During the '08 Labor Day weekend, the Detroit Grand Prix made its triumphant return with the roar of Corvette C6R thunder. The American Le Mans Series (ALMS) had decided to make Detroit a regular stop in its yearly season schedule. The Detroit event has now become a home race for the main parties involved in the Corvette Racing program. These included Detroit-based General Motors, Corvette Racing's Pratt & Miller group, and C6R engine builder Kaytech Engineering.
For the many people involved in the Corvette Racing program, the Detroit Grand Prix was a wonderful opportunity to actually see the C6R run in competition. This year, due to the ALMS go-green initiative, the C6R Corvettes are running E85R racing fuel. A concept E85-fueled Corvette Z06 was the official pace car for the ALMS race. Driving the pace car was former Formula 1 and Indy Car legend Emerson Fittipaldi. As was the case in 2007, the '08 event was held during the Labor Day weekend on beautiful Belle Isle Park.
This picturesque island, surrounded by the aqua-blue waters of the Detroit River, is located approximately two miles east of the city's downtown area. The American Le Mans Series and the Indy Racing League shared in the festivities last year. Added to this year's schedule was the Speed World Challenge GT Series. The three-day event took place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the holiday weekend.
Friday was free-admission day, which included practice for ALMS, IRL, and the Speed World Challenge. This was followed by afternoon qualifying for the ALMS. Saturday included the American Le Mans Series race, also known as The Detroit Sports Car Challenge. And finally, Sunday featured the Speed World Challenge and IRL races. For Corvette owners looking for a great weekend destination, the Detroit Grand Prix would be worth considering. This was evident by the many Corvette owners and fans that made the pilgrimage to Detroit for the inaugural event in 2007 as well as this year.
Fans were entertained throughout the weekend. Event activities included a family fun center and free concerts. Attending Corvette fans were treated to three days of racing and camaraderie. Situated close to the race action was the Corvette Corral, providing special "on island" parking for Corvette owners. This special designated area was the only spectator parking available on the island. All other fans attending the race were transported to and from the island via designated bus service from various locations around the city.
The purchase of a corral parking pass included grandstand tickets and an opportunity to parade your Corvette around the actual race circuit. The parade lap was a big hit among the participating Corvette owners. Thanks to an invitation by the Corvette Club of Michigan, I was offered the opportunity to experience the actual track conditions during one of the parade laps. While riding as a passenger with club member Ken Sumner in his Torch Red '02 Z06, I immediately noticed the challenges that faced the C6R drivers. Although traveling at parade lap speeds (for the most part), in Ken's street legal C5 Z06, the dips and bumps in the circuit were evident. Not only did the narrow street circuit offer little room for error, but limited run-off areas would make passing difficult. In fact, the only place that offered sufficient passing room was on the back straight along the Detroit River. The front straight seemed wide enough, but not long enough for overtaking. Aggressive braking around rough corners made the task of driving at race speeds quite challenging. These conditions would be a true test for the C6R's endurance, as tires, chassis, and suspension components were pushed to the limits on this course.