Miami: Corvette Racing race report

Corvette Drivers Win ALMS Championship in Miami Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell capture GTS drivers' crown in hard-fought race Miami -- Two drivers from the General Motors Chevrolet Corvette Racing team captured the GTS drivers' championship...

Corvette Drivers Win ALMS Championship in Miami
Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell capture GTS drivers' crown in hard-fought race

Miami -- Two drivers from the General Motors Chevrolet Corvette Racing team captured the GTS drivers' championship for the American Le Mans Series on Saturday in Miami. Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell, driving the #3 Compuware Corvette C5-R, claimed the prestigious title after finishing fourth in the GTS class after an afternoon of racing not without its share of challenges.

"This race showed what a team we have here at Corvette and furthermore what a team effort it takes to be successful in endurance racing," said Harry Turner, GM's group manager for Road Racing. "There is some satisfaction as we put more points toward the manufacturers' championship, and we're proud of our two drivers for their title, but we're clearly disappointed we were not on the podium today. As we go forward, our races are not getting to be any less of a challenge, but it's the conditioning of the crew and drivers that gets you through the tough races. Johnny O'Connell showed how mentally and physically fit he is to be able to maintain a quick pace in the afternoon heat and then to fight with that steering wheel for the last thirty minutes of the race. We're all looking forward to Petit Le Mans."

After starting the weekend posting the fastest lap times in each practice session throughout the weekend, the Corvette team was on pace to push for another GTS victory. Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell started Saturday's race from the third position in class and led a significant portion of the event. On lap 104, a slower prototype car crossed into O'Connell path at Turn 2, forcing the Chevrolet driver to crash into the wall. Nursing the badly damaged Corvette back to the pits, the crew changed nearly the entire front end of the car and one crew member proved resourceful by taking a ratchet strap from a nearby tent to tie the left front suspension together. O'Connell's hopes for a victory were dashed at that point, but he managed to nurse the battled car around the circuit in order to finish in a points-paying position. Series rules dictate that all cars must complete 70% of the distance of the winning car in order to receive points.

"Our crew did an amazing job today and they did absolutely whatever it took to finish the race," said Doug Fehan, GM's program manager for Corvette Racing. "When you look at how they managed to find a way to get our #3 Corvette back on the track, there is no doubt that this is a world class crew."

O'Connell also paid tribute to his team after a challenging Saturday afternoon.

"Although we're all disappointed in not finishing where we would have liked, I couldn't have made it this far without the crew on our #3 Corvette," said O'Connell. "They did an amazing job to put our car back together in a matter of minutes after that accident and we counted our losses and played it safe to gather the points we needed for the championship."

Oliver Gavin and Kelly Collins were forced to sit out during the race, after an accident during Saturday morning warmup significantly damaged their #4 Compuware Corvette C5-R. Collins was driving the car when it hit the bump before Turn 12, which had been a subject of disdain for many drivers over the course of the weekend. He was examined and released by the track medical facility shortly after the accident. Collins attributed his condition to the work that GM Racing engineers put into developing a sound chassis and a new crash protection box.

"I'm quite thankful for the crash box developed for us by GM Racing, which really did its job in that accident," said Collins. "I was trying to find another racing line around the bump before the straightaway and I just tried to square the car up to it. The car hit the bump and it sent me up in the air and into the wall. I feel fine now but it's unfortunate for Oliver and me. It's a shame that the track conditions are such that these race cars are going airborne on that corner and it turned out to be a dangerous section of the track during the race for everyone else. Oliver and I are looking forward to coming back in Petit Le Mans."

The carbon-fiber crash protection structure is located to the left of the driver and integrated into the Corvette's roll cage architecture. The box was developed by the team along with Tom Gideon, GM Racing's safety director, in an effort to lessen the force of a side-impact collision. While the team leads the ALMS with the development, GM Racing hopes to implement the box in the other forms of motorsport within which it competes.

The Corvette Racing team will take to the track again in three week's time, for the final round of the American Le Mans Series in Atlanta.

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