Truth be told, Corvette Racing's '08 racing season actually started early last year. The C6.Rs designated for competition for '08 were finalized by Sebring '07 and, for the most part, sat idle at the Pratt & Miller compound for the next several months. (One of the cars-this year's No. 4-was used for display purposes throughout the '07 race campaign.) While both cars ultimately lost a few components to late-season parts pirating, it didn't take much work to get them battle-ready for the coming year. After three seasons running the current C6.R architecture, the team has the particulars of car setup pretty well in hand.
Practice Makes Perfect
Tire testing with Michelin has become a fixture in the Corvette Racing schedule. Engineers from both the team and the tire manufacturer closely evaluate compounds and configurations during the months leading up to Le Mans. February's preseason test regimen at Sebring is especially intense, with both the No. 3 and No. 4 car crews in full attendance. The team sets up shop in the paddock, and the cars circulate the track for three to four laps at a time before coming in to their respective transporters for service. Tire or tire-pressure changes are made, and the cars are sent out again. This routine goes on all day, with only a brief break for lunch.
All of the Corvette Racing drivers are present, including the third-stint pilots used to spell the regulars at endurance events such as the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They all take turns behind the wheel, just as they would in an actual event, though the exchanges tend to be a bit more leisurely than in the heat of competition.
One of the season's more notable personnel changes can be found on the No. 4 car crew. The team has a new chief for 2008-Mike West. "Westy" is a longtime member of the Corvette Racing family, having served on the No. 3 car crew and as a mechanic in the shop. Although No. 4 has been under the stewardship of Ray Gongola for years, Gongola recently assumed a greater role at P&M's New Hudson, Michigan, facility and won't be traveling as much with the team. Despite West's formidable rsum, he's well aware that a change of this magnitude requires some getting used to for everyone involved. For that reason, the No. 4 team treated many of the test session's stop-and-go intervals as if they were actual, in-race pit stops.
A Tire-Some Routine
A single Michelin engineer is assigned to each of the cars over the course of the three-day tire test. When "his" car comes in from the track, the engineer checks pressure and heat across the tread face of each tire. He's then directed by another Michelin engineer-this one monitoring conditions on track-to either change pressures or switch to a different tire.
Interestingly, the team and driver never know exactly what they're getting in terms of tire setup. Their job is to go out and give the car whatever push the Michelin folks are asking for, be it three hard laps, two warm-up laps followed by an all-out blitz, or something else. The Michelin reps then evaluate a number of parameters to determine the effects of the test procedure. Their evaluation also incorporates valuable "seat-of-the-pants" impressions from each of the drivers. With that done, the data are spirited back to Michelin headquarters, where development engineers use them to devise ever-more-competitive tires for the C6.R.
For many on the team, the day is characterized by monotonous, albeit hard, work. They wait for the car to return to the transporter, jack it up on air-driven stands, evaluate and/or change the tires, drop it down, and send it out again. This drill is repeated over and over again throughout the day, occasionally punctuated by unforeseen mechanical problems. At Sebring, for example, both cars suffered transaxle failures, forcing the team to take out the damaged XTRAC-built units and install replacements.