integrating their knowledge to give our racers an edge on the track and our customers better vehicles on the road.”

The people within the center are involved in design release, full CNC machining, engine build, electronics and telematics, dynamometer validation and calibration.

Inside the machining section, cylinder block, cylinder heads, fuel rails and other engine components are produced.  There are over 30 machine tools for milling and turning operations in the new facility.

There are 10 all-new engine build bays, each measuring 120-ft2.  There are eight bays in the Engine Build room and two in a prep area that’s closer to the dyno testing operation.  Each bay has an air drop for powered tools (e.g., programmable torque wrenches).  There’s ready access to an overhead crane for engine loading and unloading on and off the build stands.  A ROMER portable coordinate measuring machine is on site.

The engine testing capability is extensive.  There are four AVL engine dyno cells.  Two are gas-powered engine dynos.  Then there are a gas-powered driveline dyno and an electric driveline dyno.  It is worth noting that these driveline dynos are the first for the GM Powertrain campus in Pontiac.  They are used to test axle differentials for NASCAR and IndyCar. The drive input capability for each is more than 1,000 hp and approximately 560 lb-ft of torque, while the drive output capability is approximately 885 hp and 2,500 lb-ft of torque.

An electronics lab is used for the design, assembly and calibration of the control systems specifically developed for racing and performance engines.  Engineers working in this area can make calibration changes in the dyno cells.  What’s more, given the electronic sophistication of some of the new racing engines, the engineers are able to download the data from an engine that has been used in a race and then upload that to the dynos so that the race can be “replayed” in the test cell, thereby providing useful information that can help both in terms of calibration changes for existing engines and developments of new ones.

Presently at the Performance and Racing Center they are working on engines including:

• NASCAR R07.  This is a 358-in.3 V8 designed and developed for the Sprint Cup series.

• IndyCar 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6.  This small-displacement, direct-injected V6 produces some 700 hp.

• NHRA COPO Camaro V8s.  There are both supercharged and naturally aspirated LS and LT family engines for the Stock and Super Stock eliminator classes.

• Corvette Racing 5.5-liter V8.  This naturally aspirated, all-aluminum V8, based on the LT engine family, is used by the Corvette Racing C7.R team.

• Cadillac ATS-V.R Twin Turbo.  This is a modified version of the production model’s 3.6-liter, twin-turbo, direct-injected V6 that produces 464 hp and 445 lb-ft of torque, so just imagine the output of the engine once it comes out of the Performance and Racing Center.

The old saw “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is attributed to Bob Tasca, Sr., who was a Ford dealer and a man who brought the Cobra Jet 428 engine to NHRA drag racing in the 1960s.  His association with the Blue Oval notwithstanding, it is a pretty good bet that that sort of thinking is a driver behind the GM Performance and Racing Center.