ALMS Season Finale to Determine Corvette Racing Champions
Corvette Racing Notebook for the Monterey Sports Car Championships, Oct. 13-15
MONTEREY, Calif. – While there are few certainties in motorsports, the math says that two of Corvette Racing’s four full-season drivers will be crowned as GT1 champions at the conclusion of the Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Oct. 15. The four-hour season finale of the American Le Mans Series will decide the title in favor of Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta, co-drivers of the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R, or Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell, their teammates in the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R.
Gavin and Beretta bring a 15-point lead (173-158) into the championship weekend. But with 23 points available and a requirement that drivers complete at least 70 percent of the race distance to earn points, the title race is still wide open. A misstep or mechanical problem could decide the fate of either team.
“It’s not over yet,” declared Ron Fellows, who has won three consecutive GT1 championships. “There’s still one race left, and anything can happen. As long as there is any hope, Johnny and I aren’t giving up.”
Fellows’ teammate is similarly upbeat: “Last year Ron and I scored the last win for the Corvette C5-R at Laguna Seca, and we’re going back this year with a positive attitude that we can win again with the C6.R,” said O’Connell. “One thing that Ron and I bring to every race is experience, and we’ll rely on that.”
The wild card in this year’s GT1 pack is the arrival of Aston Martin Racing. Corvette Racing battled the British team for more than nine hours at Petit Le Mans, and the season-ending shootout at Laguna Seca promises to continue the rivalry.
“It will be a level playing field for Corvette Racing and the Prodrive Aston Martin team because neither team has been to Laguna Seca with their current cars,” explained Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “We’ve raced the C5-R and they’ve raced their Ferrari 550 at Laguna Seca, but now we both have very different cars. Both teams will have the same amount of testing time to get the cars sorted, and then it should be another great battle.”
Laguna Seca’s Turn 8, a.k.a. “The Corkscrew,” is the track’s signature corner. The blind roller coaster curve demands a leap of faith by drivers as they hurtle over the summit.
“The first time you go through the Corkscrew is an experience you always remember,” said O’Connell. “You have to know where your car is pointed because as you turn, you don’t see anything but sky. It’s challenging, but once you get the feel for it, it is a very fun corner.”
O’Connell has been turning laps at Laguna Seca since 1984. He’s raced on both the previous 1.9-mile circuit and the longer 2.4-mile that was created in 1988 with the addition of the Andretti Hairpin and a section that races around the infield lake.
“Often when a track is extended, it loses its flow, but Laguna Seca has an amazing rhythm,” O’Connell commented. “Extending the track actually created more passing zones. Turn 4 is a quick corner, and there are some challenging tight turns. The Turn 11 hairpin is critical because you have to get out of that corner quickly to make passes going into Turn 2. It’s tough to get traction there, so I’m sure the GM Racing engineers have already figured out a setup. One of the strengths of Corvette Racing is that we usually roll two very fast cars out of the trailers.”
From the Engineering Office
“Laguna Seca requires more compromises than most other tracks because of its variety of corners.” That’s the word from Doug Louth, Corvette Racing engineering manager.
“A good traction control system is essential at Laguna Seca,” Louth noted. “There are several fast corners with long transitions into the straights, which is very challenging for traction control. There are also flat and banked corners that the drivers take at similar speeds; one traction control setting can’t work perfectly for both types of turns because the requirements are radically different, even though the speeds are similar.”
“The track surface is typically tough to get a handle on because it’s covered with a fine layer of dust and sediment,” Louth explained. “During practice sessions the drivers can run on a clean line, but if they get off line or come down pit lane with hot tires, they pick up dust on the rubber. All of a sudden the car has different characteristics when it goes out a second time on a set of tires.”
Racing the Stork
Timing is everything, and Helen Gavin’s timing is impeccable. Oliver Gavin’s wife delivered the couple’s third child in England on Oct. 9 at 8:47 p.m. Young Fergus James Gavin weighed in at 7 pounds, 8 ounces, and all are doing well – including the relieved father, who can now take his scheduled plane flight to the U.S. for the ALMS season finale.
Johnny O’Connell’s Charity Auction, held at Road Atlanta in conjunction with Petit Le Mans, raised $52,500 for the Alzheimer’s Association and The Guest House, a senior citizen day care center in Gainesville, Ga. O’Connell played the role of fast-talking auctioneer, and he was joined on stage by Aston Martin driver David Brabham and Audi driver Emanuele Pirro.
“I’m extremely pleased with the success of the auction,” said O’Connell. “We had a good time, I think the fans found it entertaining, and we helped out some good causes.”
The highest priced auction item was one of O’Connell’s driving suits, which went for $7,100.
“It’s humbling when someone bids that much money for one of my old suits,” said O’Connell. “So many Corvette owners want memorabilia from what I’m confident will be looked upon as one of the greatest times in Corvette racing history.”
The No. 3 Corvette driven by O’Connell and Fellows retired from the Road Atlanta race after completing 357 laps. It was the team’s first engine-related DNF since 2001.
“We’ve had a remarkable reliability record in endurance races and the engine guys have no reason to hang their heads,” said Fellows. “With the level of competition in the GT1 class, we have to bring our best to every race – the best chassis setup, the best race strategy, and the best engine package. The improvements the team has made in engine performance definitely showed at Petit Le Mans. The Corvettes qualified 1-2 and we were evenly matched with the Aston Martins in a straight line, so we’ve made significant gains since Le Mans. When you’re pushing the limits, sometimes you find the edge.”
Just the Facts
A victory by Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 1 gave Gavin and Beretta a 15-point lead (173-158) over Fellows and O’Connell in the drivers championship with one race remaining. A victory in the four-hour Monterey Sports Car Championships is worth 23 points.
Corvette Racing clinched the 2005 GT1 manufacturers championship for Chevrolet at Road America in August, the fifth straight title for Chevy.
Corvette Racing has scored eight straight wins in ALMS competition, a streak that began at Road Atlanta in April. The No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R has five victories and the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R has three wins.
Fellows and O’Connell are the defending GT1 champions at Laguna Seca. They scored the final victory for the Corvette C5-R in October 2004, finishing seconds ahead of the Corvette C5-R of Beretta and Gavin. Beretta was the fastest qualifier in GT1, setting the track record at 1:21.679 (98.640 mph).
Fellows and O’Connell share the record for the most ALMS victories with 24. Beretta is tied with Audi driver JJ Lehto in second place with 23 career victories.
Beretta holds the record for all-time ALMS poles (17) and the record for fast laps (17).
Corvette Racing holds the ALMS records for most wins by a team (39) and the most 1-2 finishes (25).
The Monterey Sports Car Championships, the final round of the 10-race 2005 American Le Mans Series, is scheduled to start at 3:15 p.m. PDT on Saturday, Oct. 15, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The race will be televised on SPEED Channel on Sunday, Oct. 16, at 3 p.m. EDT.
Release Date: October 10, 2005