The Week Has Arrived - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. To make American Le Mans Series Debut in Corvette at Infineon Raceway. Braselton, GA - When it was announced in March that NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr., would compete in the American Le Mans Series...
The Week Has Arrived - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. To make American Le Mans Series Debut in Corvette at Infineon Raceway.
Braselton, GA - When it was announced in March that NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr., would compete in the American Le Mans Series event to be held July 16-18 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., the anticipation began to build among fans of sports car racing and stock car racing alike.
Now, four months later, the time has arrived.
Earnhardt, the most popular driver in NASCAR racing, will take advantage of an open weekend on the NASCAR schedule and make a rare foray outside of stock car competition to race for the first time at the top level of professional sports car racing when he joins the GM factory Chevrolet Corvette team for this weekend's American Le Mans Series event. He will be the first fulltime NASCAR Nextel Cup Series driver to race in the ALMS since the formation of the series in 1999.
Road racing veteran Boris Said will co-drive with Earnhardt as they seek to win the GTS class in the Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma, a two-hour, 45-minute timed event on the 2.53-mile Infineon Raceway that will be held Sunday. They will drive a third Chevrolet Corvette C5-R for Corvette Racing, GTS class champion in the ALMS for the past three years.
"I am really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Corvette C5-R because it is such a great race car," said Earnhardt. "I'm happy that Chevy has given me the chance to cross over and take part in its sports car program, which has been a huge success. Boris Said has a lot of experience at Infineon Raceway, and I'm getting better there, so it should be a fun weekend."
"Little E," as he is known to race fans, and his father, the late Dale Earnhardt, joined the Corvette team in 2001 to race in the 24 Hours of Daytona, a race that is not part of the ALMS. Rules for that event did not allow the Corvette to race with the technical sophistication that it does in the ALMS, and Earnhardt, Jr., and Said recently spent a day testing the car with two-time ALMS GTS champion Ron Fellows, a regular driver for Corvette Racing.
"Man, the tires and brakes are amazing," said Earnhardt. "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.
"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."
Though his NASCAR schedule keeps him busy, Earnhardt follows the Corvette team's activities as much as possible, and even sent a "good luck" email to the team prior to the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans last month. The team finished first and second in the GTS class in the event.
"Dale Jr. has really matured as a race driver the last couple of years," said Fellows, who will co-drive with Johnny O'Connell for the Corvette team. Oliver Gain and Olivier Beretta will drive the #4 Corvette entry. "In our test, he got up to speed in about half a day and that is pretty impressive because the ALMS cars are so different to what he's used to and quite different from what he drove back in 2001. In the Corvette he can get a lot more aggressive and I think he likes that.
"I think he might surprise some people this weekend because he has really developed," said Fellows. "Dale can get it done on the race track. Technique-wise, there are a few little things that are slightly different in terms of how road racers do it, but the trick to him is that he is very adaptable."
Turnabout will be fair play as Fellows will drive a NASCAR Nextel Cup car for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., in next month's road course event in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
"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."
TV-RADIO, TICKET INFO
The Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma will get the green flag at 11:00 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.
Practice and qualifying for the event will be held on Saturday, July 17, along with a Fan Forum and an autograph session featuring all ALMS drivers. Ticket information is available online at www.americanlemans.com or by calling (800) 870-RACE.