After the Sebring 12 Hours, the 1,000-mile/10-hour (whichever comes first) Petit Le Mans is the American Le Mans Series' crown-jewel event. The race continues to get bigger and better each year: For 2008, 113,000 people showed up to watch three days of racing on the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta track. The Corvette Racing crew took up residence early in the week to start working on race setups and perform a little development work on its upcoming GT2 entry. The weather was great all week, but that didn't prevent a number of casualties from occurring. Practice sessions on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday night were littered with cars damaged in off-track excursions. Few of the accidents were car-to-car problems; mostly, the drivers were simply pushing too hard and exceeding their vehicles' handling limits.
Corvette Racing, meanwhile, suffered a motoring accident of a different sort. Max Papis decided to ride his bicycle to the track from the team hotel, some 20 miles away. Along the way, he had an altercation with an 18-wheeler that sent him headlong into a pickup truck. The crash was pretty serious, cracking Papis' helmet and destroying the front of the bike. While he recovered enough to compete in the race, his face bore the scars of the incident.
In qualifying on Friday afternoon, Johnny O'Connell recorded a pole-winning time in the No. 3 car, setting a new class record of 1:16.542. Olivier Beretta was a scant 0.04 second behind in No. 4. The GM team looked pretty confident and well prepared getting ready for Saturday's race. The only real disappointment was the lack of competition. No one turned out to challenge the factory C6.Rs, leaving them to dual amongst themselves...again.
With no class rivalry to worry about, the Corvette team turned to another task: winning the newly established Green Challenge trophy. This is a competition among all of the cars in GT1 and GT2 combined (an additional trophy is given to the combined prototype classes), and it uses a scoring system to determine the best result for overall performance, fuel efficiency, and environmental impact (in the form of greenhouse-gas emissions). The ALMS is the first racing series in the world to establish such a racing category, effectively creating a race within the race.
Green Challenge competitors utilize their choice of three different fuels: sulfur-free diesel, E10, or cellulosic E85. All of these fuels are "street legal" and are virtually the same as what might be found at a local filling station. Corvette Racing has taken the lead in this challenge by electing to run the entire '08 season on cellulosic E85. The GM team's closest GT competitor is the GT2 Aston Martin, which also runs E85.
Saturday morning's practice offered up still more carnage, with the lone Mazda prototype entry hitting the wall and suffering irreparable damage just two hours prior to the race. Down one competitor, the entire field formed up for the two warm-up laps arranged before the event's 11:15 start. But before the starter could even wave the green flag, the front-row Audi R10 of Alan McNish spun on cold tires and slammed into a wall. McNish was able to get the car back to the pits and into the garage for repair, but he would have to start the race from pit lane after everyone else was flagged off.