Corvette Racing Third and Fifth in First Qualifying Session for 24 Hours of Le Mans
Six Drivers Complete Required Laps in Darkness Despite Wet and Slippery Conditions
LE MANS, France – Rain and red flags played havoc with Corvette Racing’s best-laid plans in the first of two qualifying sessions for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. With the threat of rain in the air, there was a sense of urgency as tonight’s session began at 7 p.m. When qualifying concluded shortly after midnight, Corvette Racing was third and fifth in provisional GT1 qualifying. Oliver Gavin ran the quickest time for Corvette Racing at 3:52.130 on his final lap in the No. 64 Compuware Corvette C6.R, with Jan Magnussen close behind at 3:52.657 in the No. 63 Compuware Corvette C6.R.
The No. 008 Aston Martin set the pace in the GT1 division with a time of 3:50.761. Qualifying will continue with a second session on Thursday evening to set the grid for the 75th running of the world’s most revered sports car race.
“It’s been very challenging tonight and the conditions have been very changeable,” said Gavin. “I was trying to find a dry line, and in the dark it’s very difficult here to pick out where it’s damp and where it’s dry.”
“On my warm-up lap, I caught up to a prototype and the driver suddenly jumped onto the brakes going onto the straight after the Porsche curves. I tried to miss him but caught the right front bodywork on his car. I thought I had a tire going down, and my first flying lap was wasted. At the end, my engineer was telling me the target time and I did the best I could. It was good enough for third, and while I’d like to be a little higher, we’ve got tomorrow to work on. The changes we made to the car were very productive and we’ll be in good shape.”
“I think Le Mans this year will be all about the weather,” Gavin predicted. “It’s going to be about the right tire choices, the right strategy, and making clear, rational decisions rather than all-out speed.”
A crash by the No. 53 Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT brought out the first red flag and stopped the action at 8:10 p.m. Rain began to fall at 8:40 p.m., and officials subsequently extended the session by 15 minutes, but the two Corvettes did not venture back onto the track in the treacherous conditions. At the conclusion of the first half of the session, the No. 64 Corvette C6.R was fourth in the GT1 class with a 3:55.202 qualifying time, and the No. 63 Corvette C6.R was sixth at 3:56.148.
After a 45-minute break, qualifying resumed. With portions of the track still wet, the Corvettes stayed in their garages. A second red flag flew at 10:31 p.m. after a prototype crashed. When the track was cleared 20 minutes later, Johnny O’Connell and Max Papis went out in the No. 63 and No. 64 Corvettes, respectively. Ron Fellows replaced O’Connell and Olivier Beretta took over from Papis at 11:05 p.m. The final driver changes took place at 11:20 p.m. as Gavin and Magnussen took advantage of the drying track to make their qualifying runs. Thus all six Corvette drivers completed their laps in darkness as required by the race regulations.
“This place can cause you to get impatient at times like this, and that’s a big mistake,” observed Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “You have to have the experience to know that patience pays, and that means waiting for the track to dry so that you can get a car around the circuit safely. It’s important to get all six drivers qualified on the first night and get that requirement out of the way. Then on Thursday the team can focus solely on fine tuning the setup.”
Practice and qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans concludes on Thursday, June 14, with two timed sessions from 7-9 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight. The 24 Hours of Le Mans will start at 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. EDT) on Saturday, June 16 and finish at 3 p.m. (9 a.m. EDT) on Sunday, June 17. SPEED will televise 17.5 hours of coverage in North America from 8:30 – 11 a.m., 5:30 – 7 p.m., and 8 p.m. to midnight EDT on Saturday, June 16, and from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. EDT on Sunday, June 17.
24 Hours of Le Mans LM GT1 Top 10 Qualifying Times:
1. (008) Bouchut/Gollin/Elgaard, Aston Martin DBR9, 3:50.761
2. (55) Ortelli/Ayari/Lapierre, Saleen S7R, 3:51.240
3. (64) Gavin/Beretta/Papis, Corvette C6.R, 3:52.130
4. (009) Brabham/Rydell/Turner, Aston Martin DBR9, 3:52.471
5. (63) Fellows/O’Connell/Magnussen, Corvette C6.R, 3:52.657
6. (59) Garcia/Menten/Fittipaldi, Aston Martin DBR9, 3:53.727
7. (54) Groppi/Prost/Belloc, Saleen S7R, 3:54.718
8. (100) Babini/Davies/Malucelli, Aston Martin DBR9, 3:55.141
9. (72) Policand/Goueslard/Alphand, Corvette C6.R, 3:55.668
10. (007) Enge/Herbert/Kox, Aston Martin DBR9, 3:55.714
CORVETTE RACING QUOTES:
Olivier Beretta, No. 64 Corvette C6.R: “The track was very dirty and quite different from two weeks ago, but we managed to do what we had planned to do before the red flag came out. We just started slowly and then gradually built up from there.”
Ron Fellows, No. 63 Corvette C6.R: “In the first session the track was as slippery and dirty as I’ve ever seen it. The first three laps were like driving down a dirt road. It completely destroyed the tear-off on the windscreen. So we just waited for the track to come in before starting to tune in the car. The red came out before the rain put paid to that session.”
Jan Magnussen, No. 63 Corvette C6.R: “We changed the aero balance at the front of the car right at the end of the session, which improved the times considerably. That last lap was the only really clear one, but by then the tires were past their prime. The lap before they were better, but then I hit some slower cars. Considering the weather and track conditions we’re in good shape. Tomorrow’s another day and we should be able to improve our times quite a bit in the first session, weather conditions permitting.”
Johnny O’Connell, No. 63 Corvette C6.R: “This is the world’s toughest race, and things like tonight where it’s wet on one part of the circuit are what makes it so difficult. This is our big race, it’s what we think about all year, and you respect it. Every member of Corvette Racing respects this circuit, and there’s no reason to take any chances with the car before the race on Saturday.”
Max Papis, No. 64 Corvette C6.R: “Our goal today was to understand the condition of the track and to learn as much as possible. At this place you need to stay calm and don’t let the conditions affect what you’re doing. At Corvette Racing we know that what counts is the result of the 24-hour race.”
“It’s not an easy situation when it’s raining on one side of the track and dry on the other. I know that I can count on a great group of guys to help me. This is one of those places where you shouldn’t try to guess – you should make sure what it is. The moment something goes wrong, it goes wrong in a very big way. That’s why we always try to stay on the side of caution.”
Release Date: June 13, 2007