2006 12 Hours Of Sebring Race - Sebring At Last

Corvette Racing Notches An Auspicious Season-Opener In South Florida

Greg P. Johnson Aug 1, 2006 0 Comment(s)
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Corvette team members then went about changing engines early Friday morning, a typical practice in preparation for race day. Friday offers only a one-hour mid-morning practice for the teams to shake out any last-minute problems. Unfortunately, Olivier Beretta found himself "caught out" in the loose stuff during the warm-up and put the No. 4 car headfirst into the tire barriers. The car was essentially all right, requiring only some fresh front bodywork and a major cleanup. The No. 3 car, meanwhile, marched around the course for a few recon laps and slipped back into the garage to wait for race day. After morning practice, the Pratt & Miller team completely disassembled the cars, checking every nut and bolt to ensure nothing was left to chance. In essence, the cars were completely rebuilt.

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Max Papis (standing) and Johnny O'Connell execute a textbook driver change. Races can be won and lost on the crew's ability to make this exchange quickly and without error.

Race day dawned to spectacular weather: warm but not punishing, with the occasional light breeze. The drop of the starting flag, accompanied by fireworks, had the entire field roaring into Turn 1, sorting out a pecking order. The two Corvettes quickly fell into lockstep behind the two Aston DBR9s. The cars circled the track in concert for a while before the C6.Rs pushed the issue and eventually drove past their rivals.

To be fair, the Astons were struggling with tire issues. The Pirelli tire company had only recently come on board with the Prodrive/Aston program and jumped headfirst into GT1 racing. The newcomers found the learning curve to be a very steep one. Michelin, Corvette's tire choice, has been at it for a while and appears to have the upper hand at this time. The Aston team found their mounts shod with tires that would "go off" pretty quickly into the stint, leaving them vulnerable to the Corvettes' attack.

The No. 4 car-with drivers Olivier Beretta, Oliver Gavin, and Jan Magnussen-led the No. 3 car of Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell, and Max Papis around the track toward what looked like a certain Corvette victory. The only pause in their attack was the occasional planned pit stop for fresh tires, fuel, and a driver change-a process the Pratt & Miller team have honed to near perfection. Incredibly, the cars ran First and Second in class (Fifth and Sixth overall) for much of the race. That's extremely impressive considering the number of P1 and P2 prototypes present in the starting field.

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(From Left)Johnny O'Connell, Ron Fellows, and Max Papis debrief each other after qualifying.

In the sixth hour, the two Corvettes pitted together. Both teams completed the driver and tire changes and refueled in record time, with Danny Binks' crew getting Ron Fellows and the No. 3 car out of the pit box ahead of Ollie Gavin in No. 4. But soon after, Ron reported that a problem with the sequential gearbox was preventing him from selecting gears. Crew Chief Binks realized that any chance the car had of continuing the race would mean pulling the gearbox, so he directed Fellows to leave the track and head directly into the garage. The crew evacuated the pit immediately and, under the supervision of ALMS officials, pulled and cleaned the rear-mounted gearbox, changed gear clusters (a blown Fourth gear was the culprit), and had the car back together and on the track. A total of 31 minutes elapsed from the time the car left the track to the moment it reentered competition. The brevity of that span is a testament to the unrivaled proficiency of the Pratt & Miller team.

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This left the No. 4 car in the lead, ahead of the Astons, and the No. 3 car well back from the front-runners. Fellows, O'Connell, and Papis continued to put on a driver's show, methodically bringing No. 3 back into contention with the Third-place DBR9. In the end, Jan Magnussen held on to take First in class and Third overall. The No. 3 car, meanwhile, almost caught the trailing Aston, thanks to Papis' "Mad Max" driving hustle and the crew's impressive pit-stop service. It finished Fourth in class and Seventh overall.

The winning No. 4-car team was the class of the field, putting on a stellar display of driving skill, car preparation, track strategy, and teamwork. Together, the two Corvettes proved to the racing world that the Pratt & Miller/GM Racing effort is once again the one to beat.




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