Chevrolet Corvette C5-R - Sebring Gets Ugly

And The Whole World was Watching.

Richard Newton Jan 4, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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Figuring that someone who lived with the C5-Rs had a good idea of what to expect, I returned to the pits at promptly five o'clock. At 5:10 the #3 car came into the pits with what they diagnosed as an electrical problem. After changing some black boxes and the battery, the car went back out, still running on seven cylinders.

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By 5:30 the #3 Corvette was seven laps down and the #4 Corvette was 12 laps down from the leading Viper. The enthusiasm had left with the Florida sunshine. It was now starting to resemble a deathwatch. I spent some time talking to Walt Thurn, one of the old crewmembers from the 1971 Corvette LeMans team. Thurn observed that the engine problem was purely mechanical, and it wasn't going to be solved by swapping electronics. Even the diehards were getting depressed now.

At six in the evening they took the #3 car back to the garage. The crew began tearing into the motor. They had finally decided to start looking at some mechanical solutions, or more correctly, problems. The intake manifold came off and the rocker arm covers removed. Then there was a lot of discussion regarding a valve spring on the left cylinder bank. The problem was either a burnt or bent valve there.

One of the saddest moments was that while the crew was still attempting to diagnose the problem, and hopefully get the car running at the end, the SpeedVision folks came over to remove the in-car camera. Even they had given up on the #3 Corvette.

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At seven o'clock Justin Bell left the transporter in street clothes, with his garment bag over his shoulder. It was all over for the #3 car. It was simply a matter of loading everything back into the transporter and getting back to Detroit. Monday was not going to be a good day at Katech, the engine shop.

By the time I got back to the pit area the #4 Corvette was parked on pit road with a new transmission resting beside the car. Not only did the crew predict the time when things would go bad, they even predicted the component that would go bad on the #4 Corvette. This was the end of the road. The general feeling was one of total desperation.

Anyone who's ever been involved in racing knows the feeling that overwhelmed the Pratt & Miller team. They have several years of work involved in these cars and very little to show for it. At Daytona they thought they were reaching the peak of the mountain, only to be thrown down the slope. Chris Kneifel perhaps said it best when he observed that "I'm not disappointed because we dropped out of the race because that happens-things break. I'm more disappointed in knowing this wasn't our best effort. We can do better."

Monday morning in Detroit would not be a pleasant experience. This is a team set to embark on LeMans. The goal at LeMans is the same as it has been at every other race-beat the Vipers. This entire C5-R program is about one thing-once again establishing the Corvette as America's Sports Car.

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Pratt & Miller, along with GM Racing, has proven that they can build a very fast race car. Goodyear even developed an outstanding new tire for the Sebring race. What's missing is something I like to call RaceCraft.

RaceCraft is making sure that your car is around at the finish and that pit management issues don't get reflected in the race results. All race teams have problems-that's what racing is all about. Beretta spun his Viper and then went on to win the class. One of the BMW prototypes ran out of gas and then finished third overall. Racing at the international level takes years of experience. That's where the Corvette is having problems. Winning is not just about having a fast car.


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