Crewmembers work frantically to disentangle the C6.Rs after a bizarre crash in the pits.
Temperatures fell into the 40s during Thursday's night practice, offering the teams a chance to see what their cars were capable of in conditions of darkness and cooling ambient air. Each of the six drivers (Jan Magnussen, Johnny O'Connell, and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 car, with Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta, and newcomer Emmanuel Collard driving No. 4) had to certify themselves by completing a three-lap stint at racing speed around the darkened circuit. As the session was drawing to a close, Magnussen was finishing up his stint in No. 3 when he experienced a serious shunt. While downshifting for Turn 13, the rear tires broke loose, looping the C6.R and sending it backwards into the adjacent tire barrier. Reviewing the car back at the paddock garage revealed significant damage to the rear, requiring the replacement of the suspension, the rear bodywork, and more. The No. 3 crew, led by chief Dan Binks, set about rebuilding a car they thought they had already dialed in to perfection.
The Friday schedule holds a one-hour morning practice and a 25-minute qualifying session in the early afternoon. The C6.Rs' gearboxes had already been freshened on Thursday, and the cars now received new engines designed to last through to the end of the 12-hour race. With 15 minutes left in qualifying, the yellow-and-black Corvettes took to the track and ran respectable times. The session closed with Magnussen and the No. 3 car in fifth position and Gavin 0.3 seconds behind in sixth. The Rahal/Letterman M3 took the top spot but was later relegated to the back of the grid for failing the engine-stall test. This moved the C6.Rs up to fourth and fifth starting spots for race day. The front row in GT2 was now made up of the No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche 911 on the pole and the surprising No. 17 Falken Tire Porsche RSR right alongside.
The accident left the No. 3 car with a crumpled fender, which would eventually shred a tir
As the starting flag fell, the Falken Porsche quickly took the lead in GT2, with the Lizard car in hot pursuit. The Corvettes methodically worked their way up to second and third in class by the second-hour mark, just before the fickle hand of fate struck No. 3. It was spouting fluid from an unknown source, and the team, sensing a potentially difficult fix, sent the car to the garage to diagnose the problem. It turned out to be a leaky power-steering hose. The hose was replaced, and the car headed back out on the track, but not before making a stop at pit-out to serve a penalty for dropping fluid on the track. All told, the delays meant the No. 3 returned to the track eight laps down to the leaders. In this extremely competitive GT2 field, that distance looked to be all but insurmountable.
Meanwhile, the No. 4 was running perfectly, keeping pace with the class leaders. At about three hours into the race, No. 3 was sent to the pits for routine service and to swap out O'Connell for Magnussen. The car was now out of service sequence with No. 4 due to its earlier power-steering-hose problem. With pit work completed, No. 3 was sent out to charge back into the action. It was then that a perfect storm of miscues and misfortune descended upon the GM crew.
As No. 4 was running down the back straight, a "low fuel level" light suddenly illuminated. Driver Collard radioed the potential problem to the pits, and the engineers demanded that he make an abortive dive into the pit-in lane for refueling earlier than planned. It was Collard's first stint for the Corvette team in real racing conditions, and he was intent on hitting his marks and making a perfect stop. As he dived into his pit space, he found Magnussen speeding out in front of him. The collision was instantaneous and significant, despite the low speeds involved. The nose of No. 4 lodged in the left front quarter panel of No. 3, just behind the front wheel. The crews quickly separated the cars and sent Magnussen out. The No. 4 team quickly decided that the car would have to go to the garage for repair. Once there, the front nose clip was replaced and suspension items attended to. The car was sent back out to rejoin the fight, well down to the competition.