From Monterey to Le Mans: Corvette Racing's Motorsports Odyssey
Two tracks loom large in Corvette racing history: Le Mans and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Although separated by a vast ocean and great differences in language and culture, these two classic circuits have played key roles in establishing Corvette's standing as a force in international sports car competition.
Saturday's American Le Mans Series Monterey marks the start of the 50th anniversary celebration of Corvette's first appearance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Fans will be able to give the series' most successful team a spirited send-off before the Compuware Corvette C6.R race cars begin their transatlantic journey to France, where they will compete in the world's most prestigious sports car race on June 12-13.
The roar of Corvette thunder has rocked the central California coast for six decades. Corvettes raced through the streets of Pebble Beach on temporary circuits until sports car enthusiasts found a permanent home with the construction of Laguna Seca Raceway in 1957. Legendary drivers like John Fitch, Dick Thompson, Dick Guldstrand, Bob Bondurant, and others gilded their reputations by racing Corvettes in the Golden State. Chevrolet will salute this rich racing history with a special Corvette Legends of Le Mans display at Laguna Seca, and drivers Thompson and Guldstrand will attend the event.
"For many years we have talked about the legacy of Corvette Racing and the role that the team plays in Corvette's history," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "The reason this is important today is because of the strong foundation that people like Dick Thompson, Dick Guldstrand, Zora Arkus-Duntov, and many others built for Corvette. They set the bar high, and they accomplished so much with so little. Today we have the full resources of Chevrolet and GM behind Corvette Racing, but these pioneers are the ones who truly began Corvette's performance heritage. Corvette Racing is continuing to build on that foundation for those who will come after us."
While the team is immersed in final preparations for the odyssey to Le Mans, the drivers and crew aren't overlooking the significance of this weekend's six-hour race in the ALMS championship battle.
"Winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans has been the primary objective of the Corvette Racing program since its inception, but of equal importance is winning the ALMS GT manufacturers championship," Fehan explained. "We're going to Laguna Seca with two clearly defined targets - to race hard in pursuit of our first ALMS victory in 2010, and to hone the entire team for the 24 Hours of Le Mans."
"There is not a tremendous amount of technical information that will carry over from Laguna Seca to Le Mans because the tracks are so different. However, it will be valuable to gather more data under actual race conditions for six hours. The GT version of the Corvette C6.R is still a relatively new package, so we are still on the learning curve."
As the only American to win his class four times at Le Mans, Corvette Racing driver Johnny O'Connell is acutely aware of the impact of the world's greatest sports car race. "There is nothing that can duplicate Le Mans and the challenges it presents, but a six-hour rehearsal at Laguna Seca will certainly help to prepare us," he said. "It's a tight and technical race track that is going to challenge us athletically."
"The strength of Corvette Racing is the engineering staff and the crew," O'Connell continued. "The No. 3 Compuware Corvette has been in position to win at Laguna Seca over the last few years, but we've always had some bad breaks. Jan (Magnussen) and I feel that track still owes us a win. We're looking at this event as an important part of our ALMS season. We want to run strong and get points."
Corvette Racing’s next event is the American Le Mans Series Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Saturday, May 22. The six-hour race will start at 2:30 p.m. PT and will be televised by CBS Sports on May 29 at 1:30 p.m. ET. The race will be streamed live online at americanlemans.com starting at 5:30 p.m. ET. Live radio coverage will be available on American Le Mans Radio, Sirius Channel 127, and XM Channel 242.