Corvette Racing Races Against the Clock to Prepare for Lime Rock
Corvette Racing Notebook for the American Le Mans Series New England Grand Prix, July 1-4
LAKEVILLE, Conn. – Le Mans and Lime Rock Park are a world apart. Just a few days ago, Corvette Racing’s twin C6.R race cars were hurtling through the French countryside on an immense 8.5-mile circuit for 24 grueling hours. This weekend the Corvette C6.Rs will celebrate America’s birthday on the tight 1.54-mile Lime Rock Park circuit in a 2-hour, 45-minute sprint race.
“It’s an interesting transition because we go from the longest track at which we race to the shortest,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “We’re going from 4-minute laps at Le Mans to lap times that are less than a minute at Lime Rock. The track surface in Le Mans is very smooth, while Lime Rock’s surface is rather irregular. That presents a challenge for the chassis setup with the springs and damper selection.”
If a 24-hour endurance race can be compared to chess, then a race at Lime Rock resembles a video game. With lightning-quick lap times and a sprint-race format, strategy can be as important as speed at Lime Rock Park.
“Pit stops are paramount at Lime Rock because essentially you lose a lap every time you stop, even when pitting under yellow-flag conditions,” Fehan explained. “It’s crucial to map out the speed of the pace car, figure out how much time it takes for the pace car to complete a lap, and then time the pit stops perfectly. You can win or lose any race in the pits, but strategy is key at Lime Rock.”
The same Velocity Yellow Corvettes C6.Rs that finished first and second in the GT1 class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be back in action at Lime Rock Park. There was little time for Corvette Racing’s mechanics to bask in the afterglow of their fourth Le Mans title since both cars had to be completely rebuilt for this weekend’s event. Even as the drivers were celebrating on the victory podium, the crew was loading the race cars onto pallets for the long flight from France to the U.S.
“The cars arrived at our shop in Michigan on Thursday afternoon, and we started work on Friday morning,” said team manager Gary Pratt. “The team put in a long day Saturday, had Sunday off, then loaded the trucks on Monday and Tuesday.”
A 24-hour race exacts a heavy toll on equipment. The team replaced the race cars’ drivetrains, suspensions and body panels before the rigs left for Connecticut.
“We got lucky at Le Mans this year,” Pratt noted. “The cars had very little body damage. We built the gearboxes for Lime Rock before we went overseas, so they were ready to bolt in as soon as the cars came back. We changed out all of the suspension components, installed fresh engines, and put on new bodywork. The chassis got a close inspection, and every critical part that comes off the car is checked for cracks and examined under a microscope before it’s rebuilt and put back into the system.”
The Driver’s Perspective
“Lime Rock is sports car racing’s version of a short-track speedway,” said Corvette Racing driver Ron Fellows. “It’s a bullring for sports car racers. The downhill turn into the pit straight is awesome, and in the Corvette, it’s very, very fast.”
“Handling is Corvette Racing’s strong suit,” he explained. “The new Corvette C6.Rs were very good at Sebring, which has surface changes much like Lime Rock. Our GM Racing engineers have always done a good job of keeping the cars stuck to the road even when the surface is a bit bumpy.”
With no action on the track on Sunday, how will Fellows and his teammates spend the day?
“I think we’ll do what we did last year – have a Fourth of July picnic and a volleyball tournament with the race team. The tournament can get pretty intense; I call it ‘Corvette Racing Cutthroat Volleyball.'”
What It Takes to Win Le Mans
What does it take to win the world’s most prestigious sports car race? Here is a summary of how Corvette Racing scored its fourth 1-2 finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Total laps: 696 (349 by No. 64, 347 by No. 63)
Total miles: 5902 (2959.5 by No. 64, 2942.5 by No. 63)
Pit stops: 53 (27 by No. 64, 26 by No. 63)
Gear changes: 31,320 (average 45 per lap)
Gasoline: 1240 gallons (621 gallons by No. 63, 619 gallons by No. 64)
Tires: 164 (76 by No. 63, 88 by No. 64)
Oil: 6 quarts (3 each by No. 63 and 64)
Water: 1 quart (per car)
Le Mans Reflections
This year’s Le Mans GT1 race was an epic battle between Corvette Racing and the Prodrive Aston Martin team, with Ferrari ready to pounce if the frontrunners faltered. The twice-around-the-clock endurance race was run in withering heat, with 97-degree temperatures on the second day of racing.
The Aston Martin DBR9s qualified ahead of the Corvettes, but penalties and off-course excursions kept the Aston Martins within reach. The race was not without incident for the Corvette team, however. The No. 64 Compuware Corvette suffered two punctures in the early going, but Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta were able to bring the stricken car back to the pits without damage.
Less than two laps separated the rivals through the long night of racing. The Corvettes were first and third in class at the six-hour mark, second and third after 12 hours, and second and fourth at 18 hours. The turning point came at dawn’s early light on Sunday morning. As the heat built, the Corvettes stepped up their pace and increased the pressure on the class-leading Aston Martin.
“We never thought the race was slipping away, even when the Aston Martins were faster than us at night,” said GM Road Racing Group Manager Steve Wesoloski. “We saw on Saturday that we had better cars in the 90-degree heat than they did. We told each other that if we didn’t let them get too far away, the race was going to come back to us.”
It came down to Gavin and Jan Magnussen to press the issue. As the thermometer climbed from 85 degrees in the morning to 97 degrees at noon, they set a scorching pace in the No. 64 Compuware Corvette C6.R that finally broke the opposition in the 22nd hour.
“When you have two great marques like Corvette and Aston Martin and two great teams like Corvette Racing and Prodrive racing against each other, it’s very special,” said Gavin after his third Le Mans victory in four years. “It was a hard race, and when it came down to it, the team was asking for that little extra and I had to dig deep. Mentally it was like running the Paris Marathon earlier this year; it gave me strength and focused my mind. I just kept thinking, ‘Next corner, next corner, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Be disciplined, be careful.'”
“When I stepped out of the car after my last stint, I saw Doug Fehan standing in the entrance to the garage,” Gavin remembered. “I could see in his eyes that we’d got over the big hurdle and we’d broken the back of the Aston Martin. It was at that moment I thought, ‘We’ve got it!’ and only some massive disaster would prevent us from taking the flag first.”
The X Factor
Every endurance race has an unknown variable. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was the heat. The air conditioning and ventilation systems that Corvette Racing incorporated in the C6.R race cars aided the drivers’ performance under extreme conditions.
“You can’t think of the drivers the same way as you think of tires and fuel,” said Wesoloski. “They’ve got to be mentally sharp and physically able to drive the car. That’s something we keep in mind.”
“Taking care of the drivers is an integral part of the race,” Fehan added. “Giving them the proper environment inside the car and the proper medical care when they’re out of the car is part of the process. In the end, the cars are a constant; the variable in the equation is the people. You must be able to manage that variable, and that’s what we did.”
After Sebring and Le Mans, the score between Corvette and Aston Martin now stands at one win each. Road racing fans will relish the continuation of this rivalry in the season-ending races in Atlanta and Monterey, Calif.
“For 22 hours in Le Mans, it was like two bulls fighting, and one had to give,” observed Pratt. “Fortunately we weren’t the one that gave.”
Release Date: June 28, 2005