The big event of the morning was when the Viper sprinted into first place overall. The #3 Corvette followed close behind. If it could pass the Viper, Corvette would win its first major international race.
During the final session, Ron Fellows was chasing Wendlinger's Viper with everything he had. With a half-hour to go, it was DaimlerChrysler vs. GM. It was also the Austrian vs. the Canadian. The cars and the drivers have never been so evenly matched at the end of 23 1/2 hours. Ron Fellows has made beating these Vipers a personal vendetta. He has become very tired of chasing them around the race tracks of the world. Fellows wanted to win this one-bad.
Even with the Corvette's superior speed on the banking of Daytona, Fellows simply couldn't close that minute gap on the Viper. A Corvette victory wasn't in the cards-not quite yet. The Corvettes lost to the Vipers all last year, but it was never really close. This year was different. A Corvette victory was-and is-there for the taking. It's one thing to go into a race knowing you really can't win unless the big dogs break or make a mistake, but when it comes down to the final half-hour, and you've been this close, it really hurts.
The big difference this year is that, with all the initial first-year excitement gone, GM has put forth a much more professional effort. The bad part is the Viper team is about as good as a race team can get. The Pratt & Miller Corvette team still has room for improvement.
Everyone seemed to agree that Pratt & Miller is no match for the ORECA Viper team-yet. Though both race programs began at roughly the same time, the Viper team has a lot more actual race experience. This showed at Daytona. Pratt & Miller will close this gap as quickly as possible.
The tires are another matter. Goodyear is going through one of those slumps that all major corporations have. They've bailed out of Formula 1 and CART racing. This year at Daytona they supplied six or seven fewer race teams than ever before. The only place Goodyear remains competitive is NASCAR, where they are the only tire supplier. Some people feel that this tire problem is really due to the construction of Goodyear's race tires, not simply the rubber compound. The Corvette team has tested on Pirelli race rubber and was very pleased. The only problem is that it becomes very difficult to sell your street Corvette with Goodyears and then use a different brand for the race cars.
The tire situation is going to be a real test of GM's courage in racing. Will they make this seemingly necessary change in the quest to win races? This Viper versus Corvette contest has become a real blood feud. These two race teams are out to show who's the best. The Viper team has the experience and the good tires. The Corvette now has the speed.
This straight-line speed could be a deciding factor at Le Mans. Keep in mind that the straight at Le Mans is four-and-a-half miles long. This is one track where terminal velocity is critical. It's also a place where the Corvette has the advantage. Right now all the bets seem to be on the Corvette for LeMans.
Remember, the whole 2000 C5-R racing program is about one race in France. Everything else is just practice. Last year wasn't a bad year for a new Corvette team. This year the Corvettes are ready to take the lead. This is starting to shape up like the old Ford-Ferrari wars. Only now it's The Bow Tie vs. The Snake.
It's Hard to Pull the Plug
There comes a time when nothing else can be done. Everyone has worked as hard as they possibly can and the car is still going to die. At the very best you can keep it alive-but only on life support. That happened to the McCauley/SpecterWerkes/Sports Corvette team this year.