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MAY 14, 2003

A big change at General Motors

For the last 12 years all General Motors racing activities have been overseen by Herb Fishel, the executive director of GM Racing. But at 61 Fishel is to retire. He will hand over his role to Doug Duchardt on June 1 and will retire in September. The 39-year-old Duchardt, who is currently in charge of all GM Racing's oval track activities, notably the NASCAR Winston Cup program, will be replaced in his role by fuel system design engineer Pat Suhy, who has run his own racing team in recent years in SCCA National road races where he has experienced all aspects of the sport at close hand.

"The name Herb Fishel has been synonymous with championship racing programs at GM for decades," said John Middlebrook, GM vice president of marketing and advertising. "Herb is leaving a legacy of success that is both remarkable and inspiring: nine consecutive Winston Cup manufacturers titles at one point, and 21 of 24 driver's titles through last year. In 2001, Herb's team did something no one else had done in nearly 30 years, by winning the Daytona 500, Indy 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans."

One thing that GM has always steered clear of has been Formula 1 although back in the late 1980s the company came close to committing itself to an F1 engine project for the new F1 regulations. The project, which was carried out in league with Ilmor Engineering, was scrapped at the last minute because of financial considerations.

In 1999 the company revealed plans for a new motorsport strategy aimed to focus the company's worldwide expertise to help the individual brands increase their sales in different markets and Middlebrook said that the company would adopt a new "unified global approach to racing". The Cadillac Le Mans project which followed was not a success although the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R sportscars were more successful. The company took a look at F1 that year and decided to "wait and see". At the time Fishel said that the company does aspire to F1.

"We would need to see a five to 10 year guarantee of stability in the regulations before we would think of committing to such a big program," he said.

GM and Volkswagen are now the only major car companies in the world which are not involved in F1 and while the retirement of Fishel may not change attitudes with GM Racing, it may open the debate about F1 once again.