By Jeff Gilbert

AUBURN HILLS — (WWJ) Chrysler thinks racing is a great way to launch its new Dodge Dart small car.

The Dart will compete in the 2012 Global RallyCross championship.

The Dodge Caliber compact—now being phased out—didn’t lend itself to racing. But the Dart is built on the same platform as the sporty Alfa Romeo Guiletta.

“It’s a perfect time to get back in it, now that we have a credible offering in the segment,” said Ralph Gilles, who heads Chrysler’s SRT, Street and Racing Team.

Gilles said Chrysler has developed a special 600 horsepower version of the Dart that will be uniquely used in this racing series. It will be driving by veteran Travis Pastrana, who’s a four time Rally America champion.

Chrysler has developed special “SRT” performance versions of a number of vehicles, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chrysler 300. They haven’t decided if they are going to have an SRT version of the Dodge Dart.

“I think we’re gonna sit back and kinda take our time on this,” said Gilles. “We want to do it right the first time. We’ll learn a lot from the Global RallyCross series that we can maybe apply to a street car in the future. “

Production of the Dodge Dart has already begun at Chrysler’s Belvedere, Illinois plant. The vehicle will be in dealerships in May.

Dodge brand CEO Ried Bigland says they aren’t just racing the Dart for the fun of it. They want to make an impression on buyers who might not have considered the brand otherwise.

“At the end of the day, it’s an outlet for our competitive spirit, but it’s also a business. “


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