Corvette Racing media conference highlights

Earlier today, Johnny O’Connell and Doug Fehan of Corvette Racing were part of a conference call discussing the team’s 2008 American Le Mans Series program and its move to cellulosic E85 starting at next week’s Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg. The team becomes the first factory program in the Series to compete on the alternative fuel. What follows are selected quotes from both.

Johnny O’Connell, Driver
“The approach to both (long-distance and sprint races) is really the same. There used to be a time in sports car racing where if you went to a long race like the 12 Hours of Sebring, you would back up your pace a little bit from what you might be able to do laptime-wise just to conserve the equipment. It’s a very difficult and challenging race track. These days, in order to be successful, you literally need to be able to run every lap like it’s qualifying. Our Corvettes certainly are capable of handling that type of abuse you give them. The mental approach between Sebring and St. Petersburg is the same; you’re going out there and not wasting any track time. You’re pushing as hard as you can give feedback to the engineers to make the car better. With the physical aspect, the street circuits really place more on your technique in slower corners. The biggest thing racing at St. Pete is that you have to be mistake-free. If you do make a mistake, it’s going to hurt. The concrete walls are right there. The worst thing you can do is hurt a car and make your guys stay up all night fixing it."

“Performance-wise, the program has always been moving forward. And there has absolutely been no loss in performance at all. When we have run the E85, the Corvette is every bit as amazing as it has always been. One slight challenge is that we need to carry a little bit more fuel. So for us it may be so it may be a little more of a challenge on the tires and you might find a little bit more tire wear. Normally a race car goes its fastest when it’s light or toward the end of its fuel run. But with us being on Michelins, tire wear is never an issue. We know we have their backing as we go forward with this program. Chevrolet has always been a leader in so many industries. It’s appropriate for us to showcase this not just to the fans in the American Le Mans Series; it is broadcast in xx countries. So the amount of attention the Series gets and Corvette Racing gets around the world is significant. It’s neat to be part of a program that is moving things in a positive direction."

Doug Fehan, Program Manager
“GM is the world leader in the production of flex-fuel vehicles. We produce more than 2.5 million and are the largest producer in the world. So this has gotten some traction inside the company. About two years ago as this was rising to prominence, I thought it would be interesting to begin to look at what the possibilities were of using an ethanol-based fuel. We ran some very preliminary tests – just on a whim – in the dyno room. We had some very favorable results, which was quite interesting. You have to find things that are of interest to the corporation in a broad base. I got to talking with them about the possibility of racing E85 and it struck a chord with some of the executives and saw this as a way to continue to draw funds to drive the program. At the same time unknown to me, the American Le Mans Series was working to do precisely the same thing. The American Le Mans Series has positioned itself as a leader in this area and they were in pursuit of a similar thing. They called me and asked me if I’d be interested in thinking about doing that. It was amazing and the timing is incredible. I jumped at it and took it to my bosses and the hierarchy. They thought it was a wonderful idea."

“Corvette always has tried to position itself as a leader not only within GM but also in the racing community. This was another chance for Corvette again to prove that leadership. Someone had to be first and we wanted to be first. We’ve had some challenges and met them. From a performance standpoint and from a mechanical driveline standpoint, the transition is fairly seamless."

“The cellulosic approach only makes sense. Ethanol is only part of an overall solution. That’s why we went in that direction. But cellulosic ethanol doesn’t take food out of the food chain. It’s stuff off the forest floor. It can be orange rinds. The reality is that cellulosic – because it’s made from scrap and garbage – is ultimately cheaper to produce. Cost plays a huge role in the use of ethanol because it’s energy content per volume is a little bit less. From a chemical composition, it’s pretty much indistinguishable whether it’s corn-based or cellulosic based."

The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg. The green flag is scheduled for 1:25 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 5 from the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be broadcast on ABC from 1:30-3:30 p.m. ET on April 5. American Le Mans Radio coverage will be available on XM Satellite Radio Channel 144 and, which also will feature IMSA’s Live Timing & Scoring.

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