From Michigan to Le Mans: A Motorsports Odyssey
Corvette Racing Notebook for the 24 Hours of Le Mans Test, June 5, 2005
LE MANS, France – The 24 Hours of Le Mans is road racing’s Super Bowl, Olympics and World Cup, all combined in a manic 24-hour marathon on two-lane country roads in France’s Loire Valley. Corvette Racing’s quest for its fourth Le Mans GT1 title begins with the traditional Le Mans test day on June 5 – but in fact, planning for this overseas odyssey began the day after last year’s champagne-spraying celebration. Like a missile launch or the D-day invasion, GM Racing’s assault on the Le Sarthe circuit demands painstaking preparation and perfect execution.
Corvette Racing returns to Le Mans with its successful endurance racing driver lineup: Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell and Max Papis are teamed in the No. 63 Compuware Corvette C6.R, and Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen share the No. 64 Compuware Corvette C6.R. The June 5 test is the only opportunity for the invited field of 50 entries to gauge the race track and public roads that make up the 13.6-kilometer course before the start of qualifying on June 15.
This year’s event marks the first appearance of the new Corvette C6.R at Le Mans. The successor to the C5-R that posted 1-2 finishes in France in 2001, 2002 and 2004, the C6.R has already scored a pair of wins in the American Le Mans Series. But sprint races on American soil are a far cry from 24 hours at Le Mans.
Literally every nut, bolt, fitting and sensor must be shipped from Corvette Racing’s Michigan headquarters to Le Mans. The first shipment was dispatched weeks ago by sea – a 75,000-pound 18-wheel tractor/trailer, accompanied by 34 crates of tools and parts weighing more than 30,000 pounds.
A second installment was airlifted to France just four days after Corvette Racing’s 1-2 finish at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on May 22. Refreshed and refurbished after the Mid-Ohio round, the twin Velocity Yellow Corvettes were loaded on roller pallets alongside crates packed with race engines, gearboxes, and wheels – another 30,000 pounds of essential equipment for the American expeditionary force. Corvette Racing’s trans-Atlantic parts pipeline will continue to flow until the start of the race on June 18.
“After doing this for six years, we have the procedure down pat,” said J. R. Redfield, the person responsible for inventorying and cataloging the entire Corvette Racing consignment. “The shipment is organized by car systems – brake parts in one box, suspension components in another, and so on.
“It’s expensive to ship parts to France, but you can’t afford to leave anything behind that might be needed at the race,” said Redfield. “Last year we went through a lot of bodywork, but we still had enough spares to get both cars to the finish. You don’t want to take more than you need, but everything that you do.”
The Big One
Oliver Gavin is a member of the elite club of two-time Le Mans winners. He won the GTS class in 2002 with Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell; teamed with Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen last year, the Corvette trio pulled off a come-from-behind victory for Chevrolet after trailing its Ferrari rivals for much of the race. With the arrival of Aston Martin this year and the return of the Ferraris, the GT1 battle again promises to be the headliner at Le Mans.
“We expect a tough fight this year against Aston Martin and Ferrari,” said Gavin, voicing the thoughts of the entire team. “Le Mans is the most important race of the year for Corvette Racing, and it’s the one event we focus on. Every driver relishes going to Le Mans because it’s such a challenge.”
“To win last year at Le Mans was a mighty feat, and if we were to take the new C6.R to Le Mans and come away with another victory, it would be immense,” Gavin declared. “We have prepared ourselves to the maximum, but there are so many variables at Le Mans that you can never predict the outcome.”
The Mulsanne Express
With its long straights and glass-smooth racing surface, the immense 8.4-mile Le Mans circuit rewards horsepower and demands aerodynamic efficiency. The Corvette C6.Rs are dressed for success at Le Sarthe with bodywork that is smaller and sleeker than its C5-R predecessor. They’re propelled by proven and powerful 7-liter GM small-block V-8 engines under their carbon fiber hoods.
The twin Corvette C6.R race cars are the product of a full year of rigorous testing and development. With the ACO rulebook’s insistence on close adherence to production specifications, the C6.R race cars are firmly based on the production sixth-generation Corvette.
“We gave a wish list to Corvette chief engineer Dave Hill and his engineering team that was working on the production sixth-generation Corvette,” recalled Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “We wished for flush headlights for better aerodynamics. We wished for a single, large grille opening for the engine air intake, radiator, and brake cooling. We hoped they could find a way to give us a lower coefficient of drag. They granted all three wishes with the production C6 Corvette. The Corvette engineering team gave us exactly what we needed.”
The Corvette C6.R program continues Chevrolet’s tradition of racing production-based vehicles. Corvette Racing provides opportunities to improve both GM’s production and racing vehicles through the two-way exchange of technology, personnel and processes.
“The C6.R and the production C6 were developed in tandem,” Fehan explained. “We had some challenges in packaging and aerodynamics with the new C6 body because it’s 5.5 inches shorter than its predecessor, but some of those ultimately worked in our favor. The C6.R has a lower coefficient of drag than the C5-R, and we have a new front undertray and new rear diffuser that help its aerodynamic performance.”
“There are many improvements in the C6.R, although they may not be apparent to a casual observer,” he revealed. “There are new uprights, more efficient brake cooling ducts, and refinements in the suspension geometry. The C6.R evolved from the C5-R, so we concentrated on making many small gains that add up to a better overall package.”
With decades of experience in motorsports, Fehan takes a pragmatic approach to the daunting task of winning the world’ greatest road race. “The key in endurance racing is to try to minimize the misfortune you’re inevitably going to encounter,” he observed. “The formula for success is 25 percent great team, 25 percent great car, and 50 percent good luck. That’s how this game works.”
Corvette Racing has covered the bases with thorough preparation, advanced GM technology, skillful drivers and a team that knows how to win the big ones. The test on June 5 is the next step in Corvette Racing’s quest for victory at Le Mans.
Release Date: May 31, 2005