Le Mans Six-Hour Report: Corvette Racing Leads GT1
Papis Puts Corvette at Head of the GT1 Class
LE MANS, France – With the first six hours of the 24 Hours of Le Mans completed, the battle between Corvette and Aston Martin is living up to its billing. Starting third and fifth in the GT1 class, the twin Compuware Corvettes were first and third at 10 p.m., with the leading car completing 86 laps around the 13.65-kilometer circuit. The No. 63 Corvette driven by Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell and Max Papis had a relatively trouble-free run in the first quarter of the race, while the pace of the No 64 Corvette of Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen was slowed by two punctured left rear tires.
“The car is running like a Swiss watch,” said Max Papis after taking the GT1 lead at 9:15 p.m. “We were pushing really hard, and I think this battle is going to go down to the wire.”
The first quarter of the race was punctuated by punctured tires and off-course excursions by numerous competitors.
“We’re just running our pace and letting the race come to us,” said Steve Wesoloski, GM Racing Road Racing Group manager. “It’s been an unusual six hours with so many tires being punctured and so much oil and debris on the track. We’ve made chassis adjustments to increase downforce and improve grip.”
Oliver Gavin was leading the GT1 class at the one-hour mark in the No. 64 Corvette C6.R when he had a tire go down on the fast Mulsanne Straight. He nursed the car back to the pits without incurring additional damage.
“The crew radioed that a tire was losing pressure and I started feeling a vibration,” Gavin reported. “When it went, it wasn’t too hard to control the car, but it was very frustrating to drive around slowly because you want to get back to the pits as quickly as possible. It’s Russian roulette with the tires because the gravel thrown onto the track is so sharp.”
Olivier Beretta experienced a similar tire problem one hour later. “We had two punctures, which is just bad luck,” he said. “The car is very good, and I didn’t have any problems after the puncture.”
The Corvettes have been running 13 laps on a tank of fuel, and all of the drivers did double stints on the first cycle. Although the temperature topped 90 degrees this afternoon, the heat did not affect either the Corvette C6.R race cars or their drivers.
“As hot as it is, the car was pretty comfortable, and I could have driven a third stint if I needed to,” said Johnny O’Connell. “At this stage of the game we’re not really focusing on speed. The brakes are good, the engine is good, the gearbox seems fine, so we’re just concentrating on keeping the car running.”
Colin Powell Salutes Corvette Racing
Corvette Racing marketing manager Gary Claudio opened this morning’s team meeting by reading a fax from General Colin Powell, who drove the 2005 Corvette Indianapolis 500 Pace Car on May 29. Powell also owns a C6 Corvette. His message: “Best wishes to our team in Le Mans. I’ll be watching the win!”
The 24 Hours of Le Mans will conclude at 10 a.m. EDT (4 p.m. local time) on Sunday, June 19. SPEED Channel will televise 17.5 hours of live coverage; check local listings for times.
GT1 Top-Five Standings after Six Hours:
1. (63) O’Connell-Fellows-Papis/Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, 86
2. (58) Enge-Kox-Lamy, Aston Martin DBR9, 86
3. (64) Gavin-Beretta-Magnussen/Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, 85
4. (59) Brabham-Sarrazin-Turner, Aston Martin DBR9, 84
5. (50) Goueslard-Dupard-Vosse, Ferrari 550, 83
Release Date: June 18, 2005