Ask every member of Corvette Racing-drivers, pit crew, engineers, technicians, or support staff-and they'll all agree on one thing: Every waking minute of every day of the entire year is spent in preparation for a single event, the 24 Heures du Mans (or, as it is called in English, the 24 Hours of Le Mans), held each June in Le Mans, France.
Perhaps it is tradition that makes Le Mans so symbolically significant to Corvette Racing. There are many difficult races and tracks throughout the season-Sebring, Laguna Seca, and Road Atlanta, among others-but Le Mans holds a certain very special place in Corvette Racing history. In 1960, Briggs Cunningham, John Fitch, and Dr. Dick Thompson brought Chevy's flagship sports car to Le Mans for the first time, and since that pivotal moment in history, 59 more Corvettes have qualified for the field at the French race.
Many stories have been written about Corvettes at Le Mans, but few, if any, have offered the reader an insider's vantage point. Of course there's no bigger insider to Corvette Racing and its current role at Le Mans than four-time Le Mans Champion Johnny O'Connell. O'Connell's career includes three American Le Mans Series (ALMS) GT1 championships; 38 career ALMS wins; the ALMS records for most starts (105), most podium finishes (80), most top-five finishes (93), and most top-10 finishes (100); and a record-setting (and still unbeaten) eight Sebring 12-hour class victories.
O'Connell allowed us backstage with Corvette Racing for the duration of the 2010 Le Mans race, so we could record his "tweets"-that is, his live comments during the race-much like a Hollywood celebrity would do for his fans via the Twitter Internet website. Of course, O'Connell couldn't chat with us when he had his right foot glued to the accelerator pedal, propelling the Corvette Racing No. 63 car around the 8.468-mile Le Mans circuit at speeds greater than 180 mph. At all other times, however, he graciously gave us his unique view of the live action. [Editor's note: We'll have a full recap of the racing action in next month's issue.]
We asked O'Connell to start "tweeting" early Saturday morning before the start of the event and continue through its 3 p.m. conclusion on Sunday. He enjoyed the assignment so much, he even kept up his commentary long after the race was over. In addition to those exclusive insights, we've included some track, paddock, and "backstage" photos to give you an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at Corvette Racing's appearance at the 2010 24 Heures du Mans.
Saturday, June 12
Saturday, June 12
"It's Saturday morning. We had a big rain last night. The first thing that we're doing right now is getting ready for warm-up in the No. 63 Corvette. The guys are putting in a new gearbox, a new engine...new everything. So we'll do a warm-up. It's the first time that we're actually running on the new Michelin rain tires, and we'll see how the hot rod is. We've had a good race car all week. Hopefully we'll have a good race today. Photo By Dan Fastuca
I just did an...
I just did an in-and-out lap, and we took it really easy. These aren't the conditions we'll be racing in, but mechanically the brakes, gearbox, engine, and everything else feels good, so I think we're in good shape. Photograph by Richard Prince/GM Racing
Things are starting...
Things are starting to get crazier here. The stands are filling up, and in about an hour we have the drivers' photo to do at the start-finish line. Everyone feels rushed with everything, and we're pretty much ready to get this going. Photo By Dan Fastuca
We're a couple...
We're a couple of minutes away from the start. We've got some great race cars. I'd like to say, "This is where the fun begins," but this is where the hard work begins. We're as prepared as we can be, and hopefully we'll have a Corvette 1-2 [finish and] No. 63 win. Photo By Dan Fastuca
Just about an...
Just about an hour in now, and I'm guessing we're a tick off-maybe a few tenths per lap on setup-as the No. 64 Corvette has pulled away from the No. 63 Corvette some. I'm sure we'll work on it at the stop and make it better. Photograph by Richard Prince/GM Racing
We're about two...
We're about two hours in, and I'm about to start my first stint-each stint is an hour, but we normally do "doubles" at Le Mans, which means I'm on the track for two hours. We should be good as long as nothing breaks. It sounds like the No. 63 Corvette is running good, so we should be set. Photo By Dan Fastuca
I'm just out of...
I'm just out of the No. 63 Corvette, and we're a little nervous on entry, which we'll have to work on. The biggest problem is that we're not getting the mileage we need. Photograph by Richard Prince/GM Racing
Almost six hours...
Almost six hours in, and the only car really able to challenge us is the Risi Competizione Ferrari. The Porsches don't have the pace. Photograph by Richard Prince/GM Racing
We're about seven...
We're about seven hours into it, and the Risi Ferrari is leading. [Oliver] Gavin's about a second behind him in the No. 64 Corvette. A safety car caught us out, so we're just over a minute back, according to our telemetry. I'm not worried-it's such a long race. The name of the game here is just to keep the car running, hit your marks, and bring it back in one piece-so I'll keep doing that! Photo By Dan Fastuca