Jim Lutz – On Pontiac In Grand Am
© Gary Horrocks

Even in the tough financial times of today, the Pontiac division of General Motors remains committed to racing in the Grand Am series.

Jim Lutz, Program Manager for the Pontiac programs in the Grand Am series, began with the information that, despite the cancellation of the GTO after the 2006 model year, the commitment of the company to racing is as strong as ever.

“This (cancellation of the GTO street car) will have no impact on the 2006 season and Pontiac remains committed to supporting our customers in 2007, in both the Daytona Prototype class and the GT class. At this time, we have no intention of changing the bodywork of the car. We have discussed this with Grand Am and they are fine with our decision.” Ultimately, the reason that the production GTO is going away is that the platform it is based upon is being phased out in Australia, and to continue to build it for just the American market would be cost-prohibitive. The story concerning slow sales is just a story – sales have been picking up and are especially strong in particular areas of the country like Los Angeles.

“The involvement for Pontiac in Grand Am came about when the company started looking for an arena to promote their performance image. Rather than bucking heads with Chevrolet in NASCAR, we wanted to go somewhere else. It was in late 2003 that we decided that Grand Am would be a good fit for us. We’d already had many independent teams running Pontiac engines, so it wasn’t that difficult a decision to make. We’re very pleased with the success and exposure we’ve had in the series.”

It was in 2004 that the groundwork for the GTO.R was laid. “We started discussions with the sanctioning body. At that time, they were in a state of transition in the GT class and were developing the Prep 2 regulations, which they felt would allow other manufacturers into the series and allow them to compete against the special limited production Porsches, which had been dominant. It was then that we brought Pratt & Miller into the mix to develop the car for us.

“For Pontiac, we liked that we were able keep the looks of the car remarkably recognizable as a GTO, and also be able to run a production based engine. When the car was being developed, Grand Am was concerned that the stock motor would be too powerful. So, instead of allowing us to run the stock motor with open exhaust, we were forced to detune by running a retarded cam and also a restrictor. But, by doing this, it allowed us to keep the motor as close to production as possible and also make the engine an economical package to run for a team. Right now, we are able to get 2500 miles on a motor and we soon hope to up this to 3000 miles. The motors are available from GM, sealed as built from Katech. Between the price and the longevity, I believe it is a strong package for a privateer.

“We unveiled the car at the SEMA show in 2004 and then brought it out to race for the first time at the summer race at Daytona. After an initial cautious approach by GA, they eventually opened up the performance of the car, and I think the field was pretty even by the end of the year. TRG, which is a privateer, owned the two cars they ran and was responsible for how they performed. As it was a beta test for the car, we had assistance from Pratt & Miller for them. I would have liked a better ending to the season, but I’m happy with the way the car performed during the season.”

Now, for the 2006 season, the two car TRG effort will be joined by Pacific Coast Motorsports, who recently announced their intention to run a GTO.R for the 2006 season. “We had some recent testing at Sebring with PCM, which allowed the team and some drivers to acclimate themselves with the car. Right now, the hope is to debut the car at Homestead, but that is all dependent on when the sponsorship comes together, which will also define the drivers. Initially, we’ll have some P & M personnel with the team as advisors, but after a while, it will be up to the teams to negotiate with P & M for further help.

“Having another GTO.R on the grid will be a help in the championship drive. We’ve had some discussions, but as of right now, we have not made any further sales, even though we do have an additional car available.”

Tyler Tadevic of PCM added: “We’re really looking forward to renewing our relationship with Pratt & Miller and showing GM what we are capable of as a team. We’re still sorting out the schedule, but right now, we feel that we would rather be ready when we debut. That may have to wait until Virginia, but that’s OK with us. We’ve got a couple of deals we’re working on, so we’ll see how it all shakes out. But I will tell you one thing; you can sure tell this GTO.R is a Pratt & Miller car. It’s so similar to the C5-R that we raced last year. You can definitely see the heritage there.”

Jim Lutz was originally involved with only the DP program, but once the GTO.R program got up and running, it made sense for all involved to incorporate those two programs together, especially as he would be at all of the GA races and most of the major tests anyway. As such, the DP program had been his major focus or concern.

“I’ve been quite happy with the way things have gone so far. We came into a situation where teams were already running the Pontiac motor. Those independent teams chose the Pontiac engine and we have enjoyed the success that comes from having successful teams. In this case, we were able to have the Pontiac name showcased without too much investment.

“Currently, we have multiple builders working with our motors. It is the most competitive and the most economical for the teams that way. It was a totally free market when we came in, and now, it is only when there are issues that we get too involved. Currently we are basing our package on the production LS6 motor, which is no longer available in our product line. We are in discussions with the GA concerning the future specifications. We would like to keep the motor as production based as possible. We want to continue to run a production based push rod V8.”

But, as the series has evolved, the competition has started to become higher tech. “Porsche has definitely upped the ante. And the TRD Lexus and Yates Ford motors have become stronger, as they have continued to incorporate more purpose built race parts. We, at Pontiac, continue to run the most production based motor of them all. For 2006, the series announced new regulations, which added an additional 75 pounds of weight to all of the 5.0 liter motors, ours included. Then you look at how (the AJR) Porsche Crawford is allowed to run. They are allowed to run 125 pounds lighter and have no rpm limit and no restrictor, where all of the other manufacturers have to run with both restrictors and rpm limits. The Porsche powered cars are also allowed to run a 6 speed gearbox, where the rest are restricted to a 5 speed box.

“As Grand Am has based their series on the closeness of competition, I believe they will do everything in their powers to keep the competition close when they can. It is the close competition that has attracted the teams to the series and that is what will keep them involved.”

Jim was involved in the later hey-day of Trans Am in the 80s and the early 90s, as well as being involved in multiple facets of racing other production based vehicles in road racing, off road and drag racing. “No matter where I have been, if the rules are kept fair, the more talented teams have risen to the top. Grand Am is no different. The better the talent around the team - the drivers, the crew, the support - the better the results will be. That much hasn’t changed.

“Returning to some of the same tracks and seeing some of the same people involved has been sort of déjà vu. I worked with the Rileys in our Trans Am programs as well as with Wayne Taylor, Scott Sharp, Wally Dallenbach Jr. and others. It’s still just as fun, but the technical side has become much more interesting. The electronic controls, the telemetry and even the advancements in timing and scoring have pushed the sport. And with improvements in TV coverage and the possibilities from the internet, it has become a more interesting sport for the fans. And in many ways, the facilities where we compete at are much nicer.”

As for the fans, Jim believes that Grand Am is headed in the right direction, as far as attracting fans. “We’ll be racing in front of a huge crowd in Mexico and I expect the crowd to be large when we run at Homestead with the IRL and also with Champ Cars at Long Beach. We took a few of the lesser-attended events off the schedule for this year, so I think we should be better attendance wise. It was a little troubling to see such low attendance at Laguna Seca last year, but hopefully it will be better this year. Overall, I like the schedule we have and expect to see the fan counts grow this year.”

 

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