Corvette Racing Aims for Sixth Le Mans GT1 Title
Corvette Racing is out for revenge. Competing in the world's greatest sports car race is motivation enough, but the memory of last year's runner-up finish in the GT1 class still rankles. A freak driveshaft failure sidelined the No. 64 Compuware Corvette C6.R at the two-hour mark, while a late-race deluge and an extended safety car period stymied the No. 63 Compuware Corvette C6.R drivers' run for the top step of the podium. But that's now ancient history, and the stage is set for the 76th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 14-15.
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Five times in the last seven years, Corvette Racing has won its class at Le Mans. To win a sixth GT1 title against world-class rivals will require a flawless performance by America's premier production sports car racing team. With 10 entries in the GT1 class, the competition for the Le Mans prize is intense: Chevrolet's two-car factory team will face four Aston Martin DBR9s (including a pair of factory-backed entries), a Saleen S7R, and a Lamborghini Murcielago for class honors. But Corvette has strength in numbers as well, with Luc Alphand Aventures' two privateer Corvette C6.Rs also carrying the bow tie banner into battle.
"I'm ready to go and bring our Corvette into the winner's circle," said Max Papis, who joins American Le Mans Series champions Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta in the No. 64 Corvette C6.R for this long-distance event. "Between Daytona and Le Mans, this will be my 20th 24-hour race. I would have never thought in 1996 that I would reach that mark. It means a lot, and I hope it means we get a good result, especially after the disappointment of last year."
The logistics of racing in Le Mans are daunting for an American team. Every nut, bolt, fitting and spare part must be transported across the Atlantic. Corvette Racing's first shipment was dispatched via ocean freighter to England in late April – a 76,500-pound 18-wheeler filled with equipment and supplies. A second shipment was airlifted to Europe in May following an ALMS race in Salt Lake City. This precious cargo included the two Corvette C6.R race cars and 13,500 pounds of toolboxes, spare bodywork, and other supplies. But without skillful and dedicated people, all of this hardware is useless. Corvette Racing's team roster in Le Mans totals 48, including mechanics, engineers, technicians, support personnel, a medical team, and a chef.
Many of the team members have been in France since late May, adjusting to the time change and the European culture. Their only opportunity to test on the immense 8.48-mile track, which includes public roads and highways, was a rainy day on June 1. Dodging intermittent showers, the two Corvettes completed 81 laps and gathered valuable information for the upcoming race.
"With the limited running time that we had, I think the team really maximized its results," commented Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "We were able to obtain excellent data on the aerodynamics, the gearboxes and the power delivery. Corvette Racing has worked very hard and we're very well prepared. We wouldn't come to Le Mans if we didn’t think we could win."
The circuit layout is the same as last year, yet there are subtle differences. "Coming out of the Dunlop and Ford chicanes, the organizers have pushed the gravel back so if someone does go off, they won't drag gravel onto the racing line," noted Oliver Gavin. "The gravel is very sharp, so that's an improvement that should reduce the number of tire punctures."
Danish ace Jan Magnussen agreed: "There weren't any pylons in the chicanes on the test day, but the curbs are higher and they have rumble strips on the inside. They look pretty mean, so it's a matter of how much you're willing to risk to go over them."
Official practice and qualifying for the world's most prestigious sports car race will take place from 7 p.m. to midnight on June 11 and 12. The 24 Hours of Le Mans will start at 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. EDT) on Saturday, June 14 and finish at 3 p.m. (9 a.m. EDT) on Sunday, June 15. SPEED will televise the start of the race live on June 14 from 8:30 a.m. EDT to 12 p.m. EDT, and the finish from 9 p.m. EDT on June 14 to 9:30 a.m. EDT on June 15.