Corvette Racing Seeks Fifth Class Title in 24 Hours of Le Mans
Classic 24-Hour Endurance Race to Feature Intense Competition in GT1 Class
LE MANS, France – Corvette Racing races to win in every event, but if there is one victory that every team member prizes, it’s the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This classic 24-hour endurance contest is sports car racing’s Olympics, World Cup and Super Bowl, all compressed into one frenetic day and night of round-the-clock competition. Four times in the last five years, the yellow Corvettes have finished first and second in the GT1 class. On June 17-18, the Chevrolet factory team’s iconic Corvettes will be gunning for their fifth Le Mans title.
Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen stood on the top step of the podium at Le Mans in 2004-05 after back-to-back victories in their No. 64 Corvette. In 2001, Johnny O’Connell and Ron Fellows teamed with Scott Pruett in the No. 63 Corvette to take the class honors, and in 2002 O’Connell and Fellows repeated the feat with Gavin as the third driver. This year’s Le Mans lineup reflects the consistency that is the hallmark of Corvette Racing, reprising the same driver and car combinations as in 2005: Gavin, Beretta and Magnussen in the No. 64 Compuware Corvette C6.R, and Fellows, O’Connell and Max Papis in the No. 63 Compuware Corvette C6.R.
“Le Mans is the Holy Grail of sports car racing,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan as the team began final preparations for the race. “There is nothing like it in the world. Many in America don’t comprehend the importance of Le Mans in the global automotive community, with more than 2,000 journalists covering the event, nearly 300,000 spectators at the track, and millions watching the worldwide television coverage.
“We’re going into Le Mans with a winning attitude after a victory in the grueling 12-hour Sebring race, 1-2 finishes in Houston and Mid-Ohio, and a very productive test in Le Mans on June 4,” Fehan continued. “We’re now totally focused on the most important sports car race on the planet.”
Corvette Racing’s assault on the La Sarthe circuit is planned with the precision of a missile launch and the determination of the D-Day invasion. Every nut, bolt, sensor and spare part must be cataloged and shipped to Le Mans from the team’s headquarters in Michigan. The first installment was dispatched weeks ago by sea – a 64,000-pound 18-wheel tractor/trailer filled with essential equipment and supplies, ranging from pit carts to peanut butter. A second shipment was airlifted to France just days after the Mid-Ohio race, a precious cargo that included the two race cars and 13,000 pounds of parts.
“The challenges at Le Mans are huge,” Fehan noted. “Corvette Racing has competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 2000, and with six years of experience we now understand the essentials of the race – building cars that can run for 24 hours and selecting drivers with the discipline required for endurance racing. Everything that leads up to the race is the true challenge. We ship tons of equipment overseas, and all of that must be coordinated. We have great partners in Europe who help us to assemble the infrastructure that supports the team. It takes months and months of planning to prepare for this single 24-hour race.”
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is contested on the high-speed 8.5-mile Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans, which comprises both the purpose-built Bugatti race circuit and two-lane country roads. This year’s race is the 74th running of the event, which has been contested annually since 1923, except during and immediately following World War II.
“The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the second oldest auto race in the world, and you can feel its history and tradition,” said Johnny O’Connell, a three-time class winner at Le Mans. “I’ve raced in the Indy 500, and I can tell you that this race is every bit as big, every bit as spectacular, and about 21 hours more difficult.
“Maybe it’s the sign of a person who’s not playing with a full deck, but it was always one of my goals to race at night at Le Mans, in the rain, driving nearly 200 mph,” O’Connell revealed. “I’ve done that, and it’s a pretty neat life experience. Corvette Racing goes to Le Mans to compete with the best of the best, and our record there says a lot about the professionalism of this team.”
Last year’s GT1 contest became a battle royal between Corvette Racing and Aston Martin Racing that was fought in temperatures approaching 100 degrees F. The race wasn’t decided until the final two hours; up to that point, the Corvettes and Aston Martins were on the same lap. The class-winning Corvette C6.R completed 349 laps (2,960 miles) and made 27 pit stops.
“I expect another great race,” O’Connell predicted. “The Aston Martin team has strong credentials and an experienced driver lineup. The Saleen is going to be tough, and there is a Corvette C5-R that we’ll have to worry about because it is allowed to run a larger intake air restrictor than our Corvette C6.Rs. I also see competition from the independent Aston Martins and Ferraris. If we are fortunate enough to win, we’ll be able to say that we beat one of the strongest GT1 fields in history.”
Three-time Le Mans winner Oliver Gavin agreed: “Winning Le Mans is like solving a jigsaw puzzle,” he said. “You must have all of the pieces in place – a great car like the Corvette C6.R, teammates who are fast and fully focused, and a crew that performs perfectly. It’s a real test of endurance for the car, the drivers and the team. By the time it’s finished, you’ve been up for nearly 40 hours, and those last few hours can be the hardest.”
Corvette’s racing heritage at Le Mans began 46 years ago when four Corvettes started the 24-hour marathon. Corvette Racing’s recent success at Le Mans has enhanced Corvette’s standing as one of the world’s premier performance marques.
“We have a saying that we race around the clock and win around the world,” explained Corvette marketing manager Gary Claudio. “The coverage that the 24 Hours of Le Mans receives has propelled Corvette and Chevrolet onto the world stage. The people who own Corvettes are very aware of the product, and they understand how racing enhances the cars that they drive.”
“The chemistry within Corvette Racing is amazing,” Claudio declared. “They want to win, and they are proud to represent Corvette and Chevrolet around the world. They’re racers.”
On June 17-18, the men and women of Corvette Racing will be working flat-out to win the Big One.
Just the Facts
- 2006 marks Corvette’s 50th anniversary in international road racing and 46th anniversary at Le Mans. John Fitch and Walt Hansgen drove a Corvette to a Class B victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1956, the first step onto the world stage that established Chevy’s sports car as a contender in top-level competition. In 1960, Briggs Cunningham entered three Corvettes in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Lucky Casner entered one Corvette under the Camoradi USA banner. Cunningham drivers Fitch and Bob Grossman won the large displacement GT class and finished eighth overall.
- Including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is not part of the American Le Mans Series, Corvette Racing has won 23 of its last 24 races. Corvette Racing has scored a record-tying 12 straight victories in ALMS competition, a winning streak that began at Road Atlanta in April 2005.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans will start at 5 p.m. local time (11 a.m. EDT) on Saturday, June 17, and will conclude at 5 p.m. local time (11 a.m. EDT) on Sunday, June 18. The SPEED Channel will televise 20 hours of live coverage in the U.S., from 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. EDT on Saturday and from 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday to 11:30 a.m. EDT on Sunday. MotorsTV will provide complete Le Mans race coverage in Europe, including practice and qualifying sessions. Audio coverage of the 24 Hours of Le Mans can be heard over the Internet at www.radiolemans.com.
Release Date: June 13, 2006