It has been a long, tough road for Corvette Racing since they committed to exit the “ghost” GT1 class - where they were running largely unopposed and ended up racing each other - in favor of running in the ultra-intense GT2 class in the American Le Mans Series, where the competition from factory-supported entries from Ferrari, Porsche and BMW is brutal and unforgiving. As a matter of fact the team hadn’t won in the GT2 class since August of 2009, when they won at Mosport International Raceway. So the team’s huge win in the 13th running of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta last Saturday night was both gratifying - and a relief.
But it wasn’t easy, because the GT2 class never is. In fact it’s the most intense road racing seen on this continent since the heyday of the Trans-Am series in 1970, the year that the Detroit-based factories squared-off for boardroom bragging rights and fielded top teams and drivers giving them orders to win, or else. Corvette Racing has been in the thick of things all year in a GT2 field where the top competitors are routinely separated by hundredths of a second, but a combination of bad luck, bad timing, ill-fated pit incidents and various other reasons - including the stark reality of not being quite fast enough - prevented either team car from winning.
And Saturday night was shaping up to be another disappointment for the proud team, which had battled hard for every position all year. At the beginning of the final lap of the 9-hour, 1000-mile contest, Oliver Gavin (No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R) was chasing Toni Vilander in the class-leading No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari but it didn’t look good, as Vilander had a 10-second lead or in racing time, a basic eternity. But that wasn’t all, because Gavin’s low-fuel light was flashing, meaning, he was damn near done for the night on the very last lap, even though he had stopped for a splash of fuel on lap 347, and the lead Ferrari had done the same four laps later. But as he worried about his own fuel situation, Gavin was stunned to see the leading Ferrari slowing on the back straight, out of E85 fuel. Gavin then crossed the finish line 5.763 seconds ahead of Dominick Farnbacher (No. 01 Ferrari), who had also passed Vilander’s stranded Ferrari.
“After our last fuel stop, I hoped I’d have enough to get to the end,” Gavin said afterward. “Then the fuel alarm came on with a lap and a half to go, and Chuck Houghton, my engineer, was telling me to save fuel, save fuel. As I came onto the back straight on the last lap, I could see a Ferrari weaving, and as I went by, I thought, ‘That’s the leader!’ I came across the line and Chuck said, ‘Yeah, we won!’” “It’s an amazing result!” Gavin exclaimed. “Everyone on the team and back at the shop kept on believing in us, the drivers, the crew, the engineers. I’m so happy for everyone involved.”
“I’ve never won a race like that,” Jan Magnussen (co-driver of the No. 4 Corvette along with Emmanuel Collard) said. “It’s about time that luck went our way. It’s been a tough year for the whole Corvette team, and I think it’s very fitting that the stars aligned and everything happened our way today. We worked mega-hard all race, Olly and Emmanuel did a fantastic job, and so did the whole crew. I still can’t believe it.”
The winning No. 4 Corvette driven by Gavin, Magnussen and Collard completed 355 laps (902 miles) in the season finale of the 2010 American Le Mans Series. They were followed by two Ferrari F430 GTs (Sharp/van Overbeek/Farnbacher and Vilander/Bruni), a BMW (Auberlen/Milner/Werner) and a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR driven by Bergmeister/Long/Lieb. To emphasize the intensity of GT2 competition, the third, fourth and fifth place entries were just a lap down after 1000 miles. The No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R driven by Johnny O’Connell, Olivier Beretta and Antonio Garcia finished sixth with 354 laps.
Corvette Racing has now won the Petit Le Mans eight times, and this latest victory earned the team another automatic invitation to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011.
The racing was as close as it could be,” said team manager Gary Pratt. “It felt like that all race long, gaining or losing a tenth of a second at a time. We’d stop, somebody else would be on a different strategy, and we’d go from first to fifth. Through it all, nobody on the team ever gave up.”
“Louis Chevrolet’s motto was ‘Never give up!’ and I think those words are very fitting tonight,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “This race came right down to the last lap, but we never gave up, and we stuck to our plan. We’re back!”
Congratulations to Pratt & Miller Engineering - the organization that prepares and enters the Corvette Racing C6.Rs - and especially to Gary Pratt, Jim Miller and Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan, whose determination, dedication and focus have driven this team to become one of the world’s best. I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb by saying that this win will go down as one of the biggest and most memorable in the team’s illustrious history.
And now the question becomes, what does Chevrolet do with this victory? In the past, GM - and Chevrolet marketing operatives - have been slow on the uptake in understanding the whole “tip of the technological spear” concept. The Corvette has never been used as it should be, meaning, the sports car has never been showcased as an example of GM’s technological capabilities except for the typical enthusiast media outlets and an occasional small-space presentation in USA Today.
I’ve never understood this insular, myopic view of the world and this would be just as good a time as any to change it.
GM and Chevrolet should be proud of Corvette Racing’s accomplishments and should showcase this latest victory in a way that the whole world - not just the enthusiast world - understands.
After all, beating BMW, Ferrari and Porsche on the racetrack is a lot more important and meaningful than another print ad that talks about “race-inspired” suspension, if you get my drift.