HPP: Did you do anything to the Solstice's chassis to improve its stiffness?
John and his team performed extensive testing of new GM products undergoing development at
JH: Yes. We added a new reinforcement to the rear chassis to improve stiffness. On the later models, a torque arm, which ran from the transmission to the differential, was installed. It added mass to the car. The ZOK-option Solstices were built without this arm to reduce weight. They were used for autocrossing and won national autocross championships. The Ecotec engine was unmodified.
HPP: Did you perform testing on these Solstices before they competed?
JH: Yes, our team did extensive testing on the proving grounds and at a number of racetracks around the U.S. to gather enough data to make sure this Pontiac would be competitive.
HPP: What was your professional opinion of the Solstice?
JH: It handled very well and was extremely quick into and out of corners. That was its advantage over its competitors. Power to weight was decent, but it cornered better than its competition.
HPP: Where did support for this effort come from?
JH: Darren Post, who I previously mentioned, and Pontiac Marketing were big supporters of the program. It was a very successful effort. The Solstice won the SCCA National Championship in 2006 and 2007.
HPP: Did you build a turbo version of the Solstice for showroom-stock racing?
JH: Yes, we built a ZOK-option for the Solstice GXP Turbo. Phoenix Racing built four of these cars to compete in the Touring 2 (T2) class, and Don Knowles won two national championships (2007 and 2010) with one.
HPP: Did a group of these Solstices compete in a TV show?
JH: Yes. They appeared in a show called Setup, hosted by Tommy Kendall. [The show's theme] was designed for novice drivers. The winner received a ride in a Pratt & Miller G6 GXP Grand Am car.
Closer to home, John won many championships driving Firebirds, including this A/Sedan vers
The Solstices were specially prepared GXP Turbo cars. GM paid to have them built and our group did some engineering work on them. Pratt & Miller built these Solstices. Pontiac Marketing supported the effort.
HPP: What happened to the vehicles?
JH: They were sold and a lot of them became track-day cars. Some of them are still running in SCCA events in the Showroom Touring Under (STU) class. One even won the STU National Championship in 2012.
HPP: When did this program end?
JH: At the end of 2008 when I retired.
HPP: On one of our tours at the Milford Proving Grounds, I saw a prototype of the Solstice coupe. What did you think of that car?
JH: The Solstice coupe was one of my favorite Pontiacs. Pontiac only built 1,000 of them, and immediately they became collector cars. At the time, we were experimenting with a 315hp Ecotec turbo for the Solstice coupe. Our intent was to produce all of the Solstice coupes with that engine. I was really pushing the development of that engine with GM Powertrain.
HPP: Was the G8 or GTO ever considered for a racing program?
JH: We never had plans to race the G8. However we did modify the GTO to fit in the SCCA T2 class. The work was done in GM's High Performance Vehicle Operations Division. They added better springs, bars, and bushings to the T2 package.
HPP: Was the SCCA T2 GTO very successful?
In April 2012, John competed in two back-to-back A/Sedan races at Virginia International R
JH: [It] won some national races [in its class], but never did well at the runoffs because the competitors were much lighter and handled better.
HPP: What do you consider to be your greatest contribution to Pontiac?
JH: … the success of the Solstice racing programs.
HPP: What do you consider to be your greatest contribution to General Motors?
JH: I think my greatest contribution was training young engineers. I pushed them to be the best they could be, and engineer vehicles to be the best rather than ... "good enough." To sum up, it's instilling the racing spirit into engineering to win, not just finish.