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Consolidating power: New GM race engine facility

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
The 450,000-square-foot GM Powertrain Engineering Development Center is adjacent to GM Powertrain Global Headquarters in Pontiac.

Pontiac — “You can’t rest a second in this sport,” General Motors Vice President of Motorsports Jim Campbell said Tuesday.

Just two days after Corvette’s dominating 1-2 class finish at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, GM unveiled a state-of-the-art Powertrain Performance and Racing Center that will further turbocharge one of the world’s most formidable race engine development programs.

The center’s 82 engineers and staff members will move from Wixom into a 111,420-square-foot facility connected to GM’s sprawling Global Powertrain Engineering Center. That will concentrate the company’s engine know-how under one roof. Part of a $200 million investment in the Pontiac campus, the consolidation leverages the resources at the Powertrain Center, enabling faster technology transfer between GM’s racing and production-vehicle powertrains.

“This is a big statement about our commitment to racing and what we’re doing to do in the future,” said Dan Nicholson, vice president of GM Global Powertrain. “As storied as our history is in racing, we believe our best days are ahead of us.”

That commitment was echoed by NASCAR star and Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman, who joined the executives at the opening. In addition to the 500-horsepower V-8s that powered the Corvettes around Daytona’s 180 mph-plus bankings, the Performance and Racing team develops engines for NHRA drag racing, IndyCar, Pirelli World Challenge Cadillacs — and the NASCAR “R07” mill for Chevy-powered teams like Newman’s Richard Childress Racing.

Newman, a trained engineer, has spent countless hours at the old Wixom facility developing the 358-cubic-inch V-8 designed and developed for NASCAR.

“One of the biggest things we work on is getting the vibration out, especially at the RPMs we are running,” said Newman. “At Daytona we’re going from 8,500 rpm in the turns to up to 9,200 in the straightaway. We want to make sure we are optimized in that range. We’re taking technology to the nth degree — and this facility gives us the opportunities and the people to do that.”

The new facility incorporates the latest engine-assembly, engine-testing and calibration equipment. Highlights include:

■Ten new engine-build bays.

■Thirty machining tools, offering complete machining capability for cylinder blocks, cylinder heads, fuel rails and other components.

■Four engine dynamometer cells capable of handling 12,000 rpm, 1,000 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque.

When the Powertrain Performance and Racing Center opens in July, those four cells will bring the total number of dynos in the Powertrain Center to 120. It’s part of a decades-long push by GM to concentrate its engine resources as well as attract the industry’s best engineering talent.

“GM’s technology transfer between racing and production is a two-way street,” says Nicholson. “We have production lessons learned that we transfer to racing and racing lessons learned that we transfer to production. Having these two teams located in Pontiac will turn this two-way street into a superhighway.”

In addition to the race development wing, the 645,000-square-foot powertrain plant — the largest industrial facility in Pontiac — develops gas engines, fuel cells and hybrid-electrification systems and transmissions.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.