SONOMA, Calif. - The General Motors Chevrolet Corvette Racing team captured its 30th victory in 50 races on Sunday at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway. Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell won the GTS class at Round 4 of the American Le Mans Series, their ...
SONOMA, Calif. - The General Motors Chevrolet Corvette Racing team captured its 30th victory in 50 races on Sunday at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway. Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell won the GTS class at Round 4 of the American Le Mans Series, their fourth straight victory at the circuit and the fifth straight win for Corvette in 2004.
"This team continues to demonstrate resolve in the face of adversity," said Doug Fehan, GM's program manager for Corvette Racing. "Our crew has the experience of going through wars, can comprehend what's happened and can focus on what we need to do to survive. This is just an incredible group of individuals."
The Corvette Racing team started Sunday's race with two cars after an incident during morning warmup at Infineon Raceway. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had an accident when he left the track at Turn 8 in his #8 Corvette C5-R.
"Although we're happy about our 30th victory, we had an unfortunate incident in morning warmup today with our #8 Corvette," said Fehan. "The accident was caused by a combination of many factors, including a slick race track, cold tires and a full tank of fuel. The hit was so hard that it broke the filler neck off the fuel cell and caused a fire. We know Dale Jr. wished he could have been back here at the race with us and we definitely won this one for him."
Earnhardt, Jr. was treated for minor burns and was taken to UC Davis Hospital for precautionary measures, where he will be held overnight for observation.
"I'm bummed out and disappointed I couldn't run the race," said Earnhardt, Jr. from his hospital room.
"We believe it is a testament to the way that the Corvette has been engineered that Dale Jr. was able to get himself out of the car after taking such a hard hit," said Fehan. "We engineer front and rear crash zones into the car, as well as a special aluminum side crash box. We don't like to see any of our drivers involved in incidents like this, but when they do happen we're glad they have the protection of the Corvette chassis around them."
On a morning which was marked by disappointment, drivers Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell lifted the spirits of the team after taking their fourth straight GTS class victory at Sonoma. The duo leads the GTS class drivers' championship hunt.
"Johnny and I always love coming to this track," said Fellows, who has 22 wins in 50 starts with Corvette. "Johnny taught here for some time and it's just a great place to race. It's awesome that the team can say we've won 30 out of 50 races-I can remember the first one very well. You're only as good as your last race so I suppose Johnny and I are doing quite well right now!"
O'Connell, who has collected a remarkable 21 Corvette C5-R wins in 36 starts, said that he did his best to manage the condition of the car for the remainder of the race.
"The car was a bit loose during my stint and I wasn't trying to push that hard," said O'Connell. "Ron ran very well and he really did a great job on those two stints. When I got in the car I cruised and took advantage of what happened on the track. Once again Ron and I did what we had to do to cross the finish line first."
The #4 Corvette C5-R of Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta climbed back to third position after a massive crash on lap 54 which sent Gavin into the tire barriers after Turn 1. The damaged Corvette was immediately brought back to the garage, where the crew installed a new nose and a new right toe link. The repairs stole approximately 14 laps from the leaders. Olivier Beretta took over for Gavin and had to deal with the lack of power steering and a crooked steering wheel, but still managed to set amazingly fast laps.
"I drove with the steering wheel crooked and the power steering gone," said Beretta. "The crew did a great job to repair the car after that big accident. It was not perfect but I was able to get us back to third place."
"It's great that given the accident we were still able to finish third," said Gavin. "Olivier did a great job once again and we're glad we got some points out of this race."
Celebrating the team's 50th race was made special by the addition of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Boris Said in a third Corvette C5-R. While the early withdrawal disappointed the crew, team members reported that the performance of the two drivers was right up to par throughout the weekend.
"Dale Jr. and Boris stepped right in and immediately tuned in to what the car was doing-their feedback was great," said Doug Louth, engineering manager for Corvette Racing. "Their lap times were right there and everyone on the team was very disappointed that they didn't get a chance to race. Those cold, slippery conditions could have caused the same to happen to our other drivers who have years of experience in the car. We're happy that the Corvette chassis has been engineered to withstand that sort of impact and we hope we can put them in the car again in the future."
The Corvette Racing team will return to the track this next weekend at Portland International Raceway.