Road Atlanta II: Corvette race report

Chevrolet wins ALMS championship at Petit Le Mans. Legendary Corvette C5-R wins manufacturers', drivers' and team GTS titles. Atlanta -- After nine rounds of endurance racing in the American Le Mans Series in 2003, Chevrolet has captured its...

Chevrolet wins ALMS championship at Petit Le Mans. Legendary Corvette C5-R wins manufacturers', drivers' and team GTS titles.

Atlanta -- After nine rounds of endurance racing in the American Le Mans Series in 2003, Chevrolet has captured its third consecutive manufacturers' championship for the production-based GTS class. The factory-backed team secured the championship after Oliver Gavin, Kelly Collins and Andy Pilgrim took a podium finish in their #4 Compuware Corvette C5-R at the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta. Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell, co-drivers of the #3 Compuware Corvette C5-R along with Franck Freon, won the drivers' championship and Corvette Racing won the team championship.

"It means a great deal to us to win the manufacturers' championship," said Harry Turner, GM's group manager for Road Racing. "When I think about how little time we had to prepare after an on-track accident in Miami, it is a testament to the absolutely top-notch team effort we have had this entire year. Looking to 2004, we are excited for another great season of endurance racing and we expect great challenges from other manufacturers. The engineers at GM Racing are developing every single area of the Corvette C5-R for next year, and we'll be back ready to fight."

Entering the final round of the American Le Mans Series with five victories under its belt, the works Corvette team set its sights on grabbing a manufacturers' title for Chevrolet. After nearly ten hours of racing and 1,000 miles, the team did just that.

"This might very well be the best third place finish in the history of the Corvette C5-R," said Doug Fehan, GM's program manager for Corvette Racing. "With our third consecutive manufacturers' title, we've once again proved that wherever there's a winners' circle, we'll be there."

After leading the GTS class briefly during the beginning of the race, the drivers on the #4 Corvette C5-R caught a bit of bad luck after a full-course caution period caught the team out of the race leader's lap, effectively putting one lap against them. The team ran smoothly throughout the afternoon and gained time on the sister #3 Corvette C5-R, eventually taking third place near the six-hour mark. Driver Andy Pilgrim, who captured the first-ever Corvette C5-R victory for Chevrolet in 2000 with Ron Fellows, drove splendidly into the evening hours. Oliver Gavin and Kelly Collins capped their first season together as teammates, one that was marked by numerous victories, podiums and record-setting pole positions.

"This was a great season and we did what we set out to do," said Gavin. "I had a great year driving with Kelly and we were fortunate enough to have Andy as our teammate today as he has great experience over these arduous long-distance events. We have already begun work on next year's car and we hope to be back with even more victories in 2004."

Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell, who were joined at Petit Le Mans by their long-distance counterpart, Franck Freon, won the drivers' championship in the GTS class after what many observed as one of the most hotly contested class fights in the recent history of sports car racing in North America. While the result for the #3 Corvette team did not end up as planned in Saturday's contest, the team did overcome great adversity in capturing its fifth place finish, including a full gearbox exchange after identifying a faulty ring gear.

"The crew did an amazing job to get us back on track after changing our gearbox," said Fellows. "First and foremost today was winning the manufacturers' title, and beyond that we have to be pleased to win the drivers' crown. It means a great deal that I am able to share this championship with Johnny O'Connell, as it's really our second in a row if not for the different rules last season. We found new ways to win in order to get podiums and get points, and that's what you have to do to be a champion. It was a challenging season and I'm proud of what we accomplished."

Petit Le Mans marks the conclusion of the fifth year of the Corvette C5-R program. The team will return to the track in March, 2004, for the 12 Hours of Sebring.

-gm rcing-

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Series ALMS
Drivers Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Franck Freon , Andy Pilgrim , Kelly Collins , Oliver Gavin