WENDOVER, Utah - When four female engineering students return to their college classrooms, they'll have a unique answer to the inevitable question, "How did you spend your summer vacation?"

They built a Bonneville racer.

The four young women participated in GM Performance Division's innovative Bonneville student project. This intensive 12-week internship gave the four an accelerated introduction to the science of speed while developing their engineering and organizational skills. The program focused on the design, construction and testing of a Cobalt SS targeted at the 160.103-mph speed record in G/GALT (G Class/Gas Altered Coupe). Not surprisingly, the program also fostered friendship and fun.

"This is the best internship I've ever had," said 22-year-old Tessa Russell, who is studying for her master's degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Missouri. "It's a great experience to come to Southern California and get hands-on experience working on a race car while we're learning about team dynamics and real-world engineering."

Russell's classmates in this fast-paced intern program are Sarah Jubenville, 20, a mechanical engineering student at Purdue University; Heather Chemistruck, 18, studying mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech; and Idalia Ovalle, 23, who will begin her post-graduate studies in mechanical engineering this fall at the University of Houston.

"We began this student project to get smart, young engineers excited about working at GM," said GM Performance Division Executive Director Mark Reuss. "There are great things happening at GM and throughout the automotive industry, and we have to make students aware of that."

The students' classrooms are as varied as the curriculum, stretching from GM's engineering laboratories in Warren, Mich., to California Street Rods in Huntington Beach, Calif., where the car was constructed. Testing was conducted at GM's Desert Proving Grounds in Mesa, Ariz., and the "final exam" takes place at the Bonneville Salt Flats during the 57th annual Speed Week on Aug. 13-19.

"This program was about four young women doing challenging engineering work on a very compressed schedule," said Michelle Burrows, GM Performance Division student projects manager. "The opportunity to run for a land speed record was an extra incentive. We wanted to give these young engineers a sense of GM's technical resources and our global vehicle development process. This project exposed them to the interesting things that engineers do at GM."

Each student was responsible for specific subsystems of the car. For example, Ovalle was in charge of the powertrain and Russell engineered the fuel and exhaust systems, powertrain mounts and aerodynamics. Jubenville was responsible for the interior, safety and communications, while Chemistruck designed the electrical and cooling systems.

"We're learning how these systems mesh together to create a total package," said Jubenville. "We're all working toward the same goal so we have to be in sync with what everyone else is doing. We've learned the importance of communication."

Ovalle agreed: "We're designing a complete car and looking at the interaction of the vehicle systems. I was initially focused on the powertrain, but I soon learned that the engine has to work with the cooling system, the fuel system, the exhaust system and all of the components that the other interns were engineering. You don't really appreciate that process until you do it."

Designing and constructing a race car in 12 weeks is a daunting assignment, but the interns had help along the way. Technical mentors from throughout GM volunteered their time to advise the students on where to find the answers to their questions.

"As a freshman, I have a lot to learn," said Chemistruck. "My technical mentors showed me the direction to take, but I still had to do the work myself. For example, my mentor on the electrical system wanted me to learn how the process worked, so he showed me what a GM engineer would do from step one. We designed the system, ran the wires for the harness and soldered the terminals. I gained both engineering and hands-on experience. It was amazing."

The Bonneville project also provided opportunities for the students to exercise their engineering imaginations. Ovalle devised an ingenious intercooler for the naturally aspirated 2-liter Ecotec engine that cools the intake charge with nitrogen, increasing horsepower in the hot, thin air at the Bonneville Salt Flats. While intercoolers are commonplace on turbocharged engines, this innovative application demonstrates the "outside-the-box" thinking that the Bonneville student project encourages.

Chuck Lombardo Jr. played a key role during the Cobalt's construction phase at California Street Rods. The son of company founder Chuck Lombardo Sr., he is a second-generation hot rodder and lifelong Bonneville enthusiast. Lombardo's talented crew employed their fabricating skills for specialized tasks such as welding the roll cage and molding the smooth front fascia.

"We've been passionate about hot rods and custom cars since my father started this business 30 years ago," said Lombardo Jr. "Our goal for this program was not only to build a fast, safe race car, but also to inject a little West Coast cool into the project.

"It was exciting to see four people with such enthusiasm working on the Cobalt," Lombardo added. "I'm stoked that GM Performance Division gave us this opportunity to work with these young engineers as a team to build such a neat vehicle. It was an educational experience for everyone, accomplished under a very tight deadline."

Part of that education was learning how to cope with bumps in the road.

"In the textbooks, engineering seems like a linear process, but in reality it sometimes works differently," Burrows said. "We had to make a last-minute change in the engine controller for the Bonneville car because the component we had originally specified wasn't suitable. The student had already done a lot of work on the first controller that couldn't be used, and that can be painful for a young engineer to accept. She learned that an engineer has to recover quickly from a setback and go to another design, exactly as you might need to do in a vehicle development program."

In addition to their engineering instruction, the students were trained in high-speed driving under controlled conditions at the GM Desert Proving Grounds. They may even have the opportunity to put their student project through its paces on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Whether the Cobalt ultimately sets a speed record is irrelevant, according to the student engineers.

"The journey is more important than the destination," said Russell. "A record would be nice, but the learning experience is much more important."

General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world's largest automaker, has been the global industry sales leader since 1931. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 317,000 people around the world. It has manufacturing operations in 32 countries and its vehicles are sold in 200 countries. In 2004, GM sold nearly 9 million cars and trucks globally, up 4 percent and the second-highest total in the company's history. GM's global headquarters are at the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit. More information on GM can be found at

Bonneville Student Project Cobalt Specifications

Body/chassis structure

tube-reinforced unibody

Body material:


Chassis material:





MacPherson strut


twist beam


custom w/ Moon discs

Tire size



25 x 4.5


26 x 4.5

Tire brand:

Goodyear Front Runners


4-wheel disc




2.0L Ecotec I-4

Engine displacement (cu. in / cc):

122 / 1998

Horsepower maximum (hp / kw):

270 / 201

Torque maximum (lb-ft / Nm)

179 / 248


5-speed manual MU3



Height (in / mm):

55 / 1400

Length (in / mm):

181 / 4595

Width (in / mm):

68 / 1730

Wheelbase (in / mm):

100 / 2540



Front/rear (in / mm):

60 /1524 front; 60 / 1524 rear

Weight (lbs / kg):

3121 / 1416