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Corvette Racing Seeks Revenge in Sebring

Source: GM Media
March 13, 2006

Corvette Racing to Debut New C6.Rs in Season-Opening ALMS 12-Hour Endurance Race

SEBRING, Fla. - It's the only blemish in an otherwise spotless record. In Corvette Racing's last 21 races, only once have Corvette drivers not been standing on the top step of the victory podium.

Corvette Racing's C6.R race cars finished second and third in last year's Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in their competition debut, the team's only loss since the start of the 2004 season. Now with a pair of new Corvette C6.Rs ready for their racing baptism on March 18 in this year's edition of the classic 12-hour endurance contest, Corvette Racing is aiming to avenge the one that got away.

Corvette Racing's championship driver lineup returns to Sebring intact. The No. 3 Compuware Corvette that scored three consecutive Sebring victories in 2002-04 will be driven by Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell and Max Papis. The No. 4 Compuware Corvette will be driven by the same trio that posted back-to-back wins in Le Mans and Petit Le Mans: Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen.

Running first and second in last year's Sebring race, both Corvette C6.Rs encountered trouble shortly after the eight-hour mark. A brake rotor failure pitched O'Connell into a tire barrier at speed, and hard contact with another car severely damaged the rear suspension of Beretta's Corvette C6.R. Quick work by the Corvette Racing crew got both machines back on the track, but they could not make up enough ground to overtake the race-winning Aston Martin.

This year's season-opening round of the 10-race American Le Mans Series presents formidable challenges for Chevrolet's championship-winning sports car team. The Sebring airport circuit is a punishing course, and the competition in the GT1 class is intense. Recent rule changes have tilted the playing field, making Corvette Racing's task more difficult.

"Through no one's fault, we weren't able to capture the crown at Sebring last year - the luck just wasn't with us," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "This year we are fully prepared once again, and we hope to start the season with a better result than last year. We know that overcoming the performance adjustments is going to be a challenge."

Success brings rewards. In the case of Corvette Racing, the team's success in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the ALMS were rewarded with a 55-kilogram (121-pound) weight increase over last season. That's in addition to the 25-kilogram (55-pound) increase mandated for all GT1 entries in 2006.

The bottom line: The new Corvette C6.Rs must weigh 1180 kilograms (2601 pounds), a 176-pound increase over last year. Consequently the yellow Corvettes are now 121 pounds heavier than their Aston Martin and Saleen competitors. Adjustments to engine intake air restrictors have also benefited Corvette Racing's rivals.

"We've demonstrated over the last 12 months our willingness to work with the sanctioning body to help teams that don't have the technology available to them that we have at Corvette Racing," said Fehan. "In the interest of great racing, sometimes adjustments have to be made for those whose car, technology and engineering are not the equal of the Corvette. Providing some rules concessions will help them to be competitive. This will strengthen the ALMS series and ultimately add to the enjoyment of the fans."

"We'll play the hand we're dealt," added Steve Wesoloski, GM Racing road racing group manager. "It will be a tough challenge, but we've got the team, the drivers and the level of preparation that can put a Corvette in the winner's circle in Sebring. The performance adjustments will make everyone on the team push harder in every area, knowing that our backs are against the wall. No one at Corvette Racing likes to finish second."

The new Corvette C6.Rs are virtual duplicates of last year's championship-winning cars, which have been sold to European teams. Minor updates were made to the chassis to improve durability and serviceability. The Corvettes' 7.0-liter LS7.R small-block V-8 engines have undergone extensive testing to ensure reliability throughout the long hours of racing in Sebring and Le Mans.

"Because of the success and popularity that Corvette enjoys globally, there is a market for these cars," Fehan explained. "We sold the C6.Rs that we raced last year and built new ones, which are essentially duplicates of the 2005 cars. The only reason we have new race cars is to meet the market demand from teams that want to buy and race Corvette C6.Rs."

A January test session at Sebring validated the performance of the new cars.

"The test went very well," said Oliver Gavin, who shared the 2005 GT1 drivers championship with his teammate Olivier Beretta. "Every Corvette Racing car I have ever driven has been very, very good straight out of the box. They've got a certain feel to them that's like putting on a pair of comfortable shoes."

"I learned in the test that the additional weight has had an effect on the braking and handling of the car. The braking points have been backed up a little, and the corner exit speed is slightly slower. We're going to have to be more disciplined in our driving style to conserve the tires and brakes though a long run."

"In spite of the extra weight, the Corvette C6.R is still a fantastic machine," Gavin declared. "The team is constantly improving each little part, and that's reflected in the results on the race track. Even though we have won a lot of races, they never sit back and think they've done enough. They're always pushing, always striving to make the car better."

Ron Fellows, a three-time Sebring 12-hour winner with Corvette Racing, agreed: "The new car handles well, but we have to be conscious of brake and tire wear carrying that additional weight. The engineers have found ways to make improvements by fine tuning the chassis."

Just the Facts
  • 2006 marks Corvette's 50th anniversary in international road racing. John Fitch and Walt Hansgen drove a Corvette to a ninth-place finish overall and a Class B victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1956, the first step onto the world stage that established Chevy's sports car as a contender in top-level competition.
  • Corvette Racing has scored nine straight victories in ALMS competition, a winning streak that began at Road Atlanta in April 2005.
  • Johnny O'Connell has a record-tying six victories at Sebring, including an overall win in 1994 and class wins in 1993, 1995, and 2002-04 - the last three with Corvette Racing. O'Connell is tied with racing legend Phil Hill for the most Sebring wins. Hill has three overall victories (1958-59 and 1961) and three class wins (1955, 1962-63).
  • O'Connell and Ron Fellows have teamed up for three Sebring class wins with Corvette Racing. They drove to victory with Oliver Gavin in 2002, with Franck Freon in 2003, and with Max Papis in 2004.
  • Fellows, O'Connell and Olivier Beretta share the record for the most ALMS career victories with 24. Beretta holds the record for all-time ALMS poles (17) and the record for fast laps (17).
  • Corvette Racing holds the ALMS records for most wins by a team (40) and the most 1-2 finishes (26).
The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the first round of the 10-race 2006 American Le Mans Series, is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. EST on Saturday, March 18 at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. The race will be televised live on SPEED Channel from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.