O’Connell and Corvette Claim GT1 Pole at Petit Le Mans
Gavin Second as Corvettes Qualify 1-2 at Road Atlanta
BRASELTON, Ga. – Corvette Racing teammates Johnny O’Connell and Oliver Gavin qualified first and second respectively in the GT1 class for Saturday’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. O’Connell reprised his pole-winning performance at his home track to become the fastest GT1 qualifier for the second time in his ALMS career. He won his first career pole at the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta circuit in April 2005.
In what turned out to be a rather bizarre qualifying session, O’Connell posted his fast time at 1:18.210 (116.92 mph) on his second flying lap in the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R. Gavin then responded with a 1:18.460 (116.54 mph) on his fourth lap in the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R. As the Corvettes returned to pit lane, the Aston Martins began their qualifying runs, each completing a perfunctory lap to qualify third and fourth, setting GT1 the grid.
“It was very interesting – I think the Astons went slower in qualifying than they had run in practice,” noted Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “They must have encountered some difficulty with the clear blue sky, moderate temperature and fast race track. It’s difficult to say what’s on their mind, but I can assure you that it’s pretty transparent to the teams, officials and fans.”
“That’s not to take anything away from how hard the Corvette Racing team has worked,” Fehan continued. “We can have some fun with this situation, but the reality is that the crews for the No. 3 and No. 4 Corvette C6.Rs have busted their tails to try to squeeze everything they can out of the cars. We know how much faster the Astons will be under the current rules. It’s really a credit that both Johnny and Oliver ran their quickest laps of the weekend in qualifying.”
The start of qualifying was delayed 20 minutes by an accident in the preceding IMSA GT3 Cup race. When the green flag flew, Gavin waited nearly three minutes before going onto the track, while O’Connell waited five minutes in the pit lane.
“I think our competition is holding something back, but it’s a good day for the Compuware Corvettes,” said O’Connell, a resident of nearby Flowery Branch, Ga. “It’s always better to go into a long race starting at the front even though it doesn’t matter all that much. And it’s a great feeling to win the pole at my home track.”
Gavin’s bid for the quickest time was thwarted by traffic as he encountered slower GT2 cars throughout his four-lap qualifying run.
“Second is great, but I don’t really understand how we’re in that position,” Gavin remarked. “There’s something suspect about the Aston Martins’ performance.”
“Unfortunately it was one of those days where luck didn’t run with us,” he continued. “You think you’ve found a hole in traffic, and then someone else trickles out onto the course. It’s frustrating, but that’s just the way it goes some times.”
Petit Le Mans, the ninth round of the ALMS series, will run to 1,000 miles or 10 hours, whichever comes first. The penultimate race of the season pays bonus points that could determine the driver, team and manufacturers championships. Chevrolet and Corvette Racing lead Aston Martin Racing by 14 points (151-137) in the GT1 manufacturers and team championships, while Gavin and Olivier Beretta have an 18-point advantage over Ron Fellows, O’Connell and Aston Martin driver Tomas Enge in the drivers championship.
“The championship is something we can’t lose sight of,” said Gavin. “More than anything, we want to get the manufacturers championship wrapped up, and a first or second tomorrow would go a long way toward securing it for Chevrolet and Corvette Racing.”
Petit Le Mans is scheduled to start at 11:45 a.m. EDT on Saturday, Sept. 30. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED Channel from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT and 3 to 10 p.m. EDT. American Le Mans Radio will have live coverage at www.americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA live timing and scoring.
Petit Le Mans GT1 Qualifying:
1. Fellows/O’Connell/Papis, Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, 1:18.210/116.92 mph
2. Gavin/Beretta/Magnussen, Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, 1:18.460/116.54 mph
3. Lamy/Sarrazin, Aston Martin DBR9, 1:18.547/116.41 mph
4. Enge/Turner, Aston Martin DBR9, 1:18.859/115.95 mph
Release Date: September 29, 2006