Corvette Racing’s 50 Victories: Behind the Numbers
Corvette Racing Aims for 51st Win at Historic Road America
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Corvette Racing reached a milestone with its 50th victory in the Portland Grand Prix on July 22. Since the team’s debut in February 1999, Corvette Racing has competed in 73 events, winning 68 percent of its races. Three of those victories were notched at Road America, the site of this weekend’s Generac 500.
The historic road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis., is a favorite of Corvette Racing’s drivers and crew. Ask Corvette Racing driver Ron Fellows for his thoughts on the 4.0-mile circuit and you’ll get an immediate answer: “I absolutely love the place!”
“It’s great fun to drive,” Fellows explained. “It’s got long straights and slow corners that lead to faster corners. When your car is working well, it is an absolute treat to drive there. We’ll hit more than 170 mph in the Corvette C6.R, the fastest top speed that we see on any race track in North America. The Kink on the back straight is the most exciting corner on Earth.”
For the last two years, Corvette Racing’s two Ollies – Gavin and Beretta – have reigned at Road America with back-to-back victories. Beretta won the GT1 pole in 2004, and Gavin was the quickest qualifier in 2005. Their margin of victory last year over Fellows and Johnny O’Connell was a scant .142 seconds, the third-closest finish in the production-based class.
Behind the Numbers
Corvette Racing’s 50 victories includes 44 class wins in the American Le Mans Series, five class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and an overall win in the 2001 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Thirty-three of those races have featured 1-2 finishes by the twin Corvettes. Eleven drivers have scored wins for Corvette Racing at 16 different tracks, led by Ron Fellows with 27 wins. Fellows’ long-time teammate Johnny O’Connell is second on the list with 26 wins. Reigning GT1 champions Gavin and Beretta have scored 22 and 17 victories respectively.
The team began testing in 1997, but did not break cover until February 1999 at the Daytona 24-hour race. Months of private testing had given the team confidence, but the first race proved to be a reality check.
“We’d never run with 70 other cars on the track and encountered the sand and dust they kicked up,” program manager Doug Fehan recalled. “It sandblasted holes in the air filtration system and essentially cost us a victory in our first event. That was a hard lesson, but the fact that we finished on the podium in our first event was a major accomplishment.”
While Corvette Racing is now the most successful team in the ALMS, it was not always so. The team paid heavy dues, enduring 17 long months before Fellows and Andy Pilgrim broke through with the team’s first victory at Texas Motor Speedway in September 2000. Ironically, Corvette’s chief rival at the time was the Oreca Viper team and its star driver, Olivier Beretta.
“The first win in Texas was huge,” Fehan said. “Conditions were absolutely brutal, with 117-degree heat. I knew that race was going to be a real test because neither team had raced there previously and we were both starting with a clean sheet of paper. I felt we were ready, and it was great to see it come to fruition.”
“The advantage that the Viper team had then was that they had been to a lot of the tracks, and we had not,” Fellows explained. “I felt we were making a lot of gains with our engineering, and we were going to a place that none of us had been to before. I believed that if we could get on a level playing field at a new race track, we’d come out ahead.”
The pace of change accelerated as the team’s equipment and technology continuously improved. “There’s not a single component that’s the same as what we started with,” Fehan noted. “Everything is different. It became apparent we couldn’t compete with the Viper’s 8-liter V-10, so we had to find a way to build a 7-liter small-block V-8. Then we began to experience difficulties with the transmission as the engines made more power. A vibration was breaking starter motors into pieces, and wheels were bending. Engine cooling, aerodynamics, and the balance of the car were in constant flux.”
While the hardware was steadily improving, so was the team.
“We had a lot to learn,” Fellows admitted. “We had speed, but couldn’t maintain consistency through a tank of fuel, and our competitors had better pit strategy. But we kept plugging away. In 2000, we came out on the wrong end of the closest finish in the Daytona 24-hour race. I never thought we’d get another opportunity for an overall win in a GT car – and then the next year, we won it all.”
Continuity of personnel has played a key role in Corvette Racing’s long-term success. Fehan, team manager Gary Pratt, and several members of the crew and engineering staff have been with the program since its inception.
“I joke with Pratt about our first test in 1997 when we had a pickup truck, a trailer, a half-dozen guys, and one laptop,” Fellows laughed. “That same core of guys is still here, even as the team has expanded to nearly 100. One of the things I truly enjoy is the family atmosphere and the value that has in a high-pressure business like auto racing. It’s a great environment to work and play in.”
“We had a tremendous advantage initially because we put together a group of people who had worked together before on successful programs,” Fehan reported. “We had an understanding of our abilities and limitations. We knew who we were, we knew where we needed to be, and we were able to put together a plan to get there.”
The result has become one of the most successful sports car teams on the planet.
Corvette Racing Wins by Year
Corvette Racing Wins by Track
Road Atlanta 7
Le Mans 5
Elkhart Lake 3
Trois Rivieres 2
Lime Rock 2
Laguna Seca 2
Washington, DC 1
The two-hour, 45-minute Generac 500 at Road America, the seventh round of the 10-race 2006 American Le Mans Series, is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. CDT (3 p.m. EDT) on Sunday, Aug. 20. The race will be televised live on SPEED at 3 p.m. EDT.
Release Date: August 15, 2006