BRASELTON, Ga. - It has become the talk of the sports car racing world and is meeting and exceeding what was expected at the beginning of the year. And it's for real. The Corvette vs. Ferrari battle in the GTS class of the American Le...
BRASELTON, Ga. - It has become the talk of the sports car racing world and is meeting and exceeding what was expected at the beginning of the year. And it's for real.
The Corvette vs. Ferrari battle in the GTS class of the American Le Mans Series has captured the attention of racing fans around the globe and will be one of the key elements of the Fry's Electronics Sports Car Championships weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., Sep. 5-7.
The warriors are two Chevrolet Corvette C5-Rs from the General Motors camp, two bright-red Ferrari 550 Maranellos from England's Prodrive stable and a green Maranello from Team Olive Garden. Each car has experienced, world-class racing drivers and a top-flight organization behind them, and the racing between them this season has been scintillating.
In the six races that have been held so far in the American Le Mans Series, Corvette has won the GTS class five times. However, that record is deceiving and doesn't indicate how close and competitive the racing has been.
The past two races have been decided in last-lap shootouts. Most of the races have featured a great deal of Corvette-Ferrari dicing. In qualifying, the cars have usually been very evenly-matched and have often been split and mixed in the results.
Now the battle shifts to the 2.238-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the only track on the current American Le Mans Series schedule where the Corvette team has never won. Last year, the Prodrive team beat the Corvettes and won its first race in the ALMS in a stirring battle that was a prelude to the events of 2003.
"Why haven't we won there? Maybe it would be easier to tell you what hasn't gone wrong," said Ron Fellows, the GTS class driving champion in the ALMS last year and a three-time winner this year with co-driver Johnny O'Connell in the Compuware Corvette. "Last year, we got hit by a Prototype and spun out, then the car caught on fire. Other things have happened. It just hasn't been our track."
Kelly Collins and Oliver Gavin will drive the other Corvette as they seek their third win of 2003. While Gavin will be racing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the first time, Collins has vast experience at the tricky track where he formerly worked as a racing instructor.
On the other side of the fence are Tomas Enge and Peter Kox, drivers of the #88 Prodrive Ferrari for Care Racing Development. Enge and Kox, in their first appearance at Monterey, drove to victory last year. Though they are winless in the ALMS this season, Enge and Kox were part of Prodrive's GTS class-winning effort in the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier this year.
Seasoned American Le Mans Series veterans Jan Magnussen and David Brabham, winners of the most recent ALMS race at Road America, will steer the #80 Prodrive machine. Both have many laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, having raced for the former factory Panoz team the past four years. Getting closer every race is the #0 Team Olive Garden entry driven by Italians Emanuele Naspetti and Mimmo Schiattarella.
"I think what's going on between us and the Corvettes has been some of the best racing the American Le Mans Series has ever had," said Brabham after winning at Road America. "It's close racing and it's what people want to see."
"This sort of racing is great for the sport," said Doug Fehan, GM's Program Manager for Corvette Racing.
Four classes of American Le Mans Series sports cars will compete in the Fry's Electronics Sports Car Championships. Included are two classes of the sleek and exotic Prototypes, which are open-cockpit, high-horsepower machines capable of reaching speeds of 180 mph on parts of Mazda Raceway. Racing on the track at the same time for class wins and the overall win are the GTS and GT classes, production-based cars such as Corvettes, Ferrari 550's and Dodge Vipers (GTS) and Porsche 911s, Ferrari 360s and Panoz Esperantes (GT).
More than 35 cars are expected to compete in the event, which gets the green flag at 12 noon (PDT) on Sunday, September 7. Practice and qualifying for ALMS cars will be held on Saturday, September 6, along with an autograph session featuring all ALMS drivers.
The race will be televised live by NBC Sports beginning at 4 p.m. (EDT). Live coverage by the American Le Mans Series Radio Web can be heard online at www.americanlemans.com.
Ticket information for the event is available online at www.laguna-seca.com or by calling 1-800-327-7322