Corvettes Sweep GT1 Podium in Portland Grand Prix
Gavin and Beretta Lead Historic Corvette 1-2-3 Finish
PORTLAND, Ore., July 30, 2005 - Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta won the run for the roses today in the City of Roses, scoring their second ALMS victory of the season in the 2-hour, 45-minute American Le Mans Portland Grand Prix with their No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R. The pair led a Corvette podium sweep in the GT1 class, edging the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R driven by Johnny O'Connell and Ron Fellows by .623 seconds at the finish. Third-place honors went to the independent Pacific Coast Motorsports Corvette C5-R of Alex Figge and Ryan Dalziel that finished one lap behind the GM factory team.
Although Corvette Racing dominated the results, finishing fifth and sixth overall, the outcome was in question as recent rule changes raised the level of competition in the GT1 division. The first third of the race featured a four-car battle between the Corvettes, Saleen S7R and Maserati MC12. There was high drama at the 50-minute mark when an Audi prototype spun in the chicane and hit Beretta's class-leading Corvette, causing damage to the right-rear corner of the yellow car. Order was restored following the first round of pit stops when the twin Corvettes assumed their usual position at the head of the GT1 class.
Beretta qualified on the GT1 pole, but Terry Borcheller took the lead in the Saleen S7R at the start and led the first 34 minutes of the race. Beretta stalked his rival relentlessly, and made the pass for P1 in the Festival Curves chicane.
"I didn't want to take any risks at the start, so I just stayed behind," said Beretta. "The Saleen was very fast on the straight and I could not overtake them. I was pushing hard to stay in contact. We were a little quicker under braking, and I put some pressure on him once, twice, three times, four times. Finally he made a mistake and I passed him."
Beretta's big moment came 15 minutes later when the Audi prototype locked up its rear tires entering the chicane at the end of the front straight and spun into him.
"My crew chief told me to be careful because there was an LMP behind me," Beretta explained. "I saw that he was far enough behind, so I took my normal line into the corner - and suddenly I felt a huge hit.
"I was a little bit worried after the hit, but the car was still doing good lap times," he confided. "The Corvette C6.R is very strong."
Gavin continued the story: "Olivier said that the steering was a little off, but when I got in the car it was way off. I thought there was no way the car was going to last, but Corvette Racing builds a very resilient car. Nothing else went wrong.
"It was looking like we were going to have to make an unscheduled pit stop, but fortunately Olivier managed to keep us out in front and get the car back to the pits," Gavin noted. "Then the team worked their magic on it and kept us well in the race. The pit work and the consistency of the car is what won the race for us.
"As always, Ron and Johnny were pushing us very hard," Gavin added. "It was another great team result and another fantastic 1-2 finish for the Compuware Corvettes."
Fellows started second in the GT1 field in the No. 3 car, but fell to fourth in the early laps. He passed the Maserati MC12 for third place at the 18-minute mark, and overtook the Saleen in the chicane to take command of second place at 52 minutes.
"With the new rules, the Maserati and Saleen have better straight line speed than us, and I got behind both of them," Fellows said. "This track is pretty much a drag race, and that makes it difficult to pass. The Michelin tires stayed under us and our car stopped extremely well, which is how we eventually got by both of the cars."
Along with a driver change, the No. 3 Corvette crew switched to soft-compound tires in the first pit stop, and that enabled O'Connell to close the gap to the No. 4 Corvette. In the second round of stops, the No. 4 car was also outfitted with soft-compound tires for the final stint, and the two Corvettes ran in formation to the finish.
"We had an amazing race car," said O'Connell. "The tires worked great today, and even when both cars were on soft compounds at the finish, I still think we had a stronger car. But you have to look at the big picture, and Ron and I are focused on winning the championship."
The race began at 5 p.m. in bright sunshine, and finished in twilight at 7:45 p.m., bringing cooler temperatures in the final hour.
"We knew the temperature was going to change significantly from the start of the race to the end of the race," explained Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "We had worked through the weekend to develop our tire strategy because we had opportunities to practice in hot conditions and in cooler conditions. This team does a lot more than just trying to go fast."
"As it started cooling down, we were able to go to a softer compound, and that allows the drivers to run harder," reported Ray Gongla, crew chief for the victorious No. 4 Corvette. "If you changed to soft tires too early, you could use them up before the end of the stint, and we didn't want to take that chance. We had a game plan, we executed it, and it worked."
The GT1 podium featured a full house of Corvettes -- two C6.Rs and one C5-R - for the first time in ALMS history.
"I went down to the Pacific Coast Motorsports pits before the end of the race and congratulated the team," said Fehan. "They had good pit stops today and they didn't make any mistakes. When you do that, you're going to finish well. It was a great day for Corvette."
Corvette Racing's next event is at scenic Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., on August 19-21. The Road America 500, the seventh round of the 10-race American Le Mans Series, will be televised live on the SPEED Channel on Sunday, August 21, at 3 p.m. EDT (check local listings).
American Le Mans Portland Grand Prix GT1 Results
1. Gavin/Beretta, Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, 132
2. O'Connell/Fellows, Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, 132
3. Figge/Dalziel, Chevrolet Corvette C5-R, 131
4. Bertolini/Salo, Maserati MC12, 130
5. Weickardt/Rugolo, Dodge Viper, 123
6. Borcheller/Mowlem, Saleen S7R, 48 (accident)
August 21, Road America 500, Elkhart Lake, Wis.
TV: SPEED, August 21, 3 p.m. EDT
Release Date: July 29, 2005