24 Hours of Le Mans

Corvette Further Improves Qualifying Times at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Gavin and O'Connell set fast times on Thursday night

LE MANS, France - The General Motors Chevrolet Corvette Racing team improved their qualifying times in Thursday's second qualifying session before the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Oliver Gavin, driving the #64 Corvette C5-R along with Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen, set a best lap of 3:49.750, second fastest in the GTS class. The #63 Corvette C5-R will start close behind after Johnny O'Connell, co-driving with Ron Fellows and Max Papis, set a time of 3:51.378. The lap times represent a significant leap in development for Corvette over the past year; the Chevrolets improved by nearly six seconds over their best 2003 qualifying time.

"This qualifying session is a testament to the great racing at Le Mans," said Doug Fehan, program manager for Corvette Racing. "We dedicated the majority of our session to preparing the cars for a good race setup, which I believe we've found for both cars. We did utilize qualifying tires and put forth a couple of really good laps. The competition is fierce and that's why you see over 300,000 people attending this race. This is yet another chapter in a great rivalry."

The factory-backed Corvette C5-R race cars will attempt to capture their third GTS title at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in five years. The American sports car icon continues to have a wide wide-ranging and enthusiastic fan base at Le Mans, extending as far and wide as hand-painted Corvette murals on local buildings in the small French town.

"Pole position would have been great to achieve, but we are totally focused on being at the front after 24 hours of racing," said Oliver Gavin, driver of the #64 Corvette C5-R. "I was happy to see that Jan ran very comfortably at a consistent pace during our night session. All three of the drivers on the #64 team are very happy with the setup of the car and I expect this will suit us well over the 24 hours."

While many fans and competitors expected afternoon rain to spoil Thursday's chance to improve the qualifying order, the track dried and many teams on the 47-car grid improved their position. Gavin set his fast lap during the tail end of the first session as cooling track temperatures allowed him to break the 3 minutes, 50 seconds mark. Johnny O'Connell went for a qualifying run during the first part of the 10:00 pm session and found conditions to his liking, although he reported heavy traffic.

"We did what we had to do to get a proper setup and I am very happy that we have comfortable race car for Saturday," said O'Connell. "We will make a few more changes to some settings, but I believe we are ready. The teams that win here are able to look after their cars the best, and we're planning on doing that for the entire 24 hours."

From an engineering standpoint, the team prepares for Le Mans like no other event. The Wednesday and Thursday sessions have been used as a combination of all-out qualifying sessions as well as environments to develop the proper setup.

"Technically, the biggest challenge at Le Mans is making sure we adapt the car to the changing conditions," said Doug Louth, engineering manager for the Corvette Racing program. "The air and track temperatures are constantly cooling off or warming up and the car operates in a wide range of different duty cycles for power, brakes, transmission, cooling. A team must make decisions on tires and mid-race adjustments so that everything is dialed in for optimum performance. We're comfortable with our performance level, so operating an race error-free is going to be our biggest challenge."

Provisional Grid - Gran Tourisme (GTS) Class
Pos. Overall No. Car Best Time
1 17 66 Ferrari 550 M 3:49.438
2 18 64 Corvette C5-R 3:49.750
3 20 63 Corvette C5-R 3:51.378
4 21 65 Ferrari 550 M 3:51.755
5 24 69 Ferrari 550 M 3:55.500
6 27 62 Ferrari 575 GTC 4:00.714
7 31 61 Ferrari 575GTC 4:06.375