Corvette C5-R racing team prepares for the GTS Class battle royale LE MANS, France - The General Motors Chevrolet Corvette Racing team has arrived in Le Mans, site of the 72nd annual 24-hour race in the French countryside. The Corvette C5-R, ...
Corvette C5-R racing team prepares for the GTS Class battle royale
LE MANS, France - The General Motors Chevrolet Corvette Racing team has arrived in Le Mans, site of the 72nd annual 24-hour race in the French countryside. The Corvette C5-R, considered by many to be one of the finest GT sports racing cars of all time, is preparing for a third GTS Class victory in five years of competition. The team has begun a weeklong set of activities in and around the 8.46-mile Sarthe circuit, while on-track qualifying sessions begin on Wednesday evening. The 24 Hours of Le Mans will begin at 4:00 p.m. CET on Saturday, June 12.
Names such as Fellows, O'Connell, Papis, Gavin, Beretta and Magnussen comprise the Corvette driver lineup for the team's fifth appearance at Le Mans, but the name Corvette has a history of racing at Le Mans which dates back to 1960, when American entrepreneur Briggs Cunningham entered a Corvette and netted an impressive eighth place overall finish. The marque came regularly to Le Mans until 1982 and later returned in the mid-90s when regulations allowed GT cars back into the race. For three decades, Corvette's famous engine also powered cars from other brands such as Bizzarini, Callaway, Chaparral, Courage, Iso-Rivolta, Lola, Lotus, Marcos and March. 2004 marks Corvette's 18th year at the race. This year's driver lineup for Le Mans is:
63 Corvette C5-R: Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell, Max Papis
64 Corvette C5-R: Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta, Jan Magnussen
The six drivers have nearly 30 years of Le Mans race experience between them.
15,000 Miles and Counting
With close to 10 seconds of improvement over 2003 practice times, the C5-R Corvettes have been put through a vigorous development program - more aggressive than ever before with over 13,000 test miles logged between November of 2003 and March 2004. Even more miles were logged after the team's successful run at Sebring, wherein drivers Fellows, O'Connell and Papis notched the Corvette C5-R's third consecutive GTS class win. In total, some 15,000 test miles have prepared the program for this legendary race. While a switch to new tire manufacturer Michelin has proven to be a great partnership on the race track and in testing, team engineers are quick to point out that the entire car has been improved. "You don't just bolt on new tires and go out and run blistering lap times," said Steve Wesoloski, lead chassis engineer for the Corvette C5-R. "We had to learn how the Corvette C5-R was going to react to the level of forward and lateral grip that the Michelins provide. After hours of track testing, tire testing and simulation work, we were able to develop a chassis set-up that would allow us to take advantage of the performance of the tires."
Light, Fast, Strong
The Corvette Racing program has been fully developed for 2004 and the results have been well documented, with a decisive third consecutive GTS Class victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, including record-setting qualifying times for both cars. Specifically for Le Mans, the team has developed a new aerodynamic package. "With the long straightaways, reducing drag can be very important," said Wesoloski. "But you can't give up too much downforce because of the high corner entry speeds. For Le Mans, we were able to develop a package that provides significantly lower drag without reducing the total downforce." Fans will notice the cars' new side windows, front fascia fairings and a different rear wing angle.
The team also made a concerted effort to reduce overall weight in the car. For the first time, the Corvettes will run with a total weight of 1100 kg (2425 lbs), versus 1150 kg as in years past. Details like a new polycarbonate windshield (some 14 lbs lighter than glass), lower-weight batteries (6 lbs lighter) and a combination of lighter body panels all contribute to the weight savings. Rules require a smaller engine intake restrictor at the lower weight, but the trade-off from horsepower is worth the improved performance involved with better braking and turning, highly favored at Le Mans.
The team has carefully assembled eight engines for this week's qualifying sessions and race. A total of 96 hours (four 24-hour sessions) have been logged, to prepare for this year's Le Mans race: two 24-hour dyno sessions were performed before March's Sebring race, one 24-hour session was completed during the Sebring weekend (12 hours of racing plus 12 hours of successful testing immediately thereafter), and a fourth session was run after April's Open Test session. Team engineers noted that, for the first time, this year's engines blocks run without cylinder liners. The Nicom (nickel and silicon) coating, electroplated into the cylinder walls by U.S. Chrome, creates a structurally stronger engine block. This is just one of the many improvements the team has made to the legendary small-block Chevy V-8 engine in preparation for this year's race.