Petit Le Mans to Renew Rivalries for Corvette Racing
Corvette Racing Notebook for Petit Le Mans, Sept. 29 – Oct. 1
BRASELTON, Ga. – As Paul Revere once said in a slightly different context, “The British are coming!” This weekend’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta marks the renewal of sports car racing’s fiercest rivalry as America’s Corvette Racing takes on the British Aston Martin team in the rubber match of international endurance racing.
The score stands at 1-1 going into Saturday’s 1,000-mile/10-hour event at Road Atlanta. The Prodrive Aston Martin team took the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March, while Corvette Racing claimed victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. Corvette Racing’s drivers and crew are anticipating another classic battle in the Georgia countryside, and hope to duplicate the outcome of the first Anglo-American conflict by beating the Brits in Chevrolet’s 21st century version of the American Revolution.
“We beat them at Le Mans and we gave them Sebring,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “I can’t tell you how much we are looking forward to racing Aston Martin again because it represents great competition that produces a terrific show for the fans. With the improved performance of the Saleen and Maserati teams, the ALMS has become a great racing environment, and that’s going to be apparent for 10 hours at Petit Le Mans.”
The roller coaster Road Atlanta circuit adds another dimension of the rivalry, but the plan is simple: go as fast as you can.
“There are no more endurance races – they’re all sprint races now, and some just run longer than others,” Fehan laughed. “There is no strategy. The green flag drops, the drivers put the pedal to the metal, and the first car to the finish line wins.”
From the Driver’s Seat
Corvette Racing’s driver lineup will be at full strength for the season’s final long distance event. The Le Mans-winning team of Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen will be reunited in the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R at Road Atlanta, while Max Papis joins Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell in the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R.
“My confidence is high,” said Gavin, who shares a one-point lead in the drivers championship with his teammate Beretta. “Olivier and I have won five of the last six races, and the momentum is with us at the moment.”
“Aston Martin have had a couple of disappointing races, but they are a very resilient team,” Gavin noted. “At Sebring, we pretty much had the measure of them. We had the speed to beat them, but it was only a severe case of bad luck that took the race win away from us. Then at Le Mans, Corvette Racing did a fantastic job and we came away with an amazing result. Aston Martin, Saleen and Maserati will all be there on race day giving it their best shot, but I have every confidence that we’ll be able to beat them.”
Gavin relishes the return of Magnussen to the team’s endurance racing lineup. The Dane has been driving a Pontiac GTO.R in the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series, scoring two victories.
“It’s business as usual,” said Gavin. “We’ll get Jan integrated in the team again after being away since Le Mans. He’s an excellent driver and an excellent teammate, and I’m happy to have him back in the car.”
Like Magnussen, Papis also has been busy since his last outing with Corvette Racing in France. Papis has raced in the SCCA SPEED World Challenge with Team Cadillac, the Grand American series with a Pontiac-powered Daytona Prototype, and the International Race of Champions.
“My focus will be to adapt as quickly as possible to the Corvette,” said Papis, who drove a Cadillac CTS-V to victory in April’s SCCA SPEED World Challenge race at Road Atlanta. “It’s the most demanding car I drive in terms of power-to-weight ratio and the grip level. The GM Racing engineers always give me enough time before the race to get accustomed to the car.”
“Coming into the middle of a championship battle between the No. 3 and No. 4 car is going to give us extra motivation because we have two goals in one race,” Papis added. “My personal goal is to help my teammates Ron and Johnny win the drivers championship, and we have the common goal of making Corvette Racing successful against Aston Martin, Maserati and Saleen. The ALMS has become what everyone wanted to see, a battle between great cars and great manufacturers.”
O’Connell’s Charity Auction
Road Atlanta is Johnny O’Connell’s home track, and the resident of nearby Flowery Branch, Ga., is staging his annual charity auction at Petit Le Mans. The auction is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30, at the winner’s circle podium.
“I organized the first charity auction in 2001 in memory of my father, who I lost to Alzheimer’s disease in 1999,” said O’Connell. “I wanted to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association and a local senior citizen day care center in Gainesville called The Guest House. Since 2001, we’ve raised $130,000.”
“I spend a ton of time on the phone getting contributions for the auction, and the response is fantastic,” O’Connell reported. “The teams and manufacturers donate items, the tire companies donate sets of tires, and Road Atlanta gives us tickets for the auction. My wife gathers up all of the contributions and then I play the role of auctioneer. The idea is to make it fun for the fans and to have a good time while we raise money for a worthy cause.”
Honorary Pit Crew Member
Corvette Racing will give a lucky Corvette owner a behind-the-scenes look at endurance racing at Petit Le Mans. Peter Hill, 47, of Sun Prairie, Wis., won an online drawing conducted by the National Corvette Museum. Hill will be an honorary pit crew member working with the team throughout the event.
Hill, a retired state trooper who was injured in the line of duty, is a hardcore Corvette enthusiast. He’s owned a dozen Corvettes, and a 2005 coupe currently resides in his garage. Hill is a member of the Mad City Vettes club in Madison, Wis., the C5-C6 Registry and the National Council of Corvette Clubs.
“I’ve never participated in a race, but I’m a huge fan,” said Hill. “I go to as many events as possible and I follow racing on TV. As a lifelong Corvette enthusiast, I’ve been part of the Corvette hobby from an early age. To see Corvette racing at this level is the icing on the cake. I’ve followed the team since it started in 1999, and their success has brought Corvette into the forefront in many arenas.”
Just the Facts
A victory by Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta in the preceding round at Mosport International Raceway on Labor Day weekend gave the pair a one-point lead (147-146) over Fellows and O’Connell in the drivers championship with two races remaining.
Corvette Racing clinched the 2005 GT1 manufacturers championship for Chevrolet at Road America in August, the fifth straight title for Chevy.
Corvette Racing has scored seven consecutive 1-2 finishes in ALMS competition, a streak that began at Road Atlanta in April. The No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R has four victories and the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.Rs has three wins.
Gavin, Beretta and Magnussen are the defending GT1 champions at Petit Le Mans. They defeated the C5-R of Fellows, O’Connell and Papis by one lap last year. Gavin was the fastest qualifier.
O’Connell and Fellows scored the Corvette C6.R’s historic first victory in the spring sprint race at Road Atlanta. O’Connell won the GT1 pole for the first time in his ALMS career, covering the 2.54-mile road course in 1:17.034 (118.701 mph), more than 2.4 mph faster than the previous record.
Corvette Racing has won Petit Le Mans four times: 2000 Andy Pilgrim/Kelly Collins/Franck Freon
Beretta won Petit Le Mans in 1999 driving a Dodge Viper GTS-R with Karl Wendlinger and Marc Duez.
Petit Le Mans, the ninth round of the American Le Mans Series, is scheduled to start at 11:20 a.m. EDT on Saturday, Oct. 1 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. SPEED Channel will provide live television coverage of the 1,000-mile/10-hour race.
Release Date: September 26, 2005