Hurricane season may not be quite over in Florida, as the Chevy Corvette C7.R race cars looks to leave another path of destruction in their wake. Its competitors in the IMSA GTLM class, that happen to include the Ferrari 488 GTE, BMW M6, Porsche 911 RSR, and of course, the oh-so sexy, Ford GT supercar from Chevy’s Motor City crosstown rival in Dearborn, Michigan, are still busy getting amped up for another battle.
The field that got swept up has recovered from the aftermath of the Corvette’s dominating one and two finish at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona back in January, 2016, but the 64th annual 12 Hours of Sebring looks like it might have the same ending for the C7.R Vettes. From our trackside and paddock vantage points these last two days at Sebring, it looks like the mighty small-block Chevy is once again ready to take on the world. However, this time it’s on a battlefield that’s just as tough on both man and the machine he’s strapped into.
“Each year when we begin the season, it has a very defined cadence to it. We kick off with the 24 Hours at Daytona and at that place, not only is the emphasis on speed, but also durability, handling and braking. The surface is very smooth at Daytona and you get to see how your cars are performing with other competitors on the track at 170 to 180 miles per hour, and it plays an important role in getting ready for the season,” said Doug Fehan, who’s been Corvette Racing Program Manager for decades.
“You go from Daytona to the 12 Hours of Sebring, and the track has nowhere near the speed we achieve at Daytona. But, Sebring has a track surface that is just brutal; both on the cars and the drivers. It pounds these chassis, every suspension component - things you think are bulletproof will come to the surface here if in fact there is a problem. In addition to that, this is a busy racetrack and unlike Daytona, the drivers have no chance to rest, as the back straight at Sebring is very short and you have to fully focus at all times in order to achieve good lap times and stay ahead of your competition. You also need to know who’s around you when you begin the heavy braking going into Sebring’s infamous hairpin and hard corners,” commented Fehan as we were eyeing the team’s impressive array of equipment we’d like to put in a project car.
We asked Fehan about who’s the biggest threat in the GTLM class? He quickly exclaimed “All of them”. He explained his answer not as a diplomat, but as realist who knows his Corvettes have a target on their rear fascia. “It’s the cold harsh facts of the deal that any one of these guys can get around us and win,” noted Fehan.
When we brought up the Ford GT, Fehan knows it’s a very capable car for winning both in the United State and of course, Le Mans. “The Ford GT is a full-fledged race car they prepared and are selling some street models. I mean it has a full carbon tub, great suspension - it’s a tremendous vehicle. Up until the very end of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Ford GT had the fastest lap of anyone. Any issues they had at Daytona, they’ve sorted out. There will be no more gearbox, fuel, or electrical problems here at Sebring.”
Like all forms of racing, there are rules, and the fact the Corvettes have been so dominant for years has had the other manufacturers pleading their case to the IMSA officials for more parity within the GTLM class.
IMSA rewarded Corvette’s Daytona win and runner-up finish by adding more weight, reducing the amount of fuel they carry, and of course, adding a bigger throttle body restrictor. How much will that impact the car’s performance at Sebring? Well, we’ll find out this weekend won’t we?
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