BRASELTON, Ga., Sept. 25, 2009 ? Corvette Racing drivers Olivier Beretta and Johnny O'Connell qualified third and seventh respectively for Saturday's 1,000-mile/10-hour Petit Le Mans, the ninth round of the American Le Mans Series. Today's...
BRASELTON, Ga., Sept. 25, 2009 ? Corvette Racing drivers Olivier Beretta and Johnny O'Connell qualified third and seventh respectively for Saturday's 1,000-mile/10-hour Petit Le Mans, the ninth round of the American Le Mans Series. Today's 25-minute GT2 qualifying session was held in hot and humid conditions, but with a 90 percent probability of rain in the weather forecast for race day, the rolling Road Atlanta circuit could be dramatically different when the green flag falls.
Both Corvette C6.Rs began the qualifying session with installation laps following scheduled service for their race gearboxes, and then completed five flying laps in their qualifying runs. Beretta took the provisional pole in the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R with a quick lap at 1:20.912 (113.012 mph) on his fourth circuit, while O'Connell posted his fastest time at 1:21.491 (112.209 mph) on his fifth lap. Beretta held the top spot for four minutes before being bumped to third by .093 seconds late in the session. David Murry put the Robertson Racing Ford GT on the GT2 class pole with a lap at 1:20.819 (113.882 mph).
"I was just warming up, picking my spots to brake and accelerate," said Beretta. "Then when I felt everything was ready, including the driver, I decided to push. I had a clean lap and a good qualifying time. My main concern was that Olly must start the race on these tires, so I didn?t want to overheat them. Qualifying is important, but the target is the race."
O'Connell, a resident of nearby Flowery Branch, Ga., enjoyed the vocal support of his legions of fans at Road Atlanta. "Maybe it was the track conditions, but we had more understeer in qualifying than we've had in practice, and there is only so much you can do to overcome that," O'Connell said. "A 10-hour race isn't going to be won in qualifying, and when you look at the qualifying times, there are several very fast cars behind us. One of the reasons that Corvette Racing is successful is our ability to adapt to different conditions and situations. We'll be tested tomorrow and we usually rise to the occasion."
The GT2 Corvette C6.Rs are running with a revised engine specification at Petit Le Mans with port fuel injection instead of the direct injection used previously.
"We had homologated the GT2 Corvette C6.R with a 6.0-liter GM small-block V8 engine for 2008 until new rules go into effect next year," said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. "Essentially the engine is a destroked version of the 7.0-liter GT1 engine, which had direct injection. While there is nothing in the rules that precludes direct injection, Corvette Racing was the only GT2 team using it. Some of the competitors expressed their concerns about that situation, and the sanctioning body requested that we remove the direct injection system. We agreed that if it was in the best interest of good racing and in the best interest of the series, we would honor that request.
"Consequently GM Powertrain has made a monumental effort to prepare the engines for this race," Fehan said. "In less than three weeks, they completely disassembled the engines, reconfigured the cylinder heads, and changed the fueling systems. The change from direct injection to port injection affects our fuel mileage to some extent, but it has had a negligible impact on performance. Among the top-five GT2 qualifiers, Corvette Racing has the only car that hasn't been granted a larger restrictor, a bigger splitter, or a larger wing under performance balancing. We offer our congratulations to our rivals for their qualifying performances today, and we salute the job that the GM Powertrain staff has done for Corvette Racing."
The prospect of rain on race day adds to the drama of endurance racing. "Rain at Road Atlanta is never a good thing because of the hills and valleys, and there could be standing water on the circuit," said Beretta. "This is an endurance race, and we are used to doing 24 hours and 12 hours. This one will be 10 hours, and if it rains, we will deal with it."
O'Connell agreed: "It's been a long time since we've had a wet race at Petit Le Mans," he said. "Racing in the rain is difficult at any track, but at Road Atlanta it's particularly difficult because there is no passing from Turn 3 to Turn 5. The difference in speeds between the GT2 cars and the prototypes is significant, so I hope that everyone is smart. We'll just take the situation as it comes and adjust to it."