Bowtie Bullet Points: Chevy Notes for Petit Le Mans
Papis and Magnussen Back in Action for 1,000-mile Endurance Classic
ATLANTA – The Chevrolet Corvette C5-R is closing in on a record-setting 2004 season after winning eight straight races, including the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and every single American Le Mans Series event to date. This weekend’s 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta will be the Corvette C5-R’s final long-distance event; drivers Max Papis and Jan Magnussen will rejoin their Chevrolet teammates to share driving responsibilities over the course of the 10 hours. With two races remaining, Chevrolet has clinched the Manufacturers’ championship while Corvette Racing captured the Team championship.
About Petit Le Mans
Established in 1998, Chevy presents Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta has quickly grown in stature to where it is now considered one of the top three sports car endurance racing events worldwide, along with the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring. The event’s unique format calls for 1,000 miles (394 laps) or 10 hours, whichever comes first, making the Petit Le Mans the only ALMS race of 2004 that is distance-measured rather than time-measured. In the six previous editions of the Petit Le Mans, the longest event on time has been nine hours and 48 minutes in 1998, while the shortest on time has been eight hours and 56 minutes in 1999. The race was designed to be a smaller or “Petit” version of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, bringing much of the European flavor of Le Mans to America, and to be a race that started in daylight hours and ended well after darkness had fallen. The inaugural Petit Le Mans in 1998 was so successful that it led to the formation of the American Le Mans Series in 1999.
Corvette Racing has won the GTS class in Chevy presents Petit Le Mans for three of the past four years. Corvette’s wins started with the dramatic race of 2000, when driver Andy Pilgrim made a bold pass of one of the factory Dodge Vipers in Turn 1 on the next-to-last lap of the event. Ron Fellows also engineered an exciting comeback win in 2002, taking the class lead only moments from the end of the race.
Johnny O Comes Home
Johnny O’Connell’s career as a professional racing driver has taken him to many parts of the world, and he has lived in several different states, but he has never liked an area better than his current address in Flowery Branch, Hall County, Georgia.
O’Connell, a native of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has lived in Flowery Branch since 1999 and has no intention of leaving, even when his racing career is over.
O’Connell has raced professionally since 1986 and is on the verge of adding to his racing accomplishments as he prepares to compete in Chevy presents Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta Sep. 22-25, just minutes from his home in Flowery Branch, Georgia. The American can clinch his second consecutive American Le Mans Series GTS class driving championship if he and co-drivers Ron Fellows and Max Papis finish either first or second in their class in the 1,000-mile sports car endurance racing event.
“We’ve already won the manufacturers’ championship for Chevrolet and the team championship for Corvette Racing, so the drivers’ championship is the next order of business,” said O’Connell, who has four wins this season in the seven ALMS events. He finished second in the other three.
“Ron and I won the championship together last year and it was great to be able to share it with him,” he said. “He’s not only a great teammate but also a great person. We’ll have Max with us at Petit because it’s a long race and we need three drivers. He helped us win at Sebring this year and he did a great job in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
O’Connell and Fellows have been co-drivers for the Corvette team since 2001 and have scored 19 wins together in the ALMS, as well as two class wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Fellows won the ALMS GTS driving title alone in 2002, and then a change in the points system allowing co-drivers to share the title made them champions together last year.
Fellows is on the verge of becoming the first driver in the six-year history of the ALMS to win three championships.
But there is still a race to run, and O’Connell would like nothing better than to win the championship at his home track. He lives less than five miles from Road Atlanta and counts the win that he and Fellows earned in the 2002 Petit Le Mans as one of his favorites.
“Anytime you can sleep in your own bed on the night before a big endurance race, it’s an advantage,” said O’Connell. “Plus I really like racing at Road Atlanta. It’s got aspects that drivers really like, including high-speed turns, elevation changes and good passing zones.”
O’Connell will be extra busy the week of Petit Le Mans as he will also drive the #12 Cadillac CTS-V race car in the SPEED World Challenge GT race in addition to operating his annual Johnny O’Connell Charity Auction. Held on the night before the race in the Road Atlanta infield, the auction includes items donated by various racing teams and drivers. Proceeds go to the Alzheimer’s Association of Georgia and to The Guest House, a home for Alzheimer’s patients located in Gainesville, Ga.
“It’s a busy time that week but it’s all worth it,” he said. “Winning the race and the championship in one day will be even better.”
“Road Atlanta will be interesting from a technical standpoint as it was the first test where we ran the Corvette C5-R with Michelin back in late 2003,” said Doug Louth, engineering manager for Corvette Racing. “With help from our Michelin partners, we’ve come along way since then in optimizing the car around our new tires and it will be nice to see how well the handling challenges we faced at that early test have been dealt with.
“It will also be great to be back in endurance mode with a three driver practice and setup development format, a long-race pit strategy with significant changes in track conditions to account for, and plenty of track time.”
While We Were Out
Max Papis and Jan Magnussen have been keeping busy since their hero drives for Corvette at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, where Magnussen won the GTS event and Papis finished a close second after driving for more than 10 hours. Just days after returning from his sleepless night at Le Mans, Papis took the checkered flag at the six-hour Grand-Am Rolex Series event at Watkins Glen along with his Team Ganassi teammate and former Corvette driver Scott Pruett. The duo currently leads the Daytona Prototype points standings after three wins and two second-place finishes.
Magnussen has added a number of victories to his charm bracelet since June, competing in the Grand-Am Rolex Series, European Touring Car Championship and Danish Touring Car Championship. The Dane notched a win in Grand-Am with Didier Theys at Watkins Glen and as well as three podiums, including one victory, in the Danish Touring Car Championship behind the wheel of a Peugeot 307. Magnussen also took time out of his busy racing schedule to marry his longtime girlfriend, Christina.
- The 1-2 GTS class finish by Corvette Racing in the most recent ALMS event at Road America was the 16th for the team, the most 1-2 finishes by any entrant in series history.
- Johnny O’Connell made his 50th start in the American Le Mans Series in the recent event at Mosport, becoming the first driver to reach that plateau. He has competed in all but three of the 54 races held for the series since its formation in 1999. While O’Connell was physically present at the other three races, he did not get credit for competing in them because the cars he was to drive retired from the event before his driving stint. The races he did not get credit for starting were an April, 1999, event at Road Atlanta, the 2000 event at Adelaide, Australia, and the 2001 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
- Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell reached the 20-win plateau in the American Le Mans Series with their GTS class win for Corvette Racing in the July 25 ALMS event at Portland. However, after losing the last two races to Corvette teammates Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta, they are still one win away from tying Sascha Maassen for the top spot in all-time career wins in the series with 21.
- Ron Fellows has the longest current streak of consecutive ALMS starts with 34, dating back to the 2000 season.
- With his GTS class pole position in the most recent ALMS race at Road America, his third of 2004, Olivier Beretta has now moved within one pole of tying Corvette teammate Ron Fellows for all-time leadership in ALMS pole positions (fast qualifiers) with 14. The mark for most pole positions in a single season (6) is jointly held by Beretta(2000, GTS), Dirk Muller (1999, GT) and Fellows (2002, GTS) and is in no danger of falling this year.
- Johnny O’Connell continues to lead in all-time starts (51).
- JohnnyO’Connell is tied for the lead in all-time ALMS top 5 finishes (44) along with JJ Lehto, followed by Ron Fellows (42).
- O’Connell leads in all-time top 10 finishes (49) with Fellows tied for second (46).
Entry List – GTS Class
|3||Corvette C5-R||Fellows, O’Connell, Papis|
|4||Corvette C5-R||Gavin, Beretta, Magnussen|
|5||Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT||Brabham, Kox|
|6||Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT||Krohn,Maxwell|
|63||Saleen S7R||Borcheller, Mowlem, Barbosa|
|71||Dodge Viper GTS-R||Weickardt, Belloc|
North American and European Television Coverage
Saturday’s race will be televised live in North America by SPEED Channel and in Europe by MotorsTV. American Le Mans Series Radio will have live coverage of qualifying and the race that can be heard online at www.americanlemans.com.
ALMS Points Standings
|1. Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell||134|
|2. Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta||105|
|3. Terry Borcheller, Johnny Mowlem||84|
|1. Corvette Racing||146*|
|2. ACEMCO Motorsports||84|
|3. Carsport America||40|
|GTS Tire Manufacturers|