Burnin' Rubber: GM Racing Takes Pontiac Sunfire to the Drag Strip

At the 2001 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show, Pontiac will showcase the newest addition to GM Racing's front-wheel drive drag-racing program, the Sunfire Drag Racer.

“With its rapid growth and enthusiasm among its contestants, this racing series is where Pontiac Sunfire wants to be,” said brand manager Craig Bierley. “Competing in import drag racing gives Pontiac another avenue to demonstrate what a great performance automobile the Sunfire is.”

“The Sunfire has plenty of dynamic exterior styling cues that will set it apart and appeal to the import drag-racing crowd,” said Letty Larkin, Sunfire assistant brand manager-product. “It's an affordable, sporty and safe automobile that provides serious fun, and its sleek aerodynamics will help expedite the successful conversion to its racing counterpart.”

The Sunfire will finish the remainder of the '01 season competing primarily as a bracket racecar. By February 2002, modifications will be made to the car for competition in the Quick-16 class. It will be equipped with a 250-horsepower GM Ecotec 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engine with nitrous. It will utilize a 4T65 transmission.

“The GM Ecotec 2.2-liter engine we're using is a stock piece that will be available on production Sunfires in '02,” said Josh Peterson, GM Racing program manager. “We made some transmission changes because the 4T65 can handle more power, but we're basically taking a production Sunfire and building it up to a full-blown racecar. There're a lot of steps along the way to get that done including extensive work with motors, transmissions, chassis and carbon-fiber components. There's a lot of enthusiasm on the Sunfire brand team and the race team to get it done, and it's really pretty exciting to see this car evolve.”

The Ecotec 2.2-liter SFI four-cylinder is a new powerplant for Sunfire, beginning in the 2002 model year. In its stock form, it produces 140 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 150 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. The new aluminum engine features twin overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder for excellent response in city driving and confident passing and merging on the highway. Twin balance shafts located in the cylinder block cancel the shaking forces inherent in an inline four-cylinder engine, resulting in an engine that is smooth from idle to maximum engine speed. Other features that help make the Twin Cam smooth and quiet include a die-cast lower crankcase and a structural cast-aluminum oil pan, which stiffen the block and reduce radiated engine noise. The engine also features an isolated cam cover that reduces the transmission of valvetrain noise. Thanks in part to its high-compression application (compression ratio 10.0:1) it delivers superb performance for its size, with a broad, flat torque curve that customers interpret as “good driveability.”

To protect the driver of the GM Racing Sunfire Drag car, GM engineers have installed sealed steel firewalls, an independent fire suppression system and a Funny Car-type roll-bar cage on the Sunfire. The driver will be outfitted with the HANS device, a six-point safety harness and a fresh-air system, steps that GM hopes will help set the standard for safety in import competition.

“Next year the car will have the 600-horsepower GM Ecotec motor and all the goodies that go along with that package,” said Peterson. “We've added a roll cage and some other safety features on this car, and we've made some minor modifications to the front end to hold the motor in place. But outright, this Sunfire is a stock car with stock suspension.”