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Make no mistake, the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit is a brutal test of engine power, durability and efficiency.

Engines are pushed to the limit on the challenging 2.3-mile street circuit on Belle Isle, during the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear June 1-3. The only doubleheader race weekend on the series calendar – the Chevy Dual in Detroit – can be tough on man and machine.

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Chevrolet and Ilmor Engineering have a track record of winning.

Stepping up to the challenge, General Motors has committed a virtual motorsports laboratory to the success of its IndyCar race engine program and two local technology centers are powering the production.

In what has been a seamless collaboration with legendary Ilmor Engineering, Inc., based in Plymouth, GM is utilizing its state-of-the-art Performance and Racing Center in Pontiac, which opened in 2016 and is connected to GM’s high-tech Global Propulsion Systems facility, to propel faster and more integrated technology between the company’s racing experience and production vehicle powertrains.

The center was designed primarily to enhance the development processes for GM’s diverse racing programs, showcased on Belle Isle by IndyCar, and including winning entries in NASCAR, NHRA and IMSA.

In concert with Ilmor, a global provider of high-performance engines and precision design with a long and distinguished pedigree in racing, GM’s Performance and Racing Center efforts will be measured in part by its success at the Indianapolis 500 this month and a week later in Detroit, where Chevrolet Racing’s twin-turbocharged, direct-injected 2.2-liter V6 engine will power Chevy Racing teams.

For Dom Lester, the challenge of winning at Indy and Belle Isle hinges a great deal on what he calls “intellectual horsepower” and how that can be a difference maker as Chevy and rival race manufacturer Honda battle for IndyCar honors this season.

Lester is senior engineering manager at GM’s Performance and Racing Center.

A weekend drag racer, Lester wants to add to Chevrolet’s six back-to-back Verizon IndyCar Series manufacturer championships since 2012.

“One thing about being on the Pontiac campus as part of the Global Propulsion Systems center is that we share the same technology and access to experts just 100 yards away,” said Lester. “The integration, or ‘intellectual horsepower,’ as I label it, is not being segregated out, as is the case of other manufacturers and their race engine programs. It speaks volumes to what we are doing here (at our Performance and Racing Center). It’s music to my ears.”

GM’s racing center in Pontiac is a multi-faceted performance mecca capable of engine design, machining, engine building, calibration and dynamometer validation.

Ilmor President Paul Ray, who came to America from England in 1990 to establish Ilmor Engineering in the United States and help build the IndyCar turbo-charged engine program, works closely with Lester.  

He describes Ilmor and GM as “a racing family.”

“The guys you see here working on the dynos are a mix of Ilmor and Chevy employees,” said Ray. “That’s how deep the collaboration goes. They work side by side here and at the racetrack. You share information openly. It is just one team; it is a totally transparent program.”

Lester sees it that way too.

At the race track, be it the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, you can’t distinguish between the Chevy and llmor engineers. They will be there sporting identical bowtie shirts and positive attitudes in the paddock, garage and on pit lane.

“Everyone wears a Chevrolet shirt; everybody gets to the racetrack at the same time for breakfast together and they leave in the evening at the same time,” said Ray. “We pack up together at the end of the weekend. Just a single team.”

Tight and technical, Belle Isle will test all the preparation and hard work Ilmor and Chevrolet have done at the GM Racing and Performance Center.  

“Qualifying can be the most important session at Belle Isle,” said Lester as a Chevy IndyCar engine was being put through its paces just a few feet away on a dynamometer at the racing center. “We strive to reduce the development time at the track by utilizing the dyno here, so when qualifying comes around, you are ready to run your fastest lap.”

GM and Ilmor will have an army of engineers at Belle Isle to support Chevy’s race teams.

“Belle Isle is all about the city, the community, and the ‘Dual in Detroit,’” said Lester.

“The Dual is in GM’s backyard,” said Lester. “You always want to do well in home territory.”

With its complex set of corners and different grip levels, Belle Isle is arguably the hardest place to win on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.

“It’s a tough track to conquer,” said Ray. “It’s one of the hardest weekends for our engineers working on optimum engine setup. Just the gearing strategy for Belle Isle adds another layer of complexity; there’s actually more pressure on you to win at Detroit than at Indianapolis.”

For more information and to purchase tickets to the 2018 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, June 1-3 on Belle Isle, visit DetroitGP.com

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.

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