Bowtie Bullet Points: Chevrolet Notes for Road Atlanta ALMS
Corvette Racing Notebook for the Sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta
BRASELTON, Ga. – The hills surrounding Road Atlanta will be alive with the sound of small-block V-8s when Corvette Racing comes to the 2.54-mile circuit for the second round of the 10-race American Le Mans Series. After finishing second and third in the season-opening race in Sebring, Fla., Corvette Racing is aiming for the top step of the podium in the 2-hour, 45-minute sprint race at Road Atlanta.
The odds favor Corvette Racing in the Sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta. Chevrolet’s factory team has won five of the last six ALMS events contested at the Georgia track, posting victories in four Petit Le Mans endurance races (2000, ’01, ’02 and ’04) and a sprint race in 2003.
“While we were disappointed in the outcome of the Sebring race, we were heartened by the performance level of the new Corvette C6.R race cars while they were on the track,” said Doug Fehan, GM Racing program manager for Corvette Racing. “They certainly lived up to our expectations and demonstrated that our development and testing over the last two years has paid off.”
The new Compuware Corvette C6.Rs made their racing debut in the 12-hour Sebring enduro on March 19. Running first and second in the GT1 class and third and fourth overall at the eight-hour mark, both Corvettes encountered trouble on the track. A carbon brake rotor failed in the No. 3 car at top speed; driver Johnny O’Connell avoided disaster by pitching the car into a tire barrier. The No. 4 Corvette driven by Olivier Beretta was punted off the course and sustained heavy damage to its rear suspension. Both cars returned to battle after extensive repairs and fought back to finish second and third in the GT1 division.
“Road Atlanta has a much smoother racing surface than Sebring, which means the Maserati will be more competitive,” Fehan predicted. “The Saleen and Viper teams have a great deal of experience at Road Atlanta, so I’m expecting a closely contested battle for the pole and for the race.”
Three-time ALMS champion Ron Fellows will return to the scene of his first professional race in the U.S. at Road Atlanta. The Canadian ace made his American debut in an SCCA Trans-Am event in 1987, the first step in a journey that has taken him to 19 Trans Am victories, 21 ALMS wins, and three ALMS championships.
“That was my first race south of the border, and it was a last-minute deal,” Fellows recalled. “I met Gordie Oftedahl at a Trans-Am race at Mosport when I was racing in the Player’s/GM showroom stock series. He had this boxy Buick Somerset race car, and his driver didn’t show up for practice. I was standing around in my driver’s suit. After I told him who I was, he asked, ‘Do you want to drive one of these things?’
“That was the first time I drove a Trans-Am car,” Fellows continued. “It was a bit of a handful, but I didn’t know any better. He tried to get me in the race that weekend but it didn’t work out, so we talked about going to Road Atlanta. I managed to raise a piddly amount of sponsorship, and he took it!
“That was during Trans-Am’s turbo era, and there were some really fast turbocharged Porsches, Nissans and Merkurs. We used the softest tire compound we could find because we thought that was our best chance to do well. Sure enough, we finished fourth and that got me a test with Roush Racing.”
Now Fellows relishes his return to the track that launched his racing career.
“Road Atlanta is a throwback among race tracks,” he explained. “It’s a natural road course with fast corners and elevation changes. They don’t build race tracks like that any more, which is a shame.
“It’s the kind of track that you have to give respect because it’s big-time fast. I went out and watched my Corvette teammates going through the esses once, and decided I didn’t I want to watch any more. Do we really go that fast? It was impressive, but a little scary.”
Oliver Gavin has enjoyed success at Road Atlanta in both long and short events. He drove a Corvette C5-R to victory in a sprint race in June 2003, and he won the season-ending Petit Le Mans endurance race in September 2004 with co-drivers Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen. Gavin and Beretta will share the No. 4 Compuware Corvette for this weekend’s 2-hour, 45-minute dash.
“In a sprint race you don’t have to think about a car that you’re going to be driving for hours and racing in the dark,” Gavin explained. “You can really tune the car to be more like a qualifying setup. It might be more uncomfortable to drive, but as long as Olivier and I can work with that, it’s fine.”
Asked to recall his most memorable race at the Georgia track, Gavin singles out his upset victory in 2003.
“We had just come back from Le Mans, where we’d been beaten up by the Ferraris,” he remembered. “We didn’t know what to expect when we turned up at Road Atlanta, but we were quite quick and the Ferrari was struggling. We simply outdrove them in the race. I remember it being a very satisfying victory because we exorcised our Le Mans demons.”
Release Date: April 12, 2005