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General Motors' racing plans include continuing to throw its support behind vehicles the public can buy.

New GM Racing director Mark Kent said Wednesday that cars like the Pontiac GTO will become increasingly important, and open-wheel racing will likely take a backseat to GM's expansion into road and drag racing.

"Right now, we are focusing our racing efforts on production-based vehicles, and we have a lot of new and exciting products like the GTO that we want to showcase in the Grand American Series," said Kent, who replaced Doug Duchardt. "You'll see us get into more production-based racing in the near future that will get us closer to the vehicles we're selling."

Kent said road racing and drag racing were good fits for present and future GM products. "We are actively involved in sport compact-racing, a really great venue for us to showcase the Chevy Cobalt," Kent said. "The GTO and (Cadillac) CTS-V in road-racing series and the Corvette in the American Le Mans Series are some wonderful venues to showcase our vehicles. That's the direction we're heading."

Duchardt is now with Hendrick Motorsports, one of NASCAR's premier teams. Kent, 44, will oversee engineering and marketing activities for all of GM's motor sports programs, which include NASCAR, NHRA, SCCA, Grand American and ALMS.

Kent, who has been at the helm of GM Racing just nine days, left the door slightly ajar in regards to GM's participation in the IRL. GM had said it would withdraw from the series at the end of 2005, leaving Honda and Toyota as engine suppliers to IRL teams.

Last weekend, Tomas Scheckter took the pole in the season-opening IRL race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. Scheckter drives for Panther Racing, the only Chevy-powered team still competing in the IRL.

"You can never say never," said Kent, who was involved in GM's IMSA, GTU and SCCA Trans-Am programs in 1987-1992. "If you look back over the history of open-wheel racing, manufacturers have come and gone. You may recall Chevrolet getting out in the '90s, and then we're back in the IRL.

"Right now we're going to plan on going out on top here, but if things change down the road, we're definitely not ruling" out the possibility of returning

BY MIKE BRUDENELL
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
http://www.freep.com/sports/othersports/autos10e_20050310.htm
 
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