Corvette Racing Sets the GT1 Pace in Practice for 24 Hours of Le Mans
Magnussen Runs Fast Time in Wet and Dry Six-Hour Session
LE MANS, France – After months of planning, weeks of preparation, and long hours of anticipation, tonight’s six-hour free practice session signaled the start of the buildup to the 77th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. With weather conditions changing frequently throughout the session, Corvette Racing driver Jan Magnussen recorded the quickest time in the GT1 category with a 3:57.876 lap around the 8.47-mile circuit in the No. 63 Compuware Corvette C6.R. Oliver Gavin notched the second quickest time in the GT1 category at 3:59.586 in the No. 64 Compuware Corvette C6.R.
Despite the adverse conditions, all six Corvette Racing drivers completed their three mandatory laps in darkness after 10 p.m. The No. 63 Corvette C6.R ran a total of 43 laps and the No. 64 Corvette C6.R completed 40 laps. The Corvette Racing crew parked the cars in their garages shortly after 11 p.m., electing not to run the final hour of practice.
“Since it was raining for most of the session, we worked on a wet-weather setup and tire choices, going through our possibilities of intermediates and full wets,” Magnussen said. “Though the weather forecast looks good for the rest of the week, there is still a chance of some rain on Sunday, so what we’ve learned today will come in handy then. Other than that it was business as usual, going through the motions of that typical first day at Le Mans. The car handles beautifully and responds well to the changes we made, and we got the understeer dialed out by the end of the session. Of course the times can still be improved in tomorrow’s qualifying session, which is expected to be dry and sunny.”
With the cancellation of the traditional test day two weeks before the 24-hour race, the Corvette Racing team used today’s marathon practice session to work through a schedule of bedding brakes and evaluating tires. The session began at 6 p.m. in bright sunlight but with a damp track. Both Magnussen and Gavin made exploratory laps, then waited half an hour for the racing line to dry before going out on slicks. The rain began in earnest at 7:52, and both cars retired briefly to the pit lane before venturing out again on grooved tires. Lap times climbed 20 to 30 seconds as the track surface became saturated.
“A wet track is really not what you want when you come to Le Mans with very little time to get the car tuned in,” said Gavin. “We had a small issue with a wheel speed sensor that took some time to fix so we were in the garage when the track conditions were perhaps at their best. Then the weather got worse and worse, and we went through the whole range of tires, from slicks to intermediates to full wets. Even in the rain, the car seems to be very comfortable.”
“It’s always good to experience as many different conditions as possible, but it certainly would have been better if we could have run through our planned program in the dry to get Marcel (Fassler) the maximum amount of time in the car and focus on our race setup,” said the Briton. “But there’s no way to control the weather in Le Mans!”
Fassler completed his first laps in the No. 64 Corvette C6.R since his debut with Corvette Racing at the Sebring 12-hour race in March.
“The conditions were difficult, and I’ve never driven a GT1 car at Le Mans on wet tires, so it was a new experience for me,” Fassler said. “I knew from last year that the Corvette was a very good car under wet conditions, so I was quite comfortable.”
“I completed my three required laps in darkness, so I am qualified now!” the Swiss driver continued. “For a long time, you ask yourself how it will be at Le Mans, and now after this long wait and doing some laps, I am ready to race.”
Johnny O’Connell is competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the 15th time. The driver of the No. 63 Corvette C6.R can become the first American driver to score four wins in the classic endurance contest.
“It was a good day today, even with the ever-changing conditions,” O’Connell said. “We had some understeer in certain corners, but apart from that there were no dramas. Just another day at the office, everybody getting to grips with the track and getting their mandatory nighttime laps in. We stopped an hour before the end of the session, because we had done everything we had set out to do.”
Antonio Garcia turned his first laps in the No. 63 Corvette C6.R since he won the Sebring 12-hour race in his Corvette Racing debut with teammates Magnussen and O’Connell.
“Today I discovered the Corvette in the rain on this track, learning its limits,” Garcia said. “In the Dunlop chicane I briefly locked up under braking and spun, but rather than try something desperate to catch it, I decided to let the car slide across the gravel trap. There was no harm done and after a quick cleanup I could continue my mandatory nighttime laps. I probably braked a little too late or a bit too hard, which is what you naturally do on this part of the track, where the gravel traps and run-offs are much wider than on the public road section.”
Qualifying for the world’s most prestigious sports car race will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight on Thursday, June 11. The 77th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. CET (9 a.m. EDT) on Saturday, June 13 and finish at 3 p.m. CET (9 a.m. EDT) on Sunday, June 14. SPEED will provide live television coverage in the U.S. from 8:30 a.m. to noon ET and 4:30 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and midnight to 10 a.m. ET Sunday. Flag-to-flag coverage of the race will be available at radiolemans.com.
24 Hours of Le Mans LM GT1 Practice Times:
1. (63) O’Connell/Magnussen/Garcia, Corvette C6.R, 3:57.876
2. (64) Gavin/Beretta/Fassler, Corvette C6.R, 3:59.586
3. (66) Lichtner-Hoyer/Gruber/Muller, Aston Martin DBR9, 4:06.606
4. (72) Alphand/Goueslard/Gregoire, Corvette C6.R, 4:38.342
5. (73) Jousse/Maassen/Clairay, Corvette C6.R, 4:42.802
6. (68) Apicella/Yogo/Yamagishi, Lamborghini Murcielago, no time
Release Date: June 10, 2009