Corvette Racing recently closed out a winning American Le Mans Series (ALMS) season at the Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta. Although the C6.R of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Jordan Taylor finished Second in the race itself, overall the team took home an ALMS trifecta that included the manufacturer, team, and drivers championships for 2012. (They also won the Michelin Green X manufacturer and team titles.)
The effort to get Corvette back on top of the podium began in mid 2009, when the team switched classes to GT2 (later renamed GT) after winning an uncontested '09 Le Mans GT1 victory. The revised C6.Rs struggled for the remainder of the season, finding victory circle only once, at Mosport, Canada. This single- victory pattern was repeated in 2010 and 2011.
The 2012 season was a different story for the thundering Corvettes. Thanks to some ALMS rule adjustments, the cars suddenly began running at or near the front again. These changes included permitting larger intake restrictors (for more horsepower), a higher rear wing (for more downforce), and bodywork that was expanded by 2 inches (for better handling). The suspension was also revised to take advantage of the added width. These changes reduced the car's top speed but greatly improved its braking and cornering capabilities. The result? Four victories, 18 podiums, two poles, and five fastest race laps in the '12 season.
The driving team of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner finished First at Long Beach, Laguna Seca, Mid Ohio, and Virginia International Raceway (VIR). These victories, coupled with the pair's other podium finishes, gave them 146 points on the year, enough to secure the drivers championship. Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia ended up third in the points chase with 121 points.
The 15th annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta was the last ALMS race of the season. The beautiful, fall-like weather with clear skies and mild temperatures brought a huge crowd to this popular 2.54-mile racing circuit. The course includes plenty of elevation changes, which provide the spectators with many excellent viewing areas.
A total of 42 cars qualified for the 1,000- kilometer (621-mile) race. Seven different racing categories were mixed among those starters, with 12 cars competing in the GT class. Five GT manufacturers were represented: Corvette, Ferrari, Porsche, Dodge (Viper), and BMW. Ferrari captured the GT pole and to start in 19th position overall; BMW and Corvette were tucked closely behind in 20th and 21st, respectively. The No. 4 C6.R driven by Gavin, Milner, and Richard Westbrook was 0.31 second quicker than the No. 3 Corvette.
The green flag fell at 11:33 a.m., and all of the cars safely made it through Turn 1. Gavin passed the BMW on the pit straight and stuffed the nose of his Corvette next to the Ferrari going into the first turn. No contact was made, and Gavin began looking for a way by the Ferrari for the next 39 minutes. Finally, with 29 laps completed, he pulled off a clean pass at the exit of Turn 4 to take the lead.
For the next five hours the GT lead kept swapping between the Ferrari, a BMW, and the two Corvettes. At the six-hour point, Milner was leading the GT class when he suddenly radioed his crew to report the steering wasn't right. He pitted, and the team made some corrections and sent him on his way. But just one lap later, Milner was behind the wall getting the Corvette's steering rack replaced. While victory at PLM was now out of reach for the No. 4 Corvette, fortunately Gavin and Milner had already clinched the drivers championship with their earlier win at VIR.
This left Magnussen, Garcia, and Taylor in the No. 3 C6.R to take the battle to the Ferrari. They did, and at the 243-lap mark held a 3-second GT lead. (After a 46-minute repair, the No. 4 car finally returned to the track, well down in the order.) After eight hours of racing, Corvette was in the lead with BMW second and Ferrari third. Then, with less than one hour of racing left, Garcia pitted for fuel and tires. The BMW also pitted, giving the lead to the Ferrari.
The Corvette returned to the track about 30 seconds behind the Ferrari in second place. The BMW, meanwhile, was out of contention due to a pit infraction that resulted in a stop-and-go penalty. The race for the GT-class win was now down to two. It had been awhile since the Ferrari had stopped for fuel, so the expectations were that it would have to pit, handing the lead back to the Corvette. That didn't happen, and the Ferrari cruised to the win, presumably on fumes.
C6.R No. 3 finished Second in GT and 13th overall, while No. 4 finished 12th in GT and 30th overall. The podium finish was a great way to finish off season of remarkable resurgence on the part of Corvette Racing. We look forward to continued success in 2013.