The 2000-spec Corvette C5-R is faster than the Viper GTS-R. And yet, the Corvette finished in second place, behind the Viper, at the Rolex 24. Racing is not about just the speed of the car. In the recent Daytona Rolex 24-hour enduro, the Viper won because of superior tires and better pit work. When the margin is just over 30 seconds after 24 hours of racing, that's all it takes.
This was the C5-Rs finest hour, and it just missed its first overall victory in a major international race. If you go back through the records, you'll find that Corvettes have never won a major international race. There have been several class wins, but the Vette has never got the whole thing. This year they were sooooo close, yet so far.
The Corvette team fired an incredible shot across the bow of the Viper during qualifying, when they ran 3.2 seconds faster than the quickest Viper. This wasn't quite as exciting as it might seem, since they used qualifying tires while the Viper qualified on race tires, but it sure looked good.
Until this year the teams were required to qualify on the tires they would race on. The Corvette team seemed to be the only one that read the rulebook. Qualifying tires are slicks that stick to the pavement like Super Glue. The only problem is they have a life span of one, maybe two laps. Ron Fellows went out when he could get a nice clean run and blistered the Vipers. This was one very fast Corvette.
The big problem, or the most exciting thing, depending on how your car runs, is that 24-hour races have become sprint races over the past few years. There used to be a pace to these things. This time, even before darkness arrived, the Sports Racers began breaking-the pace was just too fast. At the same time, the Viper and Corvette train just kept going.
Before the start of the race, folks in the garage had been talking about how this could be the year when a GTO car takes first overall. As the Ferrari and Riley & Scott sports racers started breaking, it was beginning to look as though that prediction could become reality. Everyone was pushing as hard as possible, and the attrition rate was high. The GTO cars were setting the pace.
The Rolex 24 is about racing in darkness. There is a tremendous amount of darkness at Daytona. Remember, it's mid-winter and the nights are long. LeMans has only about five hours of darkness, while Daytona has over 10 hours. The 24-hour Daytona race is the night race of the world.
The secret to racing in the dark is to hold your position and not make mistakes. While this may have been the conventional wisdom, the Viper team picked up the pace during the long night. The Corvette team stayed right with them. The Rolex 24 was starting to resemble a shootout.
Then Pratt & Miller, the C5-R team, had problems with the fueling rig at one of the stops. While the Viper team was clicking off textbook pit stops that were the envy of NASCAR teams, the Corvette group had a series of little problems. If you add up the time the C5-Rs spent in the pits and compared it to the time the Vipers spent in the pits, the #3 C5-R won the race hands down. The reality is that the winner of the race is determined by who crosses the finish line first. The time you spend-or lose-in the pits counts the same as your speed on the pavement.
As the night turned into day the stage was set and the serious racing began. You could sense it in the air-this was going to be for all the marbles. After 20 hours of racing, we were about to witness a four-hour sprint race.