Dale Earnhardt Jr Tests American Le Mans Series Chevy Corvette Preppingfor July Infineon Raceway Event. Braselton, GA - Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was introduced to the American Le Mans Series version of the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R race car in a test session on Wednesday and the NASCAR superstar was more than impressed.
Taking advantage of a rare off weekend on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, Earnhardt will join Corvette Racing and compete in the Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma for the American Le Mans Series July 16-18 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Veteran road racer Boris Said will co-drive with Earnhardt as the Corvette team fields a special third entry for the event.
Earnhardt and his father, the late Dale Earnhardt, drove for the factory Corvette team in 2001 in the 24 Hours of Daytona, both making their first-ever appearance in a sports car race. But Earnhardt, Jr. had never driven the car in its high-tech configuration for the American Le Mans Series until Wednesday. Said, a former GT class winner in ALMS competition, was also getting his first drive in the car.
Earnhardt and Said were joined by two-time ALMS GTS class champion Ron Fellows for the test session at Michigan's Gingerman Raceway road racing circuit. Fellows, who has driven for the factory Corvette team since its inception in 1998, helped Earnhardt and Said adjust to driving the Compuware Corvette. Fellows and co-driver Johnny O'Connell will be gunning to win the GTS class in the ALMS event at Sonoma for the fourth consecutive year.
"Man, the tires and brakes are amazing," said Earnhardt after the test. "The brakes are 10 times better than when I drove the car before. The other series didn't allow carbon brakes, so this is the first time I've ever had a chance to run on them. There is a huge learning curve but once I got the hang of it, it was great. Ron and Boris helped me out to figure how to squeeze the brake pedal."
Said was also driving with carbon brakes for the first time in his career. "Overall the car is awesome," he said. "I've seen this thing for four years when I was in a GT car and I'm happy to be given the opportunity to drive it. It sounds awesome and the handling is just incredible."
Earnhardt, one of the biggest stars in the world of motorsports, is enjoying a banner season in NASCAR, having won the Daytona 500 in February as well as events at Atlanta and Richmond. But as busy as his life is, the North Carolina native still finds time to keep up with the exploits of the Corvette team, which has won the GTS class team title in the ALMS the past three years. He also relishes the chance to get behind the wheel of the car in an ALMS event for the first time.
"I like sports car racing because the equipment is so advanced," he said. "The Corvette C5-R is such a capable race car and, above all, it's fun to drive. This car is so capable, if you realize you've made a mistake you can figure it out and correct it maybe the next time you hit that corner. In other sports cars I've driven you're fighting just to keep on line. This car allows you a certain level of precision."
Fellows, one of the most popular drivers in the ALMS, joined Earnhardt in the two NASCAR Nextel Cup road course events last year, driving a third car fielded by Dale Earnhardt, Inc. He also helped the young star with his road racing technique, as he and Said continue to do now.
"I was extremely impressed with Junior's progress through the day at the test," said Fellows. "Without a doubt he's a great racing driver regardless of which car he's driving or which direction he's turning. His adaptability skills have improved immensely.
"You see a new level of focus. I'm not just saying that because of his last name, he's earned it. He did a hell of a job. He and Boris ran at about the same time and that's remarkable."
"Being in the Corvette C5-R has helped me develop as a road racer more than anything else," said Earnhardt. "With Ron and Boris here to help me out, they make sure to tell me which bad habits to lose and good habits to keep. I'm a road racer because of the things I've learned from Ron Fellows and Boris Said."
While Earnhardt always wants to win when he gets into a race car, he is tempering his expectations for the event at Infineon Raceway. "Our goal is to stay on the track and finish," he said.
"Boris doing well is no surprise and we're looking forward to seeing him and Dale Jr. do well at Sonoma," said Fellows. "They are going to surprise some people, no doubt."
"Little E is going to be a riot," commented Said, who recently became the first American ever to win the VLN 4 hours at the Nurburgring in Germany. "He's just turned into a fantastic race car driver, NASCAR or sports car racing or whatever. We're going to have a great time."
The Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma will get the green flag at 11:30 a.m. (PDT) on Sunday, July 18, and will be televised live in North America by CBS Sports and in Europe on MotorsTV. The American Le Mans Series Radio Web will have live coverage online at www.americanlemans.com.
Ticket information is available online at www.americanlemans.com or by calling (800) 870-RACE.