Utah GP holds risks and rewards for Corvette team
After back-to-back races on concrete-lined street circuits, the Corvette Racing team will revel in the wide-open spaces of Miller Motorsports Park, the site of Sunday's American Le Mans Series Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix. Although the team has raced twice previously at the facility near Salt Lake City, this will be the first Series race held on the circuit's fast 3.048-mile, 15-turn perimeter course. The two previous events held at Miller Motorsports Park were contested on the track's twisting 24-turn, 4.5-mile configuration.
The Utah Grand Prix is a crucial event for Corvette Racing because it is the final rehearsal for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the centerpiece of the Chevrolet factory team's program. Miller Motorsports Park's high-speed turns and wide, smooth surface replicate the conditions that Corvette Racing will encounter on the immense 8.5-mile Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans on June 14-15. But with the twin Compuware Corvette C6.R race cars scheduled to be flown to France just days after the Utah event, it's imperative that they roll into their transporters unscathed at the conclusion of the two-hour, 45-minute race.
"While the infield course at Miller Motorsports Park is very challenging because there are so many turns, racing on the perimeter course is a better tune-up for Le Mans," said Steve Wesoloski, GM Racing Road Racing Group manager. "At more than three miles in length, the outer circuit is still a long track by most standards, and the addition of the new Turn 7 will make it a very fast course. Eliminating several of the tight corners in the infield should produce a cleaner race with fewer incidents. Our top priority is to have the race cars ready to air freight to Le Mans in three days."
Geographically and culturally, Utah's high desert is a world away from France's lush Loire Valley, yet the Utah and Le Mans race circuits have much in common.
"Without doubt it's a good warm-up for Le Mans," said defending GT1 co-champion Oliver Gavin, driver of the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R. "It's a circuit that has a good long straight, some reasonably high-speed corners, and we can run our Le Mans tire specification for the last time before we go to France. It's a good place for us to run.
"I think the new track configuration for the Utah Grand Prix is going to be a very fast circuit," the Briton noted. "Every driver likes a high-speed track, and it's very different to what we had in the Long Beach and St. Petersburg street circuits. It will be nice to get back into 100 mph corners, will be good fun to stretch the legs of the Corvette C6.R again."
While the team's eyes are on the Le Mans prize, there is still a Series championship to be decided. After three rounds of the 11-race series, Jan Magnussen and Johnny O'Connell hold a four-point lead over Gavin and Olivier Beretta in the GT1 drivers championship on the strength of two victories.
"I liked the course we raced on last year at Miller Motorsports Park, but it does make it difficult in traffic," said Magnussen. "I think because the speeds will be higher on the new circuit, this will be a good track for us to run before Le Mans. Last year was good for us when we went from there to France – we were well prepared. I'm looking forward to going back to Salt Lake City."
Corvette Racing's next event is the American Le Mans Series Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by The Grand and Little America Hotels at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, on Sunday, May 18, at 1:05 p.m. MT. SPEED will broadcast the two-hour, 45-minute race live at 3 p.m. ET.