Road Atlanta: Corvette Racing race report

Corvette Racing Splashes to Fourth and Sixth in Rain-Shortened Petit Le Mans Corvette C6.Rs Run One-Two Before Early Finish to Rain-Soaked Race BRASELTON, Ga., Sept. 26, 2009 -- The torrential rain that has inundated Georgia returned today, ...

Corvette Racing Splashes to Fourth and Sixth in Rain-Shortened Petit Le Mans

Corvette C6.Rs Run One-Two Before Early Finish to Rain-Soaked Race

BRASELTON, Ga., Sept. 26, 2009 -- The torrential rain that has inundated Georgia returned today, forcing officials to red flag the scheduled 10-hour Petit Le Mans after four hours and 50 minutes of racing. With heavy rainfall and runoff continuing to drench the Road Atlanta circuit and no hope of drying the track, the event was declared official at 8:44 on the race clock. When the race ended with the cars parked in the pit lane, Corvette Racing's No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R was fourth in the GT2 class, one lap behind Risi Competizione's GT2-winning No. 62 Ferrari 430. The No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R was classified sixth, two laps down.

The two Corvette C6.Rs dominated the first three hours of the race, running first and second consistently until a flurry of pit stops mixed the running order just as the heavy rain arrived. Starting with rain tires on a wet track, the Corvettes quickly asserted themselves at the start with Oliver Gavin taking the No. 4 Corvette to second and O'Connell slotting the No. 3 Corvette into fourth on the opening lap. Gavin made a move on the pole-winning Ford GT of David Murry in the Turn 10 chicane on the second lap, but lost grip and fell to fourth. O'Connell immediately applied more Chevrolet pressure to the Ford, taking the lead on the third lap with an inside pass going into the high-speed first turn. On the fourth lap, Gavin passed the championship-leading Flying Lizard Porsche of Patrick Long to take third, and one lap later he overtook Murry in Turn 1 to make it a Corvette Racing one-two in the GT2 class.

"I knew this morning we had a good car in the wet," said O'Connell. "Everyone was being a little tentative at the start, but I felt confident with my Michelins. Olly got in a little too deep and went off trying to pass the Ford GT, so then it was my turn to take care of business."

With a dry line emerging, the Corvette crew made the decision to switch from rain tires to slicks on the first pit stop. Gavin was the first to pit at the 45-minute mark, taking on four slick tires and a tankful of E85R ethanol. O'Connell pitted two laps later and also made the change to dry tires. Following the exchange of pit stops, Gavin emerged at the front of the GT2 class with O'Connell comfortably in second.

"I thought I was being super careful with the Ford, but obviously I wasn't being careful enough and went across the grass in Turn 10," Gavin said. "Fortunately the car wasn't damaged and I got going again and passed the Porsche and the Ford GT. The track was drying and I thought it had to be time for slicks. I could see it was going to be nasty in several turns, but thought that if I could build enough heat in the tires, it should be good for the rest of the track. As soon as I went out on slicks, I knew we'd made the right choice."

The Corvettes made their first driver changes during a full-course caution at 1:34 (62 laps) with Jan Magnussen replacing O'Connell and Olivier Beretta replacing Gavin. A second full-course caution period closed up the field, producing a pack of six GT2 cars representing Corvette, BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari all running within 20 seconds of each other in the third hour. The Corvette team took advantage of the third yellow flag to make another change of drivers at 2:49 (109 laps) with Antonio Garcia taking over the class-leading No. 3 Corvette C6.R and Marcel Fassler getting into the second-ranked No. 4 Corvette C6.R.

Marc Lieb in the No. 45 Porsche took second in the GT2 class on a restart following the fourth full-course caution and then closed to within half a second of Garcia. The two drivers waged a fierce battle until their duel was interrupted by the fifth caution period at 3:33. The Corvettes suffered a setback during their yellow-flag pit stops, ceding track position to Lieb and to Joerg Mueller in the No. 92 BMW. Rejoining the race after the pit stop exchange, Fassler was third and Garcia fourth.

"It was difficult because the two cars in front of me, the Risi Ferrari and No. 87 Porsche, were fighting for position and didn't want to lose a lap," said Garcia. "They were defending their position very hard. I think our pace was faster, so I took it easy and was waiting for an opportunity."

With the weather deteriorating and rain in the air, the No. 62 Ferrari pitted for wet tires just after the four-hour mark under the race's sixth full-course caution. Racing resumed at 4:24, but four minutes later a downpour began. Both Corvettes pitted for rain tires at 4:29, with O'Connell getting back into the No. 3 and Gavin returning to the No. 4. As he completed his out lap, O'Connell aquaplaned off the track in the downhill Turn 12 and was beached in the gravel trap. Quick work by the IMSA safety team had the No. 3 Corvette back on the circuit after losing only one lap. However, the No. 62 Ferrari's timely pit stop resulted in a one-lap advantage on the rest of the GT2 field.

"The rain was unbelievable," O'Connell said. "I came underneath the bridge like I've done a thousand times before and suddenly hit a stream of water. I wasn't pushing hard at all, just trying to get around and catch up with the field. When something like that happens you feel awful for the guys."

"It was quite difficult because the tires were cold running behind the safety car, and as soon as I tried to accelerate the car moved around and it was very tricky to stay on the track," Fassler said. "I was following a BMW, thinking he would show me the grip level, but then he went directly into the pit so I was on my own. Out of the first corner I had a big moment with oversteer. When I saw the rain coming, I was happy to hear the pit call for a driver change."

The downpour intensified, and race officials displayed the red flag, stopping the race at 4:50. The clock continued to run while the cars were parked in the pit lane, and the race was terminated three hours and 55 minutes later.

"It was a very unusual event, and in some respects a disappointing one," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "Rain is a perfect environment to race the GT2 Corvette C6.R -- the engineering that has gone into this chassis provides tremendous mechanical grip. Coupled with Michelin's exceptional tires, we certainly would have liked the opportunity to finish the race with a good result. But safety is always paramount at GM Racing, and we applaud the officials in making the decision to call the race. Safety must always prevail."

Corvette Racing's next event is the Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The four-hour race is scheduled to start at 2:45 p.m. PDT on Saturday, October 10. SPEED will broadcast the race tape-delayed on Sunday, October 11, at 2:30 p.m. EDT.

NEXT EVENT

October 10, Monterey Sports Car Championships, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif.

TV: SPEED tape-delayed, October 11, 2:30 p.m. EDT

-credit: gm

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