New 2004 Pontiac Sunfire Has Marty Ladwig Ready To Defend NHRA HOT ROD Championship
FONTANA, Calif., March 8, 2004 - Defending HOT ROD champion Marty Ladwig isn't afraid to admit it, but this year's run for the Summit Racing crown will more than likely turn out to be one of the toughest title chases yet in the brief history of the NHRA Sport Compact Series. The 38-year-old Ladwig, who drives the turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec-powered Pontiac Sunfire out of the GM Racing stable, knows it will be extremely difficult defending his well-deserved championship, especially in a sport compact drag racing category that is evolving into one of the toughest in the series.
"It was quite a year for the GM Racing program," said Ladwig. "With Nelson's (Hoyos) championship in PRO FWD and our success with the Sunfire, we know doing it all over again won't be easy. Being prepared is a must. The lessons we learned last season and the knowledge needed to be able to execute consistently every time we pull our Pontiac Sunfire to the starting line will be absolutely imperative.
"The HOT ROD class just keeps getting better and stronger, and we have to improve right along with it. I was really proud though of what were able to accomplish in 2003, especially for everyone at GM Racing and the Pontiac Sunfire marketing team who back our program."
In 10 NHRA HOT ROD events contested last year, the San Antonio, Tex., native put on an impressive display of quarter-mile prowess guiding his impeccably-tuned, Ecotec-powered Pontiac Sunfire to four national-event victories (the most in the category) at Palm Beach (Fla.), Englishtown (N.J.), Atco (N.J.), and the season finale at Pomona (Calif.). Ladwig also scored two runners-up at Woodburn (Ore.) and the second meet at Englishtown.
"There's a lot of prestige racing in HOT ROD because you have to run an actual production-based transmission, production cylinder heads, block, etc.," explained Ladwig. "Approximately 50 percent of the pieces we run on our Ecotec are stock production parts. That's why GM is so involved with our class. Everything we do with our Pontiac Sunfire can trickle down to the grassroots racers who then can take the production pieces we use and apply them to their racecars. We've also created an engine handbook that's readily available to assist the grassroots competitor, and the pit area of our GM Racing team is open to anyone who wants to learn from what we're doing."
Ladwig punctuated his frequent visits to the winner's circle by capturing the No. 1 qualifying position at four events, the best time of the meet four times and top speed of the race at four conests. He ran a career-best elapsed time of 8.457 seconds at Englishtown and a career-best speed of 170.90 mph at Woodburn. Ladwig also scored a victory in his lone IDRC appearance last February at Palmdale (Calif.). To put the exclamation point on a remarkable season, Ladwig and his Pontiac Sunfire, in a battle between two domestic brands, edged ahead of Mike Crawford to win the 2003 Summit Racing Sport Compact championship.
"Winning the championship was one of the most exciting things that's ever happened to me," explained Ladwig. "To be able to start out the year by winning the first race, and then end up winning four events was a tremendous accomplishment for our GM Racing team.
"The HOT ROD class continues to be one of the most competitive categories in the sport. With a 16-car field at every event, it has evolved into one of the most popular categories because all of the cars, like my Pontiac Sunfire, are actually based on production vehicles. You also enter a final eliminator with the knowledge that any of the 16 cars that qualify has a chance of winning. At he same time, it was great to be able to win the championship the way we did - by defeating another domestic brand. Now it's important that we come off last year's championship ready to go because it's not going to get any easier."
Before Ladwig's current tenure as a competitor in the NHRA's HOT ROD division, he cut his racing teeth competing in the AMA/Prostar Motorcycle Series. There Ladwig won back-to-back AMA/Prostar 600 Supersport championships in 1999-2000, and was named AMA/Prostar "Rider of the Year" in '99. In 2002, he debuted the Ecotec-powered front-wheel-drive Pontiac Sunfire in Sport Compact competition and became the first HOT ROD entry to run in the eight-second range.
After last year's banner campaign the upcoming season holds a lot of promise for Ladwig and his new AK Racing teammates. Although coming off a terrific year, Ladwig realizes that the competition this season in HOT ROD is only going to get better. But a new 2.0-liter Ecotec-powered 2004 Pontiac Sunfire is providing Ladwig with the confidence and the horsepower necessary to make a run at a second consecutive Summit Racing Sport Compact championship.
"With the traction limits of a front-wheel-drive car, learning how to use all of our available horsepower is something that we're continuing to work on," explained Ladwig. "With our new 2004 Pontiac Sunfire, we've applied some lessons learned from the old car regarding the suspension and chassis that should help us run quicker. In just a couple of runs during testing, the new Pontiac Sunfire was just as fast as last year's championship car. It's also safer. Last year the class saw a dramatic increase in speed and because of that, our new Pontiac Sunfire was constructed with a stronger safety cage. The stronger safety cage makes the car more rigid and helps the suspension to function more efficiently. Therefore you'll see an increase in performance because we're able to use more power and aptly apply it to the ground. The new Pontiac should give us a definite increase in performance this season.
"This will probably be one of the toughest years to be a competitor in the Hot Rod category. There were a lot of guys who stepped up their programs at the end of 2003, going quite a bit faster than they were at the beginning of the season. There have also been some rules changes to try and help some of the racers by allowing the use of different transmissions. But I'm really excited about our new Pontiac Sunfire and I have a lot of confidence in our new team. Just from the first test sessions everything's been tremendous. It's going to be a great year."
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