Corvettes Qualify Third and Fourth for Utah Grand Prix
O’Connell and Gavin Contend with Heat, Altitude and Performance Handicaps at Miller Motorsports Park
SALT LAKE CITY – Scorching heat, high altitude and performance handicaps took their toll on Corvette Racing in qualifying for Saturday’s inaugural American Le Mans Series Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park. Johnny O’Connell qualified the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R third in the GT1 class at 2:37.414 (102.593 mph) and Oliver Gavin was fourth in the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R at 2:37.626 (102.455 mph). The quickest qualifier was Tomas Enge in the No. 007 Aston Martin DBR9 at 2:34.953 (104.223 mph).
“The Astons are way faster than us in qualifying, but they won’t have the advantages of the Corvette Racing crew and Michelin tires on race day,” said O’Connell. “I expect another down-to-the-wire battle tomorrow.”
The Utah Grand Prix will be the first ALMS event contested at the new state-of-the-art 4.5-mile Miller Motorsports Park circuit. Qualifying was conducted in 100-degree heat at the high-altitude (4,923 feet) track. The Corvettes have a 199-pound weight handicap, 10-liter smaller fuel tanks, and 6 percent smaller engine intake air restrictors at this event as a result of performance adjustments imposed by the sanctioning body.
“The extra weight obviously hurts the Corvettes’ mid-corner speed, which has always been our strength,” explained Steve Wesoloski, GM Road Racing Group manager. “With 23 turns, the weight handicap has taken away that advantage. The Corvettes have never been fastest in straight-line speed, and now with the smaller restrictors that we are required to use, the Corvettes can’t keep up on the straightaways either. The smaller restrictors have also taken away our drivers’ ability to get around GT2 cars quickly, so they lose more time every lap. It’s all very frustrating.”
“We have good race cars and believe we have the right package for long, full-tank runs,” Wesoloski noted. “We’re confident that our tires will hold up, and perhaps the Aston Martins’ tires won’t. That could be the difference in the race – in fact, we’re counting on it.”
The two yellow Corvettes played a waiting game in the 20-minute qualifying session, remaining in the pits as the crew chiefs picked their spots to send out the drivers. Just before the 10-minute mark, Gavin and O’Connell got the sign to go. Both completed two flying laps and recorded their quickest qualifying times on their second circuits.
“We were a little loose on the first lap and a little twitchy on the second as well,” O’Connell reported. “We’re pushing as hard as we can, and we’re still nearly three seconds behind. But Corvette Racing loves a good challenge and hopefully we’ll rise to the occasion tomorrow.”
Gavin agreed: “When I went onto the track for my qualifying run, I was behind a GT2 Porsche and had to back off,” said the Briton. “These things sometimes happen. It’s going to be a long, hot race tomorrow. The Astons are very fast, as we knew they would be. We know that our Michelin tires are strong, and the Corvette C6.R has got a good race setup, so I’m optimistic about a good result.”
The Utah Grand Prix, the fifth round of the 10-race 2006 American Le Mans Series, will start at 6 p.m. MDT (8 p.m. EDT) on Saturday, July 15. The two-hour, 45-minute race will be televised tape-delayed by CBS Sports on Sunday, July 16, at 2 p.m. EDT.
Utah Grand Prix GT1 Qualifying:
1. Enge/Turner, Aston Martin DBR9, 2:34.953/104.223 mph
2. Piccini/Sarrazin, Aston Martin DBR9, 2:35.330/103.970 mph
3. Fellows/O’Connell, Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, 2:37.414/102.593 mph
4. Gavin/Beretta, Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, 2:37.626/102.455 mph
Release Date: July 14, 2006