The course of the Daytona Speedway, with its 31-degree banked curves and 3.56-mile-long track, was the Corvette's battle zone for two different bouts with the Vipers. The first race was the Motorola Cup Series, sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America Pro Racing (SCCA). The three-hour race was run the day before the Rolex 24, and consisted of four different classes: Super Grand Sports, Grand Sports, Sport Touring, and C2K. The Corvettes competed in the Super Grand Sports Class, and the top finisher was the C5 Corvette, while both Vipers dropped out before finishing the race! The winning Corvette was piloted by Craig Conway. The Corvette received the checkered flag and was ushered into Victory Lane for the award ceremony with Craig and his co-pilot Peter Tonelli.
This victory contained several firsts for the Powell Motorsport/Sunoco team. It was the maiden race for car No. 30, and was also Craig Conway's first professional win. His victory was made even sweeter by the fact that he lives just two interstate exits from the track! With so much riding on the last laps, Craig admits he was "a little nervous." With the Corvette capturing such a defining win on the very first race of the season, there's no place to go but faster!
30 Seconds And Closing In!
Speed and horsepower descended on Daytona February 5-6 during the Rolex 24, the opening race of the Grand American Road Racing Association. The beginning of the Rolex 24 found the No. 3 Corvette C5-R sitting in the top spot for the GTO Class with a speed of 121.032 mph around the 3.56-mile track at Daytona. Five classes were entered in the 24-hour race: the exotic SportsRacer, the production-based GTO (where the Corvettes compete), GTU, American GT, and SportsRacer II. There were 79 cars making up the five classes when the race started at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
When that many cars try to go as fast as they can, traffic is a major concern. Ron Fellows mentions that in such situations, "You've got to be smart, particularly with so many cars. It won't get thin until 1 or 2 in the morning, probably. The biggest thing is traffic--just staying out of trouble." And that they did. For the first half of the race, the No. 3 and No. 4 GM Corvettes and the Vipers occupied the top five spots in this class. For the first 12 hours, they spent most of the time staying within a lap or two of each other while jockeying back and forth for the top spot in their class.
At 8:28 a.m. Sunday, the No. 4 Corvette left the track due to a slipping clutch, leaving the No. 3 Corvette to compete with the Vipers. As the track cleared of traffic, the Viper and the Corvette fought their way to the First and Second position overall, going even faster than the exotic SportsRacers! With only 11/2 hours left, six of the top ten cars in the lead were in the GTO Class (No. 3 Corvette included), which shows the potential of these cars and the battle that rages among them at the front of the pack.
By noon on Sunday, the leader of the SportsRacer Class was four laps behind the leader of the supposedly slower GTO Class! When the checkered flag fell, the No. 3 Corvette was only 30.8 seconds behind the leader--making for the closest one-two finish in the Rolex 24 Hours history!
With such a close finish to a 24-hour race, one has to wonder if the tide is beginning to turn. When you take into account the improvements made to the Corvettes since their return to racing, and consider the fact that Vipers have been racing for years, you'll conclude that it didn't take the Corvette team very long to close the gap to only 30 seconds. Hey, Viper--see ya at Sebring.