"Corvette Racing Takes Sixth Le Mans Win." The headline is spectacular enough in its own right, but there's much more behind the story than those few words can relate. GM Racing-now Chevrolet Motorsport-established the Corvette Racing team to fulfill a dream it committed to 12 years ago: to take on the greatest sports-car-racing challenge in the world. In 1999, the C5-Rs entered their first 24-hour event at La Sarthe, only to suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of the Oreca Vipers. Since then, the Pratt & Miller-led team has ascended to a position of on-track dominance sufficient to frighten off even the most determined class competitors. With eight ALMS GT1 championships already under its belt and an overall race win at the Daytona 24-hour race (2001), there's little the team hasn't accomplished.
Rain and Rule Changes
As we've noted in past issues, this season marks the last appearance for the Corvette Racing program in the GT1 class. With the ACO talking about a combined GT category, and the competition unwilling to challenge the dominant Corvettes, the decision was made to finish out the C6.Rs' spectacular career with a 10th anniversary appearance at the Le Mans race.
Frankly, we're a bit surprised at the level of corporate commitment this decision bespeaks, given the current economic situation at GM. But the Corvette Racing program has always been about "doing it right," and completing a decade of GT1 competition with an exclamation mark in the world's premier endurance race is definitely the right way to do it.
To help ease the financial burden on the competitors, the ACO decided to eliminate the traditional pre-qualification test day and instead require the teams to present themselves for the first time at technical inspection on the Monday before the race. This meant that the first track experience for any of the teams would be Wednesday, for a six-hour practice slated for 6 p.m. to midnight. Thursday would offer a three-hour practice, followed by a single qualifying session from 10 p.m. to midnight.
Further complicating matters was an intermittent rain that pelted scrutineering on Monday and continued to plague the competitors all week. The predictions for the race were for relatively clear skies, with a slight chance of precipitation in the wee hours of Sunday morning. This meant that the teams would have to set the cars up for a qualifying procedure that had little in common with the demands of race day. Fortunately, this all played to the favor of Corvette Racing. With nine years of experience behind it, the team had plenty of data to utilize when deciding how to confront the challenge.
Monday's tech inspection put the cars through the usual gauntlet of procedures but provided little difficulty for the well-prepared Corvette team. The official end of inspection day concluded with a "family portrait" of the entire team, taken in downtown Le Mans under the shadow of a towering medieval cathedral.
Tuesday's preparations did offer a break from the usual routine. The ACO decided five days prior to this year's tech-in to require the teams to place electronic seals on certain parts of each car's engine. The idea was to prevent post-inspection tampering. Officials also decided to limit each team to a total of two engines for the entire week, including the race.