Corvettes Dominate Daytona!

Nothing Compares To The Sweet Taste Of First Overall At The Rolex 24

Ronnie Hartman Jun 1, 2001 0 Comment(s)

Step By Step

“I was the last guy on this team to win a race; to me this means everything. Here we were, standing in Victory Lane at Daytona with the Earnhardts spraying champagne... I’ll remember today as long as I live!”—Chris Kneifel

The Class win was the most important thing for GM. It’s a great tribute to the Pratt-Miller team and GM for giving us such a great car.” —Franck Freon

“Doug (Fehan, team manager) will remember the first test we did at Sebring, back in late ’97. We showed up with a pickup truck pulling a 32-foot trailer, with this flat-black car that no one noticed, and here we are the Daytona Rolex 24 Champions. Cool! I couldn’t be happier or more proud to be part of this effort. To win the class was what we were after, but the overall win is more than we could have dreamed of.”—Ron Fellows

During the testing at Daytona in January, Ron Fellows said simply, “We’ve got some unfinished business here.”

The statement was brief, and the mission was clear. On February 3, he and his seven cohorts—Chris Kneifel, Franck Freon, Johnny O’Connell, Andy Pilgrim, Kelly Collins, and the Earnhardt boys, along with a very dedicated crew and some very hungry fans—came to the Rolex 24 at Daytona prepared to take care of that unfinished business. And they did it in a big way—taking First and Fourth Overall and First and Second in the GTS Class. The whole enchilada.

Delicious!

The race opened with more than 80 cars on the field—Fellows in 14th place in the No. 2 Corvette, and Pilgrim 19th in No. 3. Corvette enthusiasts around the world were watching closely, waiting for vindication. Last year’s contest was so very close, a mere half-minute over the long 24-hour race. But this was no down-to-the-final-seconds effort. The No. 2 car led the GTS Class from the start and suffered no mechanical difficulties. Fellows moved it into First Place overall about an hour after Dyson Racing’s Sportsracing Prototype Ford-powered Riley & Scott blew its engine, retiring from the race in hour 22 and forfeiting its 26-lap lead about an hour later. This is an endurance race, so going the distance is as important as speed. One without the other means nothing. Sorry, prototypes.

Even though the No. 2 Corvette’s transmission began to overheat with only 30 minutes left in the race, Fellows was by then 19 laps ahead of the nearest challenger, so he cooled off in the pits until the final 10 minutes. He re-entered and ran three slow laps, taking the checkered flag eight laps ahead of a GT Class Porsche. It was ever so sweet. Andy Pilgrim in No. 3 joined him in the final go-round, pacing just a few feet behind. What a beautiful sight! Like watching Old Glory blowing in the breeze. Fellows, Kneifel, Freon, and O’Connell shared well-earned top honors in Victory Lane.

Slouches weren’t manning the No. 3 car, either. Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins with NASCAR stars Dale Earnhardt Sr. and his son Dale Jr. finished Fourth, just two laps behind two Porsches in the GT Class. At 9:00 on Sunday morning, the Third overall, No. 31 Porsche pitted for adjustments to the suspension, fearing that our No. 3 would close their four-lap lead. Even though we never did, it was fun nipping at their heels.

Pilgrim and Collins brought with them great familiarity with the C5-R and road racing, but the Earnhardts were much less accustomed to this venue. Nonetheless, they did us proud, too. The wet pavement caused “Little E” a couple of spinouts (fortunately without any nasty ramifications), and he mistook a halfshaft problem for transmission trouble, making for an unnecessary transmission swap, but both Earnhardts made a fine contribution—and no one can quibble with the ultimate result.

Rain fell over much of the race, but it didn’t faze the eight determined drivers. In fact, it may have given Corvette an advantage. These cars make an uncanny connection with wet pavement. Goodyear can be very proud of those tires.

The weather had no dampening effect on Corvette fans, either. Many, mostly C5 Registry members, gathered in a pack behind the fence near the pit, oblivious to the rain and the chill, following every lap and straining for a look as the drivers came in to swap places or for repairs. As events unfolded and the news got better and better, smiles and shouts brightened the sky, at least for those rooting for the C5-Rs. Then everybody moved down toward Victory Lane. Only a few with the much-coveted photography passes could actually see the show, but hearing the accolades accorded our team over the public address system was the next best thing. Much credit goes to the indefatigable Pratt and Miller crew who, after many months of preparation, worked at full tilt all Saturday afternoon and evening and through the night into Sunday.

And thanks to the folks at GM who committed to this victory. It couldn’t have been sweeter. We’ll all revel in this victory for a long time to come. Vive Le Corvette!

One final note: One of last year’s nemesis Vipers was in the race, this time sporting Chamberlain Motorsports’ number 114. It came in a very satisfying 31st place.

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