All I can say is God bless Texas!" Gary Claudio, Group Marketing Manager, GM Racing.
The last season and a half of American Le Mans series racing has been one of promise and frustration for both Corvette racing fans and for the factory. Promise as in several superb qualifying efforts by the C5-Rs, and some extremely close-but not close enough-finishes, always behind the factory-backed Team ORECA Vipers. Frustration from those same almost-but-not-quite finishes and, unfortunately, from inopportune parts failures (that's a part of racing) and what appeared-from an armchair quarterback's perspective-to be occasional inadequate testing of unproven, new components.
But, that's all in the past. That elusive first victory came tantalizingly close at Mosport, when the lone C5-R pulled out a lead over the twin Vipers, only to have victory snatched away in the final few laps as Karl Wendlinder managed to squeeze past Andy Pilgrim and maintained a fraction of a second lead as the two cars took the checkered flag. It was a marvelous race, on a complex track, and the plot was thickened by rain early in the event, leaving a slowly, unevenly drying course. And even though one of the seemingly invincible Vipers held onto a miniscule lead at the end, seeing the nose of the lone C5-R alongside the door of the big, bad Viper as the two cars crossed the finish line had to be an omen of what was to come.
What was to come came just two weeks later, at Texas Motor Speedway, outside of Fort Worth, Texas. It was a study in contrasts. First, a race on a venerable, "natural," road course, followed by another enduro at one of the nation's newest super speedways, a 1.5-mile high-banked oval with a newly finished and totally "artificial" infield road course. A cold and wet race day followed, two weeks later, by a hellaciously hot 109-degree (!)day, so hot that residents of the Dallas/Fort Worth area were being advised to stay indoors, hot enough that the temperature in the C5-R's cockpit reached a staggering 175 degrees!
The course at TMS utilized nearly the entire 1.5-mile "D" oval. The cars ran counterclockwise, just like in a normal oval track race. After threading through a temporary chicane set up on the front ("D") portion of the track, the cars ran flat-out through the turns 1 and 2 banking and onto the back straight. Roughly halfway down the back straight, they'd brake hard and enter the brand-new infield course. After weaving through the infield, the cars would re-enter the oval, race through turns 3 and 4, back towards the start-finish line. The circuit measured 2.342 miles, and the race, which started at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 2nd, was to run for 2 hours, 45 minutes.
The C5-Rs have qualified well a number of times, so it was no real surprise to see Ron Fellows wheel the Corvette to a provisional pole during the first day of qualifying-only to have one of the Vipers narrowly edge him out (1:20.421 vs. 1:20.586) for the GTS class pole in final qualifying on a track that Fellows described as "greasy." Ron added, "I got a decent lap, but it obviously wasn't good enough. This Corvette is a good race car, so we'll go racing and see what we can do." Fellows' co-driver, Andy Pilgrim, agreed. "The pole is nice, don't get me wrong, but we need to concentrate on the race-and like I said, this Corvette is a very good race car, so we'll go from there."
And go they did! When the green flag dropped for the ALS Grand Prix of Texas that sweltering evening, Fellows quickly overtook and worked his way around the lead Viper. Early on, the battle between the forces of darkness and the lone good guy (the Vipers and the Corvette) was fierce, with the C5-R managing to retain a lead over both snakes. During the first pit stop, Andy Pilgrim took over for the utterly drained Fellows, who commented, "I actually had to hold my breath at times because the air was so hot to breathe."