BEATING ASTONS, WINNING FOURTH LE MANS GOAL FOR CORVETTE'S O'CONNELL Sacramento, Calif. - In order to reach victory lane at Le Mans for the first time since 2002, Johnny O'Connell must overcome one of the deepest LM GT1 fields in recent ...
BEATING ASTONS, WINNING FOURTH LE MANS GOAL FOR CORVETTE'S O'CONNELL
Sacramento, Calif. - In order to reach victory lane at Le Mans for the first time since 2002, Johnny O'Connell must overcome one of the deepest LM GT1 fields in recent history.
O'Connell, Ron Fellows and Max Papis will team together in the No. 63 Corvette C6-R, the new model introduced at the opening of the American Le Mans Series season in March at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Talented teammates Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen will drive the second Corvette entry, the No. 64. The two cars will compete against a host of Ferrari challengers, as well as Prodrive's two-car Aston Martin team, one of which bested the Corvettes and won the GT1 class in the ALMS' first race of 2005.
That fact doesn't sit well with O'Connell as he heads to France to compete in his 10th Le Mans. He won in class there in 1994, 2001 and '02.
"In my mind, we gave them a gift (at Sebring). We lost it," O'Connell said, noting several brake issues with his car, coupled with the contact suffered by that of Gavin, Beretta and Magnussen.
"With us, it was a mechanical thing, and this year at Sebring, we just did not have the luck you need," O'Connell added. "They were not any faster than us."
They were in Sunday's test session, though. The two Corvette entries each were about four seconds slower than the two Aston Martin DBR9s, but the speculation is that the Corvette Racing squad didn't want to show its hand.
The new C6-R makes its Le Mans debut following ALMS class wins in the Sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta and the American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio. "The technical guys are doing some amazing things with our engines these days," O'Connell said. "All the mechanical aspects of the car are extremely sound. We have done a bunch of aerodynamic testing and the car's ready to roll right onto the course."
The improvements made in the C6-R will result in a better car for Le Mans, O'Connell believes. "This new car is a result of our being able to take all the good things out (of the C5-R) and couple that with some aerodynamic changes."
Holding three class wins in his career, O'Connell knows no American has won four titles of any kind at La Sarthe, class or overall. "That is one record that I really, really want," he said. "We face stout competition, especially with the Aston Martins.
"They are awfully strong, and I expect a big-time battle with them as well as with the Ferrari teams. At the end of the day, what you will see are professional, competitive teams and drivers digging for all they are worth."
As would befit the world's most important sports car race.
Qualifying at Le Mans is scheduled for June 15-16. The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be broadcast on SPEED Channel starting at 10 a.m. EDT June 18. The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the New England Grand Prix, set for 3 p.m. July 4 at Lime Rock Park. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED (3 to 6 p.m. EDT) and on MotorsTV in Europe, reaching 40 million viewers in 21 countries as well as at www.americanlemans.com.