Corvette Racing Takes It to the Streets in Houston Inaugural ALMS Lone Star Grand Prix Is First Street Race for Corvette C6.R HOUSTON - They've won on road courses from Sebring and Road America to Lime Rock and Le Mans, but Corvette Racing's...
Corvette Racing Takes It to the Streets in Houston
Inaugural ALMS Lone Star Grand Prix Is First Street Race for Corvette C6.R
HOUSTON - They've won on road courses from Sebring and Road America to Lime Rock and Le Mans, but Corvette Racing's championship-winning Compuware Corvette C6.Rs have never raced on metropolitan streets. The inaugural Lone Star Grand Prix, to be contested on Friday night, May 12, on a temporary 1.7-mile course through Houston's Reliant Park, will mark the American Le Mans Series' first street race since a run through Miami Beach in September 2003. The Houston event, the second round of the 10-race ALMS series, is the first of two back-to-back races before the Corvette Racing team sends its yellow Corvettes to France in pursuit of a fifth GT1 title at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The close quarters and unforgiving concrete barriers that define the Houston circuit will present a stern challenge to Corvette Racing's drivers and crew. Recent performance adjustments that have further tilted the playing field in favor of Corvette Racing's rivals in the GT1 category will add to the task. Series officials recently granted Aston Martin Racing a 25-kilogram (55-pound) advantage in addition to the concessions announced before the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. As a result, the Corvette C6.Rs must weigh 176 pounds more than the Aston Martin DBR9s. The Corvettes are also required to use proportionally smaller engine air restrictors than their British competitors.
"The Corvette C6.R is at a point in its development where we're very comfortable going to a street race," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "The challenge we have isn't with the race track, it's with the competition. Aston Martin has received additional performance concessions. That's the challenge.
"A weight handicap is magnified on a street circuit," Fehan explained. "Generally the speeds are slower and the demands on braking and acceleration are greater. In those circumstances, a lighter car has an advantage."
Corvette Racing's experienced drivers and exceptional engineers will help to offset the weight penalty. All four of Corvette Racing's drivers - Olivier Beretta, Ron Fellows, Oliver Gavin and Johnny O'Connell - have posted wins in ALMS street races. Fellows and O'Connell won the ALMS street race in Washington, D.C., in 2002, driving the C6.R's predecessor, the legendary Corvette C5-R. They also took runner-up honors in street races held in Trois Rivieres, Quebec, in 2002 and 2003. In recent guest appearances with Team Cadillac, Fellows won the SCCA SPEED World Challenge GT race in Long Beach, Calif., with a daring last-lap pass, and O'Connell was runner-up in the SPEED GT event held in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla.
"I'm definitely tuned up after winning the Long Beach street race," Fellows laughed. "It's been several years since we had a street race in the ALMS, and I'm looking forward to a good old-fashioned street fight with the rest of the ALMS gang. I'm excited about going back to Texas because Corvette Racing got its first win at Texas Motor Speedway in 2000. I also have a longstanding relationship with AER, the world's largest engine re-manufacturer, which is based in Texas.
"We're going to go in early and do some reconnaissance work on the course," reported the Canadian road racing ace. "Having a compressed two-day schedule on a new track will work to Corvette Racing's favor. We have a great race team and I look forward to seeing our crew and engineers have at it."
O'Connell agreed: "When you have a tight schedule and a brand-new circuit, that's when the engineers at Corvette Racing shine. They've already run the computer simulations and I'm sure the cars will be nearly perfect when they roll out of the trailers. I'm confident that Michelin is going to provide us with great tires, and that is going to be another asset."
The race will start at 8 p.m. and run for two hours and 45 minutes under the lights on the 10-turn course alongside the Astrodome.
"No doubt it's going to be tough," said O'Connell. "The circuit looks really good, with some dicey high-speed curves on the front straight that could produce a few close calls. We intend to run a hard, competitive race, but we don't want to put a car into the wall with a race at Mid-Ohio the following week."
Although the course is new, Corvette Racing's engineers have already run hundreds of virtual laps around the track on their computer screens.
"We have engineering drawings of the track, but no one has been on the circuit to collect real-world data," noted Steve Wesoloski, GM Racing road racing group manager. "One of the strengths of Corvette Racing is our engineering capabilities, and with our simulation programs we should be very close on the setups before the first race car goes onto the track. During an event with very limited practice time, the resources of our engineering organization are a real advantage."