Corvette Racing: 2010 American Le Mans Series
After years of hard work and bitter, frustrating moments, Corvette Racing had ascended to the top in the GT1 field. Then, after scoring victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the team switched to GT2. In spite of finding a traffic jam filled with many other competitive GT2 competitors, Corvette Racing found victory early on. However, as the 2009 season wore on, the successes dwindled. Once again, Corvette Racing would have to roll up its sleeves and work hard to become a champion in the ultra-competitive GT2 field.
Since earning six GTS and GT1 class victories as Le Mans since 2001, 2010 would be the first full season for Corvette Racing in the GT2 category. The team announced it would take part in all nine rounds of the American Le Mans Series, plus, would return to Le Mans to battle the best GT2 competitors in the world.
Although the team had become incredibly successful in GT1, Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing's program manager, always kept the team's focus in perspective. 'While Corvette is truly a global brand, our most important market is North America. Our participation in the American Le Mans Series is both a proving ground for our technology and a showcase to demonstrate Corvette's capabilities for our customers and fans', Fehan would remark. Therefore, the move to GT2 was important. To be successful in a category that even more-closely resembled the Corvette streetcar would only help the Corvette brand name.
The driver lineup changed slightly heading into the season. Emmanuel Collard, a two-time Le Mans champion, had driven for the Cadillac LMP effort back in 2000 to 2002, and had garnered a good deal of GT2 experience during the years as well. Collard's resume reads like most of the other champion drivers Corvette Racing employs. He had earned multiple victories in the 12 Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Mans, as well as, the 24 Hours of Spa.
Fehan, welcoming Collard to the team would say, 'We are pleased to welcome Emmanuel back to the GM Racing family. He has proven his ability at all levels of racing, and he understands the demands and discipline of endurance racing. He will be a valuable addition to our international lineup of championship-winning drivers.'
An excited Collard would state, 'I'm very happy to join Corvette Racing for the 2010 endurance classics. Corvette has been the most successful car make and team in GT racing for over ten years now, so I'm obviously thrilled to be a part of this team…I hope my experience with GT2s from the past seasons can help Corvette secure class wins in the three endurance races.
Collard would join regular drivers Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta for the three long-distance races, the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Petit Le Mans. Corvette Racing would enter a second car during the season as well. The other car would be driven by Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen. They would be joined by Antonio Garcia for the long-distance races.
Adorned in its usual yellow and black livery, with its Michelin tires and Compuware sponsorship, the Corvette C6-R would be packed up and on its way to the first race of the season, the 12 Hours of Sebring.
In 2009, Corvette Racing cruised to victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring precisely because the only competition in the GT1 field was itself. The number 3 and 4 C6-Rs from Corvette Racing would do battle for bragging rights amongst the team, and not much else. The only goal the team had, except for finishing, would have been to try and clip one of the LMP2 or LMP1 class cars in the overall results. While they wouldn't beat any of the LMP cars still running, they would come home 1st and 2nd in class and 6th and 7th overall.
2010 would be vastly different. There would be no easy cruising this time for the team. They would have to be on it from the very start. Corvette Racing would end up being just one of eight teams to take part in the 2010 season and the 12 Hours of Sebring on the 20th of March.
In spite of the increased number of competitors in the GT2 class, Corvette Racing would still be amongst the fastest in class. Obviously, some of what the team had learned and built up in the GT1 category had managed to translate over into GT2.
Although the cars had the speed, it was found the new BMW GT2 competitor, and the Ferrari 430 of Risi Competizione, still managed to handle better, as well as have the speed, to be the fastest in the category on a rather regular basis. Qualifying would make it abundantly more clear any performance deficiencies amongst the field.
In qualifying, the BMWs were setting the pace. Ten minutes still remained in the session when Dirk Mueller turned what would be the fastest lap of the GT2 field when he would complete a lap of the 3.7 mile circuit in two minutes and seven-tenths of a second. Jorg Bergmeister, in the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche, would turn in the second-fastest time that was about four-tenths slower than Mueller's best. Wolf Henzler would be the third-fastest qualifier in the Team Falken Tire Porsche. The best of the Corvettes would be the number 3 car driven by Jan Mangnussen. His best time was half of a second slower than Mueller's, which would lead to the number 3 starting the race (provisionally) 16th overall and 5th in class. Oliver Gavin would turn a lap just three-tenths slower than Mangnussen, and therefore, would start (provisionally) 6th in class and 17th overall.
The key word in this equation was 'provisionally'. The number 90 BMW that had turned the fastest lap in qualifying would end up being sent to the back of the starting grid because it happened to fail a stall test. This stall test failure meant the car's time was excluded and the car was sent to the back. This meant everybody that qualified behind the number 90 car, which was the entire GT2 field would move up one position. This meant the number 45 Flying Lizard Porsche would start the race from the pole. The Corvette Racing's C6-Rs moved up to start 4th and 5th in class.
Taking place at what was an old bomber training base back during World War II, the 12 Hours of Sebring proves to be a severe test each and every year. The numerous bumps around what were the old concrete runways, pounds the cars and the drivers over the course of the 12 hours. Magnified by the numerous bumps, any mechanical problem within a car is sure to expose itself over the course of the race.
Although it began its life as a training base, Sebring began hosting races in 1950. Just two years later, the first 12 Hours of Sebring was held at the track. It had hosted Formula One just one time in its career, but 2010 would be the 58th running of the 12 hour event.
The start of the race would see the Corvettes hold station 4th and 5th in class. The battle in GT2, as usual, was rather tight. Within 15 minutes, the number 3 Corvette had managed to pass for 3rd in class. The number 4 car continued to run 5th. At the tail-end of the first hour, both of the Corvettes had managed to work their way forward and were running in the top-three.
Antonio Garcia had taken over behind the wheel of the number 3 Corvette around two hours into the race. In an effort to rejoin the fight as quickly as possible, Garcia would be caught for speeding in the pitlane and would have to serve a stop and go penalty for the infraction. This would end up costing the team in a big, and unfortunate, way. By the time Garcia had served the penalty, and had gotten back up to speed, he had ended up slipping all the way down to 29th overall and last in GT2. The number 4 Corvette continued to run inside, or near, the top-three.
Events would go from bad to a most embarrassing worst for Corvette Racing just three hours into the race. Three hours and eleven minutes into the race the majority of the GT2 class runners were making pitstops under green flag conditions. Tensions run high during these moments. Mistakes are easy to make. The worst kind of event would happen to the team during this time. During the pitstops, the two Corvettes would collide. The number 3 car had already been hit with a stop and go penalty. Because of tensions, and the resulting mistake, the number 4 car would suffer some damage, but more importantly, would suffer in the running order.
After some left-hand bodywork repairs, the number 3 Corvette was back on track. The number 4 car had already gotten back out on track but had fallen from the top-three in the class down to 26th overall. The darkness had come to Corvette Racing despite the fact it was only the middle of the afternoon.
Halfway through the race, the number 62 Ferrari 430 of Risi Competizione, driven by Jaime Melo, Gianmaria Bruni and Pierre Kaffer were in the lead over the number 92 Rahal Letterman Racing BMW. In 3rd was the number 45 Flying Lizard Porsche. By this time, the Corvettes had settled down and had begun to make their way back up the running order, slightly. The number 4 C6-R was running 19th overall and 10th in class while the number 3 car was 21st overall and 12th in class.
Three hours remaining in the race, the fight at the front of the GT2 field was joined by the other BMW. The two BMWs would set sail in pursuit of the Risi Ferrari in front of the class. By this time, both of the Corvettes had managed to get by all of the GTC Porsches but had become stuck at the trailing-edge of the GT2 field. Corvette Racing needed help from their competitors in order to continue to move forward.
With a little more than two hours remaining in the race, the number 3 Corvette had managed to get by its sister-car and was now running 16th overall and 9th in class. A half of an hour later, the Corvette team would get some help, but not as much as they would need to really make a move in the final two hours. The rear brakes on the 01 Ferrari 430, being driven by Scott Sharp, had caught fire. The fire had quickly moved to the bodywork. Sharp rapidly pulled over and the fire was put out. However, the race was over for the Extreme Speed Motorsports team. This helped to firmly establish both of the calamitous Corvettes back in the top-ten.
One minute remaining in the race, both of the BMWs were pushing hard. Dirk Mueller would push a little too hard as he would hit the tires at turn seventeen. He would be able to continue on, but would hand 2nd place to Dirk Werner in the number 92 sister-BWM.
At the end of the twelve hours of running, Jaime Melo would bring the Risi Competizione Ferrari 430 across the line to take the victory in GT2. The Risi Ferrari would finish having completed 331 laps, one more than the number 92 BMW for Rahal Letterman Racing. The number 90 BMW would finish the race 3rd, also down one lap.
After so much promise early on, Corvette Racing would overcome its self-destruction part-way through the race and would make it to the end of the event. The number 3 Corvette would finish 8th in class and 15th overall. The number 4 sister-car would finish 9th. Both cars would end up eleven laps down.
Were it not for the cataclysmic events that transpired rather early on in the race, Corvette Racing could have been challenging for a podium finish within the class. Instead, the team would have to quietly pack up and leave Sebring with a bitter taste in their mouths and an increased focus on pitstop execution.
The team would have about a month after its run-in at Sebring to work on pitstop execution and prepare for the season's next race, which as the American Le Mans Series at Long Beach on the 17th of April.
The second round of the American Le Mans Series took place on the streets of Long Beach in southern California. Easily recognizable for its turn eleven hairpin turn followed by the long curved straight that runs along Shoreline Drive, Long Beach has been the site of the longest running major street race throughout the whole of North America.
Host for many of the major racing series throughout its history, the circuit first hosted a race in 1975 and would serve as a round in the Formula One World Championship from 1976 through 1983. The American Le Mans Series first started coming to Long Beach in 2007 and has had only one repeat winner in either class throughout that time. The only repeat winners were Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta for Corvette Racing while they ran in the GT1 class. In fact, Corvette Racing had a record to uphold coming into the race. The team had earned three-straight victories at the race, albeit in GT1. In their most demanding test, the team would have to try and keep the streak alive.
It was quite clear throughout practice that while Corvette was still fast around the tight 1.96 mile circuit, the team would definitely have some tough competition in which it had to contend. In all of the practice sessions, Corvette Racing would only have one of its cars in the top-three of the GT class in one of those practice sessions.
In the early evening hours of Friday the GT and GTC cars rolled out for their twenty minute qualifying session. Olivier Beretta and Johnny O'Connell were both fast for the team in the number 4 and 3 C6-Rs. However, with still more than ten minutes remaining, Jaime Melo would turn the fastest lap in the number 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari. His time would crack the one minute and twenty second mark. Wolf Henzler would qualify 2nd in the GT class with a time six-tenths of a second slower. Johnny O'Connell would put a Corvette in the top-three on the GT starting grid with a lap time just two-tenths slower than Henzler's. Olivier Beretta's best time was only one hundredth of a second slower than Patrick Long's best. As a result, the number 4 Corvette would start the race 4th in class and 16th overall.
The race at Long Beach was slightly different than the more normal American Le Mans Series events. Instead of a timed two hour and forty-five minute race, the race at Long Beach is short, only 100 minutes. This means any miscues in the pits, or out on the track, would severe hinder chances of success. In addition to the time pressure, the pit boxes at Long Beach are not all that long. In many cases, a car finished service would have to be pulled back in order to clear a car in front. The time it takes to pull the car back could allow the car in front the necessary time needed to still pull out ahead, perhaps despite coming in behind the other.
At 4:41 in the late afternoon the green flag flew to start the race. Henzler would manage to get around the Risi Ferrari on the 1st lap of the race and would lead throughout the first-third of the race. The two Corvettes would hold station at the start in 3rd and 5th.
Throughout the first half of an hour, Henzler would lead in the Falken Tire Porsche over Bruni in the number 62 Risi Ferrari. The number 3 Corvette continued to run in 3rd and the number 4 ran 5th. However, the bumpy street circuit would take its toll on the number 4 car during the first forty-five minutes of the race.
Riding over the bumps and touching other GT traffic the front of the Corvette had some loose bodywork. Beretta would come into the pits to let Gavin take over, and to let the crew have a chance at pulling some of the loose bodywork off of the car. This would take some time and it would end up dropping the car all the way down to 21st overall and 9th in class.
A yellow flag would come out fifty minutes into the race. This would be the best, and the worse, time to come in and pit. The first-six runners in the GT field would all come into the pits together. The number 3 Corvette had come in in 3rd place. It and the number 17 Falken Tire Porsche would get delayed in the pits and would drop down the order.
The number 92 Rahal Letterman Racing BMW had come into the pits ten minutes prior, and therefore, would take the lead in GT. The slow stops for the number 3 Corvette and the number 17 Porsche would see them re-emerge on the track outside of the top-three. Jan Magnussen would be sitting 5th. Bryan Sellers, in the number 17 Porsche would come out in 6th after having led all but one of the laps up until the safety car period.
Things would just keep getting worse for the number 4 Corvette. About four minutes after the race went back to green, Gavin would have to bring the C6-R down the pitlane and into the Corvette pit-box. He had a mirror issue that would cause the mirror to need to be replaced. This would further drop the number 4 down to 24th overall and 10th in class.
Ever since emerging from the pitstop, Magnussen had been lurking right behind Bruni's number 62 Ferrari. He would remain right there over the course of the next twenty minutes. But then, with thirteen minutes remaining, Jan would get by Bruni for 3rd in GT and would next set his sights on the number 92 Rahal Letterman BMW.
Magnussen pushed incredibly hard in the closing minutes of the race. Seven minutes left in the race, Jan would push the C6-R hard and would be all-over the number 92 BMW. With only three minutes remaining in the race, Magnussen had found his opening. He would end up being able to get by Milner in the BMW and take over 2nd place.
Patrick Long would manage to hold on in the Flying Lizard Porsche to take the win by four seconds over Jan Magnussen in the number 3 Corvette. Tommy Milner, in the number 92 BMW would end up finishing the race 3rd. After all of its troubles, the number 4 Corvette would finish the race 18th overall and 9th in class, two laps down to the top-three.
This was a tremendous result for the team after the lost time in the pitstop. Magnussen pushed hard in the effort coming back from 5th to finish 2nd. The ability to come back from a setback in such a short amount of time boded well for the team as they would head, with the rest of the series, further north to Monterey in a little over a month.
After a break of a little over a month, Corvette Racing was at Laguna Seca preparing its cars for the third round of the American Le Mans Series Championship.
Moved from its usual late-season spot on the calendar, the 2010 Monterey Sports Car Championships would also boast of another change. 2010 would be the first time in which the race would extend into the darkness at Laguna Seca as the length of the race was increased to six hours.
The Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca had been constructed in 1957 and first hosted a race that same year. Famous for its 'Corkscrew', the 2.23 mile circuit had been a stop on the ALMS calendar since 1999. The circuit features a number of elevation changes throughout, but none as spectacular as the drop through the corkscrew and down 175 feet to the start/finish straight.
Except 2006, the Corvette Racing team had dominated at Laguna Seca in the GT1 category. Over the course of the previous five seasons, Corvette Racing had managed to win four of the races held at Monterey. But 2009 was different. In its first season in GT2, the team managed a 2nd place with O'Connell and Magnussen. Still, this was a good result considering it was the team's first time in the GT2 category at Laguna Seca. In addition, it was only the fifth race in which Corvette Racing had competed in GT2!
Thirty-five cars would be entered for the six hour race. This was the largest field for any racing series at Monterey in a decade. Being that the race would be six hours in length, each of the crews for the cars would be tested as each team would make more than the average number of driver changes. The drivers and the crews would have to be as fast as possible so as not to cost themselves too much time.
Throughout practice, neither one of the Corvettes were in the top-three for lap times around the 2.23 mile circuit. However, qualifying would be a different story.
Perhaps not showing their true hand, both of the Corvettes would be fast during the twenty minute qualifying session. But then, within the first ten minutes of the session, the speed of the Ferrari 430 became quite clear.
Jaime Melo would turn in the fastest lap of the entire GT field and would capture the pole. Melo's best time was only three-tenths of a second faster than Johannes van Overbeek in the Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari 430. Just one minute before Melo would set the pole time, Gavin had just turned the fastest lap in the number 4 Corvette. Gavin would end up starting 3rd in class having set a time half of a second slower than Melo. Jan Magnussen would be right there in the other Corvette. His best time during qualifying was exactly one-tenth slower than Gavin's. Therefore, the number 3 Corvette would start 4th in class and 16th overall.
Being only one month away from the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Monterey offered the team one last chance to get the speed and reliability it would need in order to compete successfully across the Atlantic. But it was also a time to work out any other 'bugs' that may come the team's way. This would include mistakes. It would be better for the team to make the mistakes at Monterey than at Le Mans.
Seeing as the race would be six hours, it would be important to be fast, but just as important to get into a comfortable pace in which the mistakes would be reduced to a minimum. Therefore, the two Corvettes would hold station in 3rd and 4th in class throughout the first twenty-five minutes. In spite of the incredible competition, the two Corvettes would run together to make sure it was more difficult for the competition to get by.
The running order would remain virtually unchanged throughout the course of the first forty-five minutes. But then, forty-five minutes in Magnussen would get by Gavin to take over 3rd. Magnussen wouldn't stop there. Fifty-eight minutes into the race, Jan was only down two-tenths of a second to Jaime Melo who was in the lead in GT.
Through the first two hours of the race, both of the Corvettes were running inside the top-five in GT. The number 3 Corvette was running in the 2nd place position while the number 4 was in 5th.
While the race was important to the championship fight within GT for the American Le Mans Series, the race was also important for ironing out the wrinkles before the team headed to France. Two hours into the race, the 2nd place running number 3 Corvette would hit a big wrinkle. After having already come in for a pitstop, the number 3 C6-R had to return, but for a stop and go penalty for running over the sister-car's air hose. This would drop the car to 15th overall and 7th in class.
Thankfully for the team, things would calm down. Its two cars would carry on and would end up being amongst the top-four within just a few minutes. The two Corvettes would run 3rd and 4th over the course of the next hour. Then, during another yellow flag period, both cars would come in to pit and change drivers. Other competitors would not. This shuffled the Corvettes down to 6th and 7th in the GT running order.
Over the course of the next hour, Magnussen would battle hard and would be inside the top-three by the time there were only two hours remaining in the race. Then, as the result of pits stops made by competitors, Jan had brought the number 3 Corvette back from the earlier setback all the way to the lead of the GT field.
Oliver Gavin wasn't to be outdone by Magnussen. Four and a half hours into the race, Gavin had managed to get by Magnussen, who had given up the lead of the GT race to Patrick Long. Then, four hours and thirty-eight minutes into the race, Gavin would manage to get by Long for the lead in the category.
Gavin would lead for the next half hour. But then, with only about fifty-five minutes remaining, Patrick Long would manage to get by in the Flying Lizard Porsche and retake the lead of the GT race. The number 3 Corvette, with Magnussen at the wheel, also began to fade as Jan was running 5th.
Only forty minutes remained in the race. After making his last stop of the race, Gavin was pushing like mad to get on the podium, or better. Just ten minutes before eight in the evening, Gavin would flash through the deepening darkness to turn the fastest lap of the race for the GT field. He would lap the circuit in one minute and twenty-three seconds. This would help him take over 3rd when the number 92 BMW made a pitstop. Magnussen was also back on the charge and running 4th.
A yellow flag would come out with only fifteen minutes left in the race. This was a welcome yellow for many of the teams, including Corvette, as fuel would have been an issue had it stayed green. This put tremendous pressure on the pit crews.
Gavin would get in and out without incident and would remain in 3rd position behind the Rahal Letterman Racing BMW number 90 and the Flying Lizard Porsche number 45. The number 3 Corvette would end up hitting another of those wrinkles during the yellow flag period. Magnussen had brought the car in while the pits were apparently closed. As a result of working on the car during the closed pit period, Magnussen would have to come back into the pits when the race went back green. In addition to having to come back into the pits, Magnussen would be held for one minute before being released to go back out on track. This error would cost the number 3 team. As a result of the penalty, Magnussen would drop from 4th in class to 7th.
Coming back to the green flag with only twelve minutes remaining, Gavin was sitting in 3rd position and right behind 1st and 2nd place. Patrick Long would dive to the inside coming through the final left-hander to take the lead going into turns one and two. Gaving would not press the issue too much and would slot into 3rd.
Four minutes remaining in the race, Gavin trailed Joey Hand in the number 90 BMW by only about a second. A second and a half separated Hand and Long. However, the battle for the lead was far from over. On the last lap of the race, coming up to the corkscrew, Long would get a little loose. This allowed Hand to catch right up. Hand was all over Long coming through the last set of sweeping corners. Long would end up making it through the last turn better and would beat Hand to the line by just three-tenths of a second. Gavin would choose to finish instead of trying to fight for a better position and risk making a mistake. Gavin would finish 3rd, down a little over two and a half seconds to Long and Hand. As a result of the late penalty incurred, Magnussen would bring the number 3 Corvette across the line in 6th.
Even though the 6th place for the number 3 Corvette was disappointing, and the fact remained the team had made some mistakes throughout the course of the race, the team could still take away many positive results from the race. They had overcome the penalties and the mistakes to finish rather well. Gavin's pace over the course of the final hour also showed the car had the pace to compete with the world's best in one month's time.
That was it. In less than a month, Corvette Racing would be back in Le Mans. The team would arrive as returning champions, but would have to prepare to do battle around the Circuit de la Sarthe in the GT2 category for the very first time.
Le Mans, France in June: time for the most famous endurance race in the world. The last time Corvette Racing had made the trip across the Atlantic it had been a very successful journey.
The trio of Johnny O'Connell, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia ended up beating another Corvette C6-R for Luc Alphand Aventures by six laps to take the victory in GT1. The trio would be back. Emmanuel Collard would again join Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta in the other Corvette.
Often teams going to Le Mans will hold back slightly throughout the course of the season prior to the race so as not to incur any performance limitation for the famed race on its high-speed circuit. hold back until qualifying. Many teams had been known to hold back until Le Mans as well, so as not to incur any kind of performance limitation prior. Certainly, this argument could be raised concerning Corvette Racing.
The previous year, while competing in GT1, the Corvette C6-R was hitting speeds down the Mulsanne in excess of 183 mph. Despite having to switch from a 7.0-liter V8 engine, the new 5.5-liter engine was still managing to push the GT2 Corvette down the straight within a mile of an hour or so of the speeds they were turning the year before! In fact, in many cases, Corvette's cars were beating the top-end speeds of the more-powerful GT1 cars! This minimal loss of performance would help the team during qualifying for the 24 hour classic.
Of course, the Circuit de la Sarthe is not all about speed. There are some very technically challenging sections where handling and stability is of greater importance than sheer out-right speed. One of these important areas would be the Porsche Curves. Any deficiencies the Corvette had compared to the competition would reveal itself through such technical areas as the Porsche Curves.
Sure enough, on the first day of qualifying, the Risi Competizione Ferrari 430 of Melo, Bruni and Kaffer would turn in a lap time of three minutes and fifty-nine seconds. The number 63 Corvette was closest to this time, but was slower by eight-tenths of a second. However, the time would end up not standing for Risi.
Going through scrutineering, it was found the wing on the Risi Ferrari failed to meet inspection parameters. Therefore, the time earned was thrown out and the car was sent to the back of the grid as a result of the infraction. This gave an open door to Corvette Racing to use its performance advantage to good use.
The number 64 team would take full advantage of the opportunity and would turn in the fastest lap on the second day of qualifying. His best time was three minutes, fifty-nine seconds and four-tenths. The number 63 crew would also turn a lap in the fifty-nines, but seven-tenths. Interestingly, both of the Corvettes were on the verge of laps of three minutes and fifty-eight seconds until traffic and other events slowed their times. Had they been able to turn laps in the fifty-eights they would have been turning the same lap times as the GT1 Corvettes! No matter, Corvette Racing would start the 78th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans from the first-two positions in GT2. Overall, Corvette Racing's cars would start 37th and 38th.
First run in 1923, the Circuit de la Sarthe's 8.46 layout is one of the few longer distance courses that still follows the same route as used from the very early days. While changed and evolved in the name of safety, much of the present circuit remains the same as that which has been contested for three-quarters of a century. Such is the fame of the circuit that to mention just some of the names associated with it, like Dunlop Curve, Mulsanne, Arnage and Tetre Rouge, would immediately be recognizable almost all over the world.
Throughout its first half of its life, Le Mans was much more about reliability than sheer speed. The really fast cars had a tendency to break over the course of 24 hours, while the slightly slower, more reliable, cars would go on to victory. However, over the course of the last fifteen years, the reliability of all of the cars in the field had gotten to such a point the event had almost naturally shifted into a sprint race throughout. As a result, every drive is hard on the gas right from the very start of the race. This would bring reliability back into the picture.
Starting from the front for the race Corvette would have an advantage as neither of its cars would have to deal with the tight battle in GT2, especially if they could use its speed advantage to stretch the gap over the rest of the field. So, right from the start of the clock and the waving of the French flag, the two Corvettes driven by Gavin and Magnussen were on the power.
Running together on the circuit, the two Corvettes were able to get by some of the GT1 entries and actually had an advantage of a few seconds over the Felbermayr Porsche and some other of the GT2 entries. Throughout the first quarter of the race the two Corvettes ran 1st and 2nd in GT2.
Then, going into the sixth hour of the race, an intense battle developed between the number 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari and the leading Corvette, car 64. Over the course of a number of laps the two would trade the lead back and forth. Then, in the midst of the battle, the Ferrari developed gearbox trouble that would allow Oliver Gavin to get by and set sail with the lead once again.
As the day turned into night, the Corvettes continued to run strong. In spite of the darkness and the fatigue it seemed the light was shining on Corvette. The team looked unbeatable, even though it was their first time in the GT2 category at Le Mans.
As dawn broke, Corvette continued to run in the lead in the GT2 class. Believing the hard part of the race was behind them, the drivers and the rest of the team strained toward the finish at three in the afternoon on Sunday. However, just as all seemed bright, trouble visited the number 64 Corvette.
In the morning hours on Sunday, the number 63 car would go off into the gravel trap. The car would end up being pulled out and get back on its way. However, it would lose a lap to its sister-car and would only have half a lap lead over one of the Porsches following in 3rd. Although the car would overcome the trip through the gravel, another problem would end its run entirely. Not too long after getting back on its way, the car's engine broke while Garcia was behind the wheel.
Though the sister-car was out of the race, the number 64 continued to run strong up at the front of the GT2 field. Then, only about an hour after the troubles struck the number 63 car, a tragic encounter would cost the 64 car as well.
In spite of having superior performance the Peugeot 908s got behind the Audis in the running for the overall lead in the race. This would motivate some of the Peugeot drivers to push hard in the remaining quarter of the race. Running lap times near that of qualifying pace, the tendency was there for the aggressive driving to catch out some of the other competitors. Unfortunately, the leading Corvette would demonstrate this fact quite clearly.
As the early dawn hours turned into late morning, Emmanuel Collard was behind the wheel of the sole C6-R for Corvette Racing. He was looking good and was driving a flawless race. The Peugeots were not having the perfect race, however. In an attempt to climb back up to the overall lead of the race, Anthony Davidson was running lap times near to those his car recorded in qualifying.
Not wanting to back down for one moment, Davidson was flying. Quickly he caught up to Collard going through the Porsche Curves which is generally considered to only have one fast line for all of the classes. To go wide through the curves could spell disaster as there would be little grip. Coming through the last set of sweeping curves, Davidson was rapidly catching up to Collard, who was on the racing line. Davidson made his move and forced Collard out wide. Collard was out where there was little to no grip and would end up sliding off the track and hitting the Armco barrier hard with the rear of the car. This spun the car around leaving it facing the wrong way.
After a good deal of time lost trying to get the car facing the right way, Collard would limp the car back to the pits where the Corvette Racing crew would go to work pulling off the destroyed bodywork and replacing it with all-new bodywork pieces. In twenty-five minutes the crew had managed to rebuild and re-fire the car and sent it back on its way.
At the seventeen hour mark, the number 64 Corvette was running 15th overall and leading the GT2 class. The car was running so well it was beating a number of LMP2 teams and was in front of every single GT1 entry. However, the questionable move by Davidson, who wasn't in the lead in LMP1, would end up costing the Corvette the lead in GT2 and dropped the car down to 22nd overall.
Once back on track, Gavin would take his frustrations out on the track. He would begin turning laps faster than what he had ended up putting in during qualifying. The frustration; however, would soon turn to absolute bitter disappointment.
Just before ten in the morning, problems, of more of a terminal nature, would strike. While flying around the Circuit de la Sarthe, the Corvette suddenly began to slow and smoke began pouring out from the front of the car. An engine problem would end the race for the number 64 C6-R and Corvette Racing on a whole.
To be riding so high throughout two-thirds of the 24 hour race, and then, to be dropped so low so fast, was an absolute heartbreak for the team. Corvette Racing was the team to beat, but unfortunately, circumstances would end up beating them. In spite of the bitter disappointment, the team could still hold their head up high considering how well they did perform when the problems did descend upon the team. But it also made the future, especially for the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans, look incredibly bright.
Though Corvette was out of the race, the event was still not concluded. Five hours of racing still loomed ahead of the other GT2 competitors. Corvette's failure would hand the lead to the number 77 Team Felbermayr Proton Porsche. He was being chased by the AF Corse Ferrari 430 driven by ex-Formula One drivers Jean Alesi and Giancarlo Fisichella, along with Toni Vilander.
Two hours remaining in the race, Felbermayr Proton still led, but in 2nd place was the Hankook Team Farnbacher Ferrari. In 3rd place was the BMS Scuderia Italia SpA team. AF Corse had slipped down to 4th in class.
At the end of 24 hours, the number 77 Felbermayr Proton Porsche driven by Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz and Wolf Henzler would win the GT2 category by two laps over Hankook Team Farnbacher. Finishing between the 2nd place Hankook Team and the 3rd place finishers in GT2 would be the 1st of the GT1 teams. BMS Scuderia Italia SpA would finish the race 3rd in GT2, eleven laps behind the Felbermayr Proton team.
A little less than a month after the incredible high, and deepest low at Le Mans, Corvette Racing, and the American Le Mans Series was back on track making its way through the rest of the season.
The fourth round of the American Le Mans Series took place about 6,000 miles away from Le Mans. The race was the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix and it was held on the 4.48 mile road course at Miller Motorsports Park near Toole, Utah.
Opened in 2006, the full course became the longest circuit in North America beating out Road America in Wisconsin. At an elevation over 4,000 feet, the air is thin and the normally aspirated engines struggle to produce their full potential. Those engines that are turbocharged, or have forced induction, can use the long front stretch to reach speeds of 200 mph before needing to brake for Sunset Bend, or, what is turn one. Featuring some very colorful names for its corners, including Demon, Indecision, Gotcha, Mabey Y'll Makit, Windup and Release, the Miller Motorsports circuit is a technically demanding circuit. The first year in which the track opened it played host to the American Le Mans Series
Built at a cost of $100 million dollars, the motorsports park boasts an on-site medical facility, vintage car museum and a five-million dollar Club House. The large track is located on mostly sandy ground and features the Oquirrh Mountains as its scenic backdrop.
Speed differentials between just the normally-aspirated and turbocharged LMP machines were quite staggering. At the end of the straight, there was as much as 20 mph difference. This meant the speed differential between those turbocharged LMP prototypes and the GT cars would also be quite staggering.
In qualifying, neither of Corvette Racing's machines could quite match the pace of its competitors. Gianmaria Bruni would take the number 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari and turn the fastest lap of the GT field. Within just a few minutes of the start of the qualifying session Bruni would turn in a lap of one minute, forty-seven and six-tenths seconds. This time would just beat out Johannes van Overbeek for Extreme Speed Motorsports who would turn in a lap time just one-tenth slower than Bruni. The second Risi Ferrari, driven by Toni Vilander, would qualify with the third-fastest time.
The best of the Corvettes would be Olivier Beretta in the number 4 C6-R. He would complete a lap in one minute and forty-eight seconds. This time was four-tenths of a second slower than Bruni's best and would leave the number 4 Corvette starting the race from 18th overall and 7th in GT. Johnny O'Connell would be just two-tenths slower than Beretta, and therefore, would start 19th overall and 8th in GT.
Prior to the start of the race, the second Risi Ferrari, number 61, would be sent to the back of the grid due to a ride-height infraction. This would move those who qualified worse than 3rd in GT up one spot even before the race started.
Coming down the long front stretch to get the green flag to start the race, the Robertson Racing, number 40 Ford GT, entry would get a great jump and would manage to separate the Corvettes over the course of the 1st lap of the race. This was just the beginning of troubles for Corvette on the day.
Only one lap into the race, the number 4 Corvette would immediately drop from 16th overall. It would get passed by all of the GT runners, including its number 3 sister-car. Beretta would weave and wiggle the car back-and-forth trying in earnest to get power to return to the car. Unfortunately, the car would become stranded along the side of the road while Beretta tried recycling switches in an effort to overcome the obvious electrical problems the car was having.
Beretta would manage to get the car re-fired and back to the pits. Once in the pits it was found the car had a loose plug that shut down the fuel pressure. Taking the time to find the problem would cost the car a lap and would drop Olivier well back. Once back on his way, Beretta would find himself sitting dead-last in the field. Thus began the car's long haul back up through the field.
Over the course of the first hour, of the two hour and forty-five minute race, the number 3 Corvette would remain just inside the top-five in GT. The number 92 BMW of Rahal Letterman Racing, driven by Tommy Milner, would take the lead after staying out while many of the other top running cars pitted during an early yellow flag period.
As the race went back to green, and stayed green for the next half hour, the number 4 car had to tough duty of trying to claw its way back up to the leaders in the GT class. As the yellow flag flew again fifty minutes into the race, the number 4 had only managed to make its way up to 32nd overall and 12th in class. The number 3 Corvette was running well in the 3rd position behind the number 92 BMW of Rahal Letterman Racing and the number 62 Ferrari of Risi Competizione.
Over the next hour of the race, the number 3 Corvette continued to run in 3rd place behind the number 62 Risi Ferrari and the 92 BMW for Rahal Letterman Racing. By this time as well, the number 4 Corvette had managed to make his way forward to 20th overall and 10th in class.
Going into the final forty-five minutes, the number 3 Corvette continued to run in 3rd place in GT, while the number 4 had managed to make its way up to 19th overall and 10th in class. Unfortunately for the number 3 Corvette, they would be served with a penalty for their pitstop. The stop and go penalty given to the number 3 Corvette was for running over equipment in the pits and would cause the car to fall down to 5th in GT. This would enable the number 45 Flying Lizard Porsche to take over 3rd place while the number 90 BMW would also come forward and come up to 4th.
In spite of the penalty, the number 3 Corvette, with Magnussen behind the wheel, would get back up to speed and would be back on the hunt trying to make up for the costs due to the penalty. Magnussen would fight hard and would come back from dropping down to 5th in class. A late puncture on the 45 Porsche would allow Magnussen to move forward. Then, Jan would end up being able to get by the number 90 BMW for 3rd.
The number 62 Risi Ferrari was unaffected by the battle going on behind them as their lead was quite significant. The Risi Ferrari would go on to take the victory at the end of the two hours and forty-five minute race. The number 92 BMW for Rahal Letterman Racing would hold on to finish 2nd. Magnussen would stretch out his advantage and would comfortably beat the number 90 BMW.
The early fuel pressure problems for the number 4 Corvette would hurt them over the course of the race. As with the first couple of races, mistakes could cost a team in a huge way. The mistake of not making sure the plug for the fuel pressure would end up costing the number 4. The number 4 would end up finishing the race in 19th overall and 10th in the GT class.
If Corvette Racing could manage to keep from committing simple mistakes the team had proven throughout the course of the season it had the speed to be at the top of the GT field. At the next round of the ALMS it would be very important to commit no mistakes. Lime Rock Park is fast and short. Even a regular pitstop under green flag conditions costs a team a lap. Therefore, a little mistake could cost a team dearly.
Corvette Racing had managed to overcome so trouble and a late-minute penalty to have one of its cars finish on the podium in Utah. After the celebrations, the team packed up and headed across the country to Lime Rock Park, in western Connecticut.
Touted as the 'Road Racing Center of the East', Lime Rock Park first opened in 1957. The 1.53 mile circuit follows the natural terrain around the area and consists of a number of elevation changes and blind corners. Unique in motorsports, Lime Rock Park features no grandstand seating and has more of a park-like feel than a motorsports venue. A site for many different road racing series, Lime Rock, at one time was considered the home track for Paul Newman when he had his own Newman-Haas Racing Team.
At only a mile and a half, lap times around the circuit are blindingly quick for all classes. The prototype cars are capable of turning in lap times, on a dry track, of under a minute. The GT field, also because of the nature of the circuit, turn in lap times not all that much slower.
Lime Rock would be a slippery one. Rain would fall throughout the practice sessions. The intensity of the rain would vary as well making it tough on the drivers. It seemed just about everyone had a moment where they spun a car around. Gavin would spin the number 4 Corvette during one of the practice sessions. In spite of the spin, Gavin would prove to be one of the fastest in the GT field.
All was not well for the number 4 Corvette, however. During one of the practice sessions the car would suffer from a broken drive shaft and would require being towed back to the paddock for repairs. Speaking of the troubles, Beretta would comment, 'Suddenly the car went sideways and the wheel went out of the car. It was strange but there is so much water that you don't know what is wrong, and then boom, something broke. I didn't want to smash the car so I stopped the car. It was not the time to make a stupid move.'
In qualifying, the rain continued to fall, but had lessened to a degree. The Corvette crew would go to work repairing the number 4 Corvette, and immediately, Gavin would turn the fastest lap in qualifying just one minute into the session. Just three minutes into the session, both of the Corvettes managed to turn laps of one minute and five seconds, or, even faster. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.
Patrick Long would lap the circuit in one minute, three and nine-tenths seconds. This would end up being four-tenths faster than Wolf Henzler in the Falken Tire Porsche. Jaime Melo, in the number 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari would set the third-fastest time in qualifying with a time just two hundredths of a second slower than Henzler.
Jan Magnussen would turn the fastest lap of the Corvettes. He would start 4th in GT with a time two-tenths slower than Melo's time. Oliver Gavin's best time would end up being just good enough to start 6th in GT. Overall, the two Corvettes would start 12th and 14th.
The race began at two in the afternoon with air temperatures well into the middle-90s. The track was dry, but it appeared rain was on its way from upstate New York.
All of the cars managed to make it through turn one alright, but one of the LMPC cars would go off the track at turn three. At the end of the 1st lap, both of the Corvettes were running around the top-five. The number 3 was running 4th while the number 4 was in 6th in GT.
Twenty-five minutes into the race, Melo took the number 62 Ferrari hard into the tires at turn one. Another couple cars would also have trouble; therefore, bringing out the yellow for the second time. This enabled both of the Corvettes to move up to 3rd and 4th in GT.
When the race went back to green, Beretta was under attack from the two BMWs, which had proven to be quite fast over the course of the weekend. Beretta would end up getting passed by both going into turn one. To add insult to the injury, Beretta would be served with a penalty for blocking. He would have to come into the pits for a stop and go.
It wasn't raining, but it sure seemed that way for Corvette Racing. No more than two minutes after Beretta served his penalty in the number 4 Corvette, the number 3 Corvette, driven by O'Connell, would end up coming together with a GTC Porsche out on the track. The result would be that the number 3 would have rear end damage and the car was slowing out on the course. The troubles would end up dropping the car all the way down to 25th overall. The number 4 car had managed to overcome the stop and go penalty and was back up to 5th overall an hour into the race.
Two hours into the race, the number 3 Corvette was out of the race and the number 4 was running 5th in class. The two BMWs were out in front being chased by the number 45 Flying Lizard Porsche and the number 61 Risi Ferrari.
After some trouble with traffic, Patrick Long managed to take the lead in GT and was ahead of the number 92 BMW by two seconds with only five minutes remaining in the race. The number 90 BMW was in 3rd place. The number 4 Corvette was still stuck behind the number 61 Risi Competizione Ferrari in 5th place.
At the end of the race, Long would take the win in the Flying Lizard Porsche over Auberlen in the number 92 BMW. Joey Hand would make it two BMWs on the podium after finishing the race 3rd. The number 4 Corvette would end the disappointing race two laps down in 5th place in GT.
After another disappointing race for the team, the Corvette Racing team would have only two weeks before its next race and another chance to right the ship.
The American Le Mans Series would leave Connecticut and back-track west a few hundred miles to Mid-Ohio for the Mid-Ohio Sport Car Challenge on the 7th of August.
Mid-Ohio is another favorite venue for the ALMS series, its drivers and teams. Refurbished over the years, the 2.25 mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course features some blind corners and elevation changes, but also one long straight that allows the prototype cars to reach speeds greater than 180 mph before braking for the up and down turn four and five complex. Opened in 1962, sports cars and prototypes had been coming to the circuit, off-and-on, since the early 1990s.
In 2009, Corvette Racing made its GT2 debut at Mid-Ohio. Prior to the change in classes, Corvette Racing had owned Mid-Ohio. One of the team's drivers, Johnny O'Connell, had managed to score five victories at Mid-Ohio over the course of just one decade. In fact, he had the most number of victories at Mid-Ohio than any other driver in any other class.
Over the course of the practice sessions, Corvette Racing would pull from their years of GT1 dominance and would have both of its cars amongst the three-fastest in the GT field. But then, in qualifying, things changed.
Both of the Corvettes were fast in qualifying right away and throughout the first-half of the twenty minute session. However, with ten minutes remaining, Toni Vilander would lap the 2.25 mile circuit the fastest. He would take and wield the number 61 Risi Ferrari around the circuit in one minute and nineteen seconds. Vilander would be joined at the front of the GT field by its Risi sister-car, the number 62 driven by Gianmaria Bruni. Bruni's time was only eight hundredths of a second slower. Oliver Gavin would put the number 4 Corvette 3rd in the GT field with a time just three-tenths slower than Vilander. The number 3 Corvette, driven by Jan Magnussen, would only be seven-hundredths of a second slower than Gavin and would start 4th.
Under mostly sunny skies, the race got underway. Both of the Corvettes would hold station 3rd and 4th in GT. In the opening laps, the field was incredibly tight between the LMPC cars and the first of the GT runners. This kept everything bunched up. Very quickly, O'Connell came under pressure from the two BMWs. The number 90 would end up getting around O'Connell taking over 4th place.
Through the first forty-five minutes of the race the two Risi Ferraris ran 1st and 2nd. The number 4 Corvette driven by Beretta would run 3rd and the number 3 Corvette, with O'Connell at the wheel ran 5th.
After a safety car period forty-seven minutes into the race, the number 4 Corvette had managed to make its way up to 2nd behind the number 92 Rahal Letterman BMW, which had used a great pitstop to leap further forward in the running order. The number 3 Corvette also was running an impressive race in 3rd.
An hour and ten minutes into the race, things started to go bad for the number 3 Corvette. Only about a dozen laps after its first pitstop, the number 3 Corvette would have to come back into the pits to have water added. But then, only two laps later, the car would be back on pit road. This time the car would be taken behind the wall. Seven minutes later it would be announced: the number 3 Corvette was officially retired from the race due to a radiator problem.
The failure left Corvette's hopes squarely on the shoulders of the number 4 car. In contrast to its sister-car, it was running great. It was running 2nd behind the number 92 BMW, but was pressuring hard. Then, an hour and a half into the race, Gavin would get around Auberlen for the lead in the GT class. Gavin would lead for the next twenty minutes until the safety car appeared again just before the two hour mark in the race.
The top-five would all come to the pits at the same time. Gavin would lead them down the pit lane. After service Gavin would emerge in 5th place. When the race went back to green, Jaime Melo would pass Auberlen for the lead in class. Gavin was stuck in 5th place.
Neither of the BMWs had pitted during the yellow. As a result, their tires were much more worn than many of the competitors. As a result, Gavin would get by both of the BMWs and would be running 2nd behind the Risi Ferrari number 62 with only twenty minutes remaining in the race.
Gavin was tucked right up under Melo's rear wing when the other Risi Ferrari would spin with another Ferrari 430 to bring out a late caution. This would tighten the field back up once again.
As the race went back to green, only ten minutes remained in the race. With less than five minutes left, Gavin was only three-tenths behind Melo and charging hard. After all of the difficulties the team had been facing over the course of the season it seemed Gavin would choose discretion.
Melo would end up holding off Gavin to take the win. Gavin seemed to back off slightly as he would end up half of a second behind at the finish despite being less than a tenth at more than one point in the later going. The number 92 Rahal Letterman Racing BMW would end up finish the race 3rd.
This was a good result for the team after the early disappointment due to the number 3 car retiring with a radiator problem. The 2nd place also helped the team to solidify its position amongst the top-five in the GT standings. With the conclusion of the race it was off to Wisconsin.
Round seven of the American Le Mans Series was in southeastern Wisconsin at Road America. It was the American Le Mans Series powered by eStar.
Located near Elkhart Lake, Road America is another very popular venue for the drivers and spectators alike. Capable of hosting over a 150,000 people, the 4.04 mile road course remains a favorite with drivers for its natural elevation changes and high top-speeds. Built in 1955 after circuit in downtown Elkhart Lake was discontinued, the circuit came to host a number of racing series over the years. Then, in 2002, the ALMS came for the first time.
Perhaps most recognized for its climb up a hill along the start/finish straight and for its 'Kink' along its backstretch, Road America boasts of numerous places to pass and a good variety of challenging corners that require teams to strike that important balance between speed and handling.
Experience was on Corvette's side. Oliver Gavin and Johnny O'Connell were two of only three in the field to have started every single one of the previous races held at the Road America circuit. Using the experience and its excellent top-speed, Corvette would manage to get two cars into the top-three for times during one of the practice sessions.
Under very humid skies, qualifying began for the GT field. The speed of the Corvettes was clearly helping its two cars to pull to the front of the GT field. Magnussen would turn in the fastest lap in the session, only to be eclipsed by Gavin, and all of his experience, just a moment later. Things could not have looked brighter for Corvette Racing after qualifying.
Gavin had managed to take the pole in the GT class. His time around the circuit was two minutes, six and five-tenths seconds. Magnussen would make it close, but would end up a little less than two-tenths of a second slower and would start 2nd in class. Pierre Kaffer, in the number 61 Risi Ferrari, would end up starting 3rd with a time four-tenths slower than Gavin's.
Speaking of his pole Gavin would make it very clear, 'I'm delighted…It's the first one for us this year. I don't think anyone at the team will miss that we've had a difficult year. We've had a lot of ups and downs…Jan got close but good for me and good for Corvette that we're in first…I feel that here we have a slightly better car. I want to keep the momentum going and if we can then I'll be delighted.'
At the start of the race, both of the Corvettes managed to stay at the front of the ultra-competitive GT field. Beretta led in the number 4 Corvette over O'Connell in the number 3 car. The increasingly-impressive BMW team had their number 90 car running right behind O'Connell in 3rd.
The pace of the BMW and the number 61 Risi Ferrari were quite impressive early on. Twenty minutes into the race, both of the Corvettes got shuffled backward. The number 4 ran 2nd and the number 3 ran 5th.
Corvette tried a different strategy after an early yellow. The number 3 car came in with many of the other front-running cars, but the number 4 stayed out. This enabled Beretta to re-gain the lead once the race went back to green.
An hour into the race, Beretta would pit and would hand the car over to Oliver Gavin. This stop would take place under green flag conditions and would drop the number 4 car all the way down to 9th in GT. What would hurt would be the fact a yellow would come out just a few laps later. This kept the number 4 well down in the GT running order. Unfortunately, the number 3 C6-R was also well down in the GT running order.
When two hours of the race had been completed, the number 90 BMW had just gotten around the number 45 Flying Lizard Porsche for the lead. The number 62 Risi Ferrari was in 3rd place just ahead of the number 3 Corvette driven by Magnussen. The untimely stop for Beretta kept Gavin down in 7th.
Inside the last forty-five minutes of the race, Gavin was on an absolute terror. He would record the fastest lap of the race with a lap of two minutes and eight seconds. Thirty minutes left in the race, the clearly faster Gavin had managed to get past Magnussen. One lap later, Gavin would also get by Bruni in the number 62 Ferrari. In both cases, Gavin had masterfully used traffic to his benefit. One lap after Gavin had gotten by Bruni, Magnussen was inspired by his teammate and would also get by Bruni. This made it Corvette Racing 3rd and 4th.
Unfortunately, Gavin and Magnussen were too far back to have anything for Dirk Mueller in the number 90 BMW. He would go on to take the victory by more than two and a half seconds over Patrick Long in the Flying Lizard Porsche. Gavin would end up a little over two seconds behind Long, but would still end up in 3rd place. Magnussen would follow his teammate home in 4th position.
In what was the first time all season long, Corvette Racing had managed to score podium finishes in two-straight races. This was the form everybody had come to know and expect from Corvette Racing. The form was coming just in time as there were only two rounds left in the American Le Mans Series Championship.
The eighth round of the American Le Mans Series would actually take place north of the border in Canada. All of the prototype and GT cars were at Mosport preparing for the Grand Prix of Mosport on the 29th of August.
Designed and built in the late 1950s, Mosport was only the second purpose-built road course in Canada at the time. It would come to host the Canadian Grand Prix for Formula One in 1967 and would host the race every year up to 1977. The American Le Mans Series had begun coming to the track in 1999 and had come every single year since then.
Remaining relatively unchanged since its opening in 1961, the circuit became very popular with spectators and drivers for its wonderfully scenic location and for its flowing, sweeping nature. This flowing nature of the track enables times around the 2.54 mile circuit to remain just above the one minute mark.
Mosport holds a special place in Corvette Racing's memory. After switching to GT2 the previous season, Johnny O'Connell would go out, on what was his 100th start, and promptly took the victory for the team.
Coming into the race, the team made a change in its driver lineup. Magnussen and O'Connell were split up. Instead, Magnussen and Gavin were paired together in the number 4 car while O'Connell and Beretta were together in the number 3.
In spite of having a very fast car, neither of the Corvettes were turning the fastest laps amongst the GT field. In qualifying, the same story continued. Only six minutes into the session Gianmaria Bruni would turn the fastest lap in the 62 Risi Ferrari. His time around the circuit was only one minute and seventeen seconds. Jorg Bergmeister, in the 45 Flying Lizard Porsche, would be second-fastest with a time three-tenths slower. Tommy Milner would help the number 92 BMW to start the race 3rd. His time was just three-hundredths of a second slower than Bergmeister's time.
Amongst the Corvette team, Gavin would manage to earn the fastest time. He would miss starting in the top-three in class by only two-tenths of a second. Instead, Gavin would start 4th. O'Connell would have some work to do if he wanted to repeat the win in GT. He would start 6th.
If the morning warm-up was any indication as to how the race would go then things were looking great for Corvette. Both of its cars were the fastest amongst the GT field. In fact, Gavin would manage to turn a lap within a second and a half of the pole time set by Bruni.
Despite the pace the two cars were turning in the warm-up before the start of the race, little wrinkles were beginning strike right from the start. Gavin had managed to come all the way from 4th at the start to take over 2nd place by the end of the 1st lap of the race. In contrast, O'Connell was moving, but backward. The hood was loose on the car and would cause him to slide down the order. At the end of the 1st lap, Johnny had managed to hold onto his 6th place starting position in class but would lose that when he would come into the pits one lap later to have the hood taped. After the stop, Johnny, the returning champion in GT, was running dead-last.
Gavin continued to run in 2nd throughout the first fifty-seven minutes of the race. Gavin would even briefly lead the GT race as the other competitors pitted. By this point in the race, O'Connell had managed to climb all the way to 6th.
A couple of laps after taking the lead in the class, Gavin would bring the number 4 Corvette into the pits for service and its mandatory driver change. Momentum shifts over the course of a race can happen in a split second. The smallest circumstance can end up changing the course of a race. This would happen to Magnussen once behind the wheel of the number 4 Corvette.
Gavin had been running in the top-two throughout the first hour of the race. When Jan rejoined the track he would emerge amidst a number of prototypes. Five minutes after the pitstoop, Magnussen was on his way back into the pits. The number 16 Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda apparently made contact with the Corvette cutting down the right-front tire. It would end up taking a couple of stops to correct the problems with the car. As a result, the 2nd place GT Corvette would fall all the way down to 6th behind its sister-car.
One hour remaining in the race, Magnussen would pass Beretta in the number 3 Corvette and would take off trying to track down the top-four in class. Then, just about ten minutes later, the number 48 GTC Porsche would get sent hard into the Armco barrier along Andretti Straight. The car would tear out a large portion of the barrier, and therefore, would bring out the safety car.
The field would circulate under the safety car for almost twenty minutes before the race was stopped altogether. The field remained frozen, awaiting crews trying to fix the barrier along the side of the track. This would cause a number of teams to scramble thinking about tactics.
After forty-five minutes under red flag conditions, the officials were made aware of the fact it would take too long to try and repair the barrier in order to complete the rest of the race distance. The officials, not wanting the race to finish under red flag conditions, had order the drivers back to the cars for one remaining lap under the safety car. The safety car would lead the field around under what would be yellow/white flag conditions. That was it. The field was frozen as it was when the race came to a stop.
As a result of the destroyed barrier and the safety car finish, Jorg Bergmeister would coast to victory in the 45 Flying Lizard Porsche. Gianmaria Bruni would follow in 2nd and Tommy Milner would finish 3rd in the BMW.
No doubt still suffering from a bitter taste in the mouth, Jan Magnussen would finish 4th just ahead of teammate Beretta in the sister-Corvette. Both cars had proven to be incredibly fast. The number 4 car was running near the point throughout the first half of the race, but things changed in the blink of an eye. The smallest mistake or on-track circumstance had been costing the team all year long. Once again the team looked on the verge of a victory only to have it snatched away by petty little instances.
One race remained for the team on the season. One race in which to get everything right, to have everything go right, in order to have the possibility of earning victory. Incidentally, the one last chance the team would have would be one of the most important races on the calendar. No extra pressure or anything.
The ninth, and final, round of the American Le Mans Series would take place on the 2nd of October. Besides Le Mans, it was perhaps the most important race on the year for any team competing in the American Le Mans Series, or any wanting to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Petit Le Mans has the distinction of being the only other race, besides Le Mans itself, where the winner in each class gets an automatic invitation to the 24 hour race the following year.
While not as long as the 12 Hours of Sebring, the teams would still have to earn that invitation to Le Mans the following season. Petit Le Mans is a test of either 1,000 miles or ten hours, whichever comes first. This tough event would also be the last opportunity Corvette Racing would have to score a victory in GT.
Located just north of Braselton, Georgia, Road Atlanta serves as the site for the Petit Le Mans and is the base of operations for the International Motor Sports Association. Consisting of twelve turns and 2.54 miles of circuit, Road Atlanta is mainly built around its sweeping back-straight, but is also known for its Esses that sweep around and downhill and then climb back out on its way to the long straight.
The circuit opened in 1970 and first held a Can-Am race where Stirling Moss was its Grand Marshal. In the mid-1990s, the track was purchased by Don Panoz. He would lead the way in bringing the track up to FIA standards so that it could hold international events. When motor racing resumed in 1998 the first Petit Le Mans was held. In 2008, the event drew nearly 80,000 fans to Petit Le Mans. 2010 would see a crowd even larger than that.
Petit Le Mans was not only part of the American Le Mans Series calendar, it was also part of a new global initiative for Le Mans racing called the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC). It was the second round of this new series and would draw teams from all over the world, but mainly those that would compete in the Le Mans Series in Europe. Therefore, the field was full with a number of prototypes, as well as, GT cars. In all, forty-five cars would start the race.
Corvette Racing would have the usual suspects from the ALMS to do battle with at the race. During practice; however, Corvette Racing was proving to be fastest. In the second practice session, the two Corvettes topped the time charts in GT2.
Rain would fall during many of the practice sessions, and therefore, a good number of the teams would elect not to participate in the changing conditions at the risk of causing terrible damage to a car.
Throughout all of the practice sessions in which the team participated they had at least one car in the top-three in best times in GT. In many cases, the team either had the fastest time, or, managed to get both of its cars into the top-three in time. The big test would be qualifying.
At a little after three in the afternoon, the GT field rolled out for a twenty-five minute qualifying session. In qualifying, it seemed to be all Risi Competizione. It definitely was an impressive time for Ferrari 430s. Jaime Melo would grab the pole with a time of one minute, nineteen and eight-tenths seconds. This time would end up being about two-tenths faster than Melo's Risi Competizione teammate, Gianmaria Bruni, in the number 62 Ferrari. Another Ferrari 430, Extreme Speed Motorsports' 02, would end up starting 3rd after setting a time nine-hundredths of a second slower than Bruni.
In spite of all of the speed shown during practice, the best any of the Corvette Racing cars would do would be to start 6th. Jan Magnussen, driving the number 4 C6-R once again, would turn in the fastest time amongst the team. It was only seven-tenths of a second slower, but only good enough to start 6th in the extremely competitive GT class. Olivier Beretta would end up being only about eight-hundredths of a second slower than Magnussen, and therefore, would start 7th in class.
The cars rolled away in preparation for an 11:30am start time. Coming around the bend onto the start/finish straight, the field accelerated quickly and then swept around the right-hander toward the esses. The 02 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari would have some trouble during the 1st lap and would get ushered all the way down to 10th in class. This moved the two Corvettes up who were running right together on the track.
After a yellow flag period just twenty minutes into the race, things settled down. Oliver Gavin, in the period after the yellow, had the number 4 Corvette all the way up to 2nd for a period and would hang around the top-three over the course of the next hour.
The number 3 Corvette lost some ground in the pitstop, but would come charging back up. Forty-six minutes into the race, Beretta would manage to pass two cars on the same lap and would go from running 6th to running 4th right behind the number 4 Corvette. Once again, the two Corvettes would run together, stalking the number 61 Risi Ferrari and the number 90 BMW.
Just before two hours into the race, the number 4 Corvette had taken the lead. Mika Salo was tagged by a slower car and Magnussen would take advantage. Jan would pass Salo and take the lead. The contact would end up causing Salo to have to come into the pits for new tires on the number 61 Ferrari. This helped to bring the number 3 Corvette up into the top-three as well.
Over the course of the next two hours, Magnussen and Gavin would get to enjoy the view as they would be at the front of the GT field. The number 3 Corvette was up and down the running order, but remained inside the top-five and even ran as high as 2nd during this period.
Shy of the four hour mark another yellow flag flew. All of the front-running GT cars pitted. As the green flag would wave to get the race going once again, Antonio Garcia would get by Emmanuel Collard to take the lead with the number 3 Corvette. The number 4 sister-car was right there behind in 2nd. Corvette Racing was looking extremely good.
Through the next two hours of running, the number 3 Corvette would run inside the top-four and would even sit in 2nd place for a spell. The number 4 had a much tougher road to haul. After leading for so long just a little earlier, the number 4 car would be mired outside of the top-five for quite a while. However, after pitstops during a yellow, and trouble with the number 61 Risi Ferrari, it was back up to running 4th in GT, right behind its sister-car.
Both of the cars would remain inside the top-four over the course of the next two hours. The number 4 car would overcome its bad fortunes and would get back to leading the race in GT for another half hour.
One hour remaining in the race, both of the Corvettes were still running in the race, and neither of them had made too many, if any, mistakes over the course of the race. This was why the two cars were both running inside the top-four in class.
Twenty minutes remaining in the race, the number 4 car was chasing the number 62 Risi Ferrari in 2nd. It had an eleven second gap to try and overcome. The number 3 Corvette had gotten passed by the number 92 BMW and was trying to fight back from 5th.
Ten minutes remained in the race and each of the front-running GT cars needed to stop one more time for a splash of fuel. Gavin would come in first followed by Beretta. Gavin, in the number 4 Corvette, would add only fuel. Beretta would add fuel and tires, even though there were only about ten minutes remaining in the race. The Corvette team would end up coming in a couple of laps before the rest of the front-running GT class cars. Toni Vilander would come in with only five minutes remaining and would retain the lead upon rejoining the track. However, the race wasn't over yet.
Gavin continued to push hard even though it was the last lap of the race. It was a good thing he did. Vilander would come to a stop out on the course. This handed the lead to Gavin who would race on to the win! Gavin would bring the number 4 Corvette home ahead of the number 01 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari and the number 62 Risi Ferrari. The number 3 Corvette would end up finishing the race 6th.
The Petit Le Mans victory would be a win that hardly anybody in the Corvette Racing team had realized come to them. Jan Magnussen explained the last lap, 'The win was a huge surprise to everybody. We were expecting, like everyone, to settle for second. We weren't cheering that much. We saw Gavin's name pop in the lead. All hell broke lose in the end. Gavin didn't know he won until turn one or turn three until one of the engineers told him. It was a fantastic race.'
'At the end I looked around and saw everyone was happy. I was shocked when I found out we won the race', added Collard.
'I saw a Ferrari waving back and forth on the back stretch and I didn't know if it was the 61 or the 62 in front of me…when I went by I saw the weaving car was the 62. I kept asking, ‘Was that the leader?', ‘Was that the leader?' No one would answer me, in turn one they came on the radio and said we won!', Gavin would say explaining the last confusing moments.
Doug Fehan had already declared, after the failure at Le Mans, the team would be back the following year in search of victory in GT. The win at Petit Le Mans would only end up making it clear the focus for 2011. To end the sophomore season with a tough win only helpes the team to realize what they need to do for the upcoming 2011 season. The goals are simple: winning the championship in GT in the American Le Mans Series and to be the GT champion at Le Mans. If their determination to return to Le Mans for 2011 would have been met with any resistance they had earned their ticket into the race.
In pursuit of those two quests for the 2011 season, Corvette Racing shook up its driver lineup. After competing against him throughout the 2010 season, Corvette Racing announced, in January, that Tommy Milner would be joining the team. He would join Olivier Beretta and Antonio Garcia driving the number 4 Corvette.
The team wasn't done. Richard Westbrook would also being joining the team. He would join Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen driving the number 4 Corvette C6-R. Westbrook brings a lot of GT2 experience to the team having won the FIA GT2 Championship in 2009.
Speaking of the two new additions, Doug Fehan would remark, 'We look at our competition continuously and intensely, and it became very clear that Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook have the qualities we value at Corvette Racing.' 'They are quick, intelligent, team-oriented and disciplined in their approach…We are very excited to have these two talented young drivers join America's most successful production sports car team, and we look forward to long and rewarding relationships with both of them', Fehan would add.
Westbrook would explain his excitement for joining the team very simply, 'I've raced against the Corvette enough times to know it's better to be driving one than racing against one…Everyone on the team is hungry for success and expectations are high, so we have to deliver.'
GM Racing Director, Mark Kent, summed up the upcoming season with the two new drivers and the C6-R, very clearly when he said, 'We believe that they will help us to reach our objective.'Sources:
'Corvette Racing Announces 2011 Driver Lineup', (http://www.corvetteracing.com/history/2011releases/general/racing1.shtml). Corvette Racing. http://www.corvetteracing.com/history/2011releases/general/racing1.shtml. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
'Corvette Racing to Return to Le Mans in 2010', (http://www.corvetteracing.com/history/2010releases/general/racing1.shtml). Corvette Racing. http://www.corvetteracing.com/history/2010releases/general/racing1.shtml. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
'Track to Street: Corvette Racing Series, Episode 6', (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6b5eFAgsogE&feature=player_embedded). YouTube.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6b5eFAgsogE&feature=player_embedded. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
Wikipedia contributors, '2009 24 Hours of Le Mans', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 February 2011, 13:41 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=2009_24_Hours_of_Le_Mans&oldid=415506576 accessed 27 April 2011
'2010 Season Results by Race', (http://www.americanlemans.com/primary1.php?cat=results|sr|2010). American Le Mans Series. http://www.americanlemans.com/primary1.php?cat=results|sr|2010. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
Wikipedia contributors, '2010 24 Hours of Le Mans', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 April 2011, 23:10 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=2010_24_Hours_of_Le_Mans&oldid=424112503 accessed 27 April 2011
'24 Heures du Mans: Live Timing', (http://www.lemans.org/en/courses/24h-chrono-en-direct-2010.html). Le Mans.org. http://www.lemans.org/en/courses/24h-chrono-en-direct-2010.html. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Lime Rock Park', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 February 2011, 23:16 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lime_Rock_Park&oldid=415029326 accessed 26 April 2011
Wikipedia contributors, 'Miller Motorsports Park', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 31 March 2011, 04:56 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Miller_Motorsports_Park&oldid=421600300 accessed 27 April 2011
Wikipedia contributors, 'Road America', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 April 2011, 09:01 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Road_America&oldid=422477071 accessed 27 April 2011
Wikipedia contributors, 'Mosport International Raceway', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 29 January 2011, 22:43 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mosport_International_Raceway&oldid=410844143 accessed 27 April 2011
Wikipedia contributors, '2010 American Le Mans Series season', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 April 2011, 16:17 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=2010_American_Le_Mans_Series_season&oldid=423191193 accessed 27 April 2011
Wikipedia contributors, '2009 American Le Mans Series season', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 April 2011, 16:13 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=2009_American_Le_Mans_Series_season&oldid=423190687 accessed 27 April 2011By Jeremy McMullen