Pratt & Miller's Corvette Racing team put on a marvelous display ofstrategy, expertise, and preparedness during the final race of the '05American Le Mans Series (ALMS), held late last fall at Mazda RacewayLaguna Seca. As usual, the C6.Rs sprang out of the trailer ready to takeon their season-long nemeses from the Aston Martin racing program. Butwhile the Corvette-versus-DBR9 showdown promised to becharacteristically fierce, lower-profile entries from teams such asSaleen and Maserati were also keen to derail the Chevrolets' dominance.
Corvette C6.R pilot Ron Fellows...
Corvette C6.R pilot Ron Fellows (left) performs a last-minute check ofhis safety gear, while co-driver Johnny O'Connell (center) and aMichelin tire official look on.
Qualifying for the race was headed up by the Saleen S7R. It seems theC6.Rs were playing a bit of "cat and mouse," however, as their truepotential quickly became evident on race day. From the get-go, RonFellows put on a truly inspired driving display, making short work ofthe leading GT1-class cars. His opportunistic pass of the Saleen in Turn10 gave him the class lead when the S7R faltered slightly exiting thesweeping, downhill Turn 9.
A lucky National Corvette...
A lucky National Corvette Museum supporter (left) was chosen to handlethe team's flag-holding duties during pre-grid. Afterward, she posedwith Corvette Chief Engineer Dave Hill.
Each driver put in two shifts over the course of the four-hour race.Johnny O'Connell was paired with Fellows in the team's No. 3 car, whileOliver Gavin was teamed with Olivier Beretta in the Pratt & Miller No.4.
The Laguna Seca track has been reconfigured over the last year toaccommodate the demands of Moto GP racing. The switch involved changesto the location of various bridges and walls, as well as to the size andinescapability of the gravel traps. Once in these vast pea-gravel"no-man's lands," the heavier cars sink to their wheel hubs and areabsolutely unmovable under their own power. (The flyweight GP bikes aremuch easier to dislodge.) The result was no fewer than five full-courseyellow flags over the length of the race while officials extracted thestranded cars.
Crew members prep replacement...
Crew members prep replacement slicks before the race. The "23" inscribedon the tire denotes the proper air pressure (in psi), while the "RF"refers to tire's placement on the car (i.e., "right front"). Thetriangles signify the rotational direction of the tire.
These delays bunched up the field and also made for interesting calls inpit-stop strategy. On more than one occasion, teams lining the hot-pitlane were prepared for a tire change and refueling, only to be postponedby the intrusive full-course yellow. All of this kept the drivers andteams of GT1 battling back and forth throughout the race. Tellingly, theGT1-class lead was held by every car on the grid, making this anespecially exciting race to behold.
In the end, however, the Corvettes were the class of the field--notbecause of sheer mechanical dominance, but thanks to excellent pit work,driver talent, and informed strategy. Fellows was on a tear throughoutthe evening, employing a set of ingenious and aggressive passingmaneuvers to put the No. 3 car back in the lead during his seconddriving stint. Starting with a series of sweeping moves through LagunaSeca's famous corkscrew, Fellows darted in and out of traffic throughTurns 9 and 10, grabbing first place before entering the tight,left-hand Turn 11 that leads onto the front straight. Watching thatsequence made it clear we were experiencing sports-car racing at itsfinest.
Although Fellows and O'Connell put in a spectacular performance, the No.4 car was also driven exceedingly well by Gavin (who set the fastest laptime in the GT1 class) and Beretta. The last pit stop of the night foundthe two C6.Rs battling it out for the lead and the pit crews challengingeach other for bragging rights. The No. 4 car, in Second place at thetime, was first in and out ahead of the No. 3, but the chase was stillon as a freshly installed O'Connell prepared to blast out of the pits.However, after the tire change, a loose right-rear-wheel nut delayed theNo. 3 car on its pit-out run. This meant that the other Corvette, withGavin driving superbly, was able to pass into GT1's first place whileO'Connell struggled to get back on track and up to speed.
Corvette Racing team members...
Corvette Racing team members set the cars' pit-in lines. Because pitspace is limited, it's critical that the drivers closely follow thesepredetermined "target" routes when pitting in during the race.
In the end, the gap was just too much for O'Connell to make up. Thewheel-nut problem cost the No. 3-car team the drivers' championship andwas a rare hiccup from Danny Bink's well-oiled pit-crew machine (seesidebar, "Corvette Racing Wins ALMS Pit-Stop Competition"). Itwas a crushing turn of events for the No. 3-car crew, but the cushionthey had built over the Astons and the Saleen meant it had no bearing onthe Corvettes' 1-2 finish. Gavin and Beretta took the win in the No. 4car, while Fellows and O'Connell placed Second in the No. 3.
Unlike some race organizations, the Pratt & Miller team is a realfamily, and its members are extremely supportive of each other. It'sthrilling and inspiring to watch the two Corvette teams battle eachother on the track before coming together in celebration of their jointsuccess at the end.
The race marked the end of an extraordinarily successful '05 season forPratt & Miller and GM's Corvette Racing team. First and Second in theALMS driver and team championships and a 1-2 finish at the 24 Hours ofLe Mans will be tough to top. We can't wait to see them try in 2006.
C6.R Teams' Success Continues Post-Season
(Foreground, from left) Crew...
(Foreground, from left) Crew chief Ray "Dog" Gongla, race-team maestroGary Pratt, and No. 4-car co-driver Oliver Gavin monitor OlivierBeretta's progress on one of the pit area's multiple video monitors.Seated in the background is Gary's wife, Robin.
The ALMS concluded its season by honoring this year's teams andsignificant personnel at the annual awards banquet, held in Monterey,California. Corvette Racing continued to take home the heavy metal,nabbing the following additional awards:
Most Popular Driver (as voted by the fans): Ron Fellows
Mechanic of the Year: Ray Gongla (crew chief of the Pratt & Miller No. 4C6.R)
Corvette Racing Wins ALMS Pit-Stop Competition
The American Le Mans Series staged its '05 Klein Tools Pit CrewChallenge finals at the season-ending Laguna Seca race. Eliminationpit-stop competitions had been held at various ALMS venues throughoutthe season, resulting in a four-team field of finalists. Both of Pratt &Miller's teams made the finals, a tribute to their preparedness andmanagement by the best crew chiefs in the business. They were up againstthe two Porsche teams of Alex Job Racing (car No. 24) and J-3 Racing(car No. 79). Each team made three passes at the pit-stop process, afterwhich the total time for all three stops was added together to generatean aggregate time that determined the winner. It was a back-and-forthbattle between all four teams, with each one posting impressive times.
The first round resulted in a final showdown between Crew Chief DannyBink's No. 3 Corvette team and the Porsche team manned by the Alex Jobcrew. Danny's boys flew to the win with an impressive time and victory.Meanwhile, the No. 4 Corvette team, run by Crew Chief Ray "Dog" Gongla,shot it out with the other Porsche team and smoked them for the rightsto Third place. It was a fitting end to the season for the well-preparedC6.R pit crews. Congratulations once again, Corvette Racing.