Laguna Seca: Corvette Racing qualifying report

Corvettes Qualify Second and Third for ALMS Season Finale O'Connell and Beretta Break Track Record; Corvette Racing Wins Pit Crew Challenge MONTEREY, Calif., Oct. 14, 2005 - The stage is set for Saturday's season finale of the American Le...

Corvettes Qualify Second and Third for ALMS Season Finale

O'Connell and Beretta Break Track Record; Corvette Racing Wins Pit Crew Challenge

MONTEREY, Calif., Oct. 14, 2005 - The stage is set for Saturday's season finale of the American Le Mans Series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and the key players in the GT1 championship drama will start second and third. Title contender Johnny O'Connell qualified the No. 3 Compuware Corvette second in the GT1 class at 1:20.719, and points leader Olivier Beretta put the No. 4 Compuware Corvette third on the GT1 grid at 1:21.123. Both Corvettes eclipsed the track record set by Beretta last year at 1:21.679 (98.640 mph), but Terry Borcheller went even faster in a Saleen S7R with a lap of 1:20.307 to take the class pole for the second time in the last three races.

The Corvettes completed four laps at speed, improving their times consistently until a red flag for debris on the course halted their qualifying runs. When qualifying resumed, Corvette Racing elected to stay in the pits and conserve their tires, and the Saleen captured the pole. O'Connell and his teammate Ron Fellows will begin the final race of the season 15 points behind their Corvette Racing stablemates Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta in the championship standings.

"We didn't want to put any more miles on these tires than we had to because we'll start the race on them," O'Connell explained. "I had a fast one going when they red-flagged it - a lot faster than my best lap. There was a lot left in the car, but I'm pleased. The car had a good balance, I hit my marks, but that last lap would have been killer.

"We're quicker than we were a year ago because we're wrapping up our first season with the C6.R, and it's an improvement over the C5-R," he noted. "The whole team is moving forward, from engine development to the Michelin tire program. I'd expect us to be faster than we were a year ago.

"We have to do everything we can to win tomorrow," O'Connell declared. "The most important thing is that it's been a successful year for Corvette Racing, but it's always nice going into the off-season with a win. We're going to give it everything we can tomorrow."

Beretta set the early pace in qualifying, but soon encountered slower GT2 cars on the course.

"It was difficult because when I started I had a clear lap, but the tires were cold," Beretta said. "When I got some heat in the tires I did a good lap time, but on my quickest lap I had traffic, and then the red flag came out. I'm sure the car could have run quicker, but the competition with the Saleen and the No. 3 Corvette is great."

Laguna Seca has been a challenge for Corvette Racing over the years. The team scored its first win at the 2.238-mile course last year.

"It's a track that's well suited to the Saleen," noted Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "On a surface with limited traction, a rear-engined car is going to do well. They put down a quick lap when they had to, and that's a testament to the competitive balance that everyone in the ALMS has worked toward to put on a great show. Right down the line, there's not much separating the GT1 cars."

The four-hour race will begin in daylight at 3:15 p.m. PDT, and finish in darkness at 7:15 p.m. With cooler temperatures and a possibility of rain in the forecast, the race promises the unexpected.

"In a four-hour race at Laguna Seca, there will be a lot of yellow flags, a lot of pace cars, and a lot of cars getting caught out on caution periods," Fehan predicted. "Fortunately the way that testing worked out with cool temperatures last night and cool temperatures this morning, we have a good read on the car. We have a couple of tire compounds to choose between. We focused on developing a race setup, and we always come close to hitting the mark."

Corvette Racing Wins Pit Stop Challenge

Both of Corvette Racing's pit crews competed in the final round of the Klein Tools Pit Stop Challenge today. The crew of the No. 3 Corvette C6.R won the $20,000 first prize, and the No. 4 crew finished third.

The finale of the season-long pit stop competition pitted four teams against the clock as the crews had to perform a driver change, a simulated 30-second fuel stop, and a four-tire change. The No. 3 Corvette team led by crew chief Dan Binks won the prize with a time of 48.110 second, the quickest time recorded in the competition. The No. 4 crew led by Ray Gongla did their final stop in 48.981 seconds to take the third spot.

"We practice all the time, and when it was time for the money, these guys were ready," said Binks. "Everybody knew they just had to keep doing what got them to the final."

And what will the team do with its prize money? "We're going to build a new gym so everyone can work out!" Binks laughed.

Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell drove the winning car in the pit stop contest, executing a driver change during the timed stop.

"Thanks to Klein Tools for introducing this program," said Fellows. "I'm sure that all of the teams appreciate their support. Our guys were fast when it counted. When we started the Corvette Racing program in 1999, pit stops were something we really worked on, and today I think that the Corvette Racing team is the benchmark."

"I couldn't be more proud of Corvette Racing," said Fehan. "Winning the inaugural Pit Stop Challenge is one of the greatest accomplishments we've had as a team. To have both cars in the final four going up against Alex Job Racing, which is certainly one of the finest teams in the series, was a fitting final round. We were the fortunate ones today, but it could have gone either way on any given day."

The Monterey Sports Car Championships, the final round of the 10-race 2005 American Le Mans Series, is scheduled to start at 3:15 p.m. PDT on Saturday, Oct. 15, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The race will be televised on SPEED Channel on Sunday, Oct. 16, at 1 p.m. EDT.

-cr/gm-

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