The ALMS show set up camp at Mosport just north of Toronto for the season's eighth round of battle. Remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto brought stormy skies, which gave way to torrential showers early on. ALMS organizers pride themselves on the fact that they race rain or shine, and this weekend would prove to be a test of their resolve.
Practice was held in the morning under wet conditions that gave way to heavy rain prior to the planned midafternoon qualifying session. As a result, officials decided to scrub the qualifying rounds and instead allow an "open practice" for all the teams. The race-day grid would be determined by the lap-time aggregates achieved during this practice session.
The Mosport track itself is gorgeous, carved through rolling hills that are studded with spectacular trees and undergrowth. The track's perimeter fencing is unobtrusive, the sight lines are tremendous, and the track layout lends itself to frequent passing by the competitors. All in all, it's a very enjoyable place to view a race, with an atmosphere that is considerably more laid back than what one typically finds in the States.
With the starting grid established during wet practice times, the Corvette Racing drivers found themselves in third and fourth, trailing the two Astons from Prodrive. Hard rain continued to fall throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning, but by midday on Sunday, the skies had begun to lighten. By the race's 3 p.m. starting time, the rain had stopped, the track had dried, and all the cars were back on slick racing tires for the recon lap.
Mosport's first turn is a short distance downhill from the start, an arrangement that virtually guarantees congestion and carnage. For the traditional ALMS rolling start, Peter Kox in the No. 007 DBR9 was situated next to his No. 009 Aston teammate, with Ron Fellows (in the No. 3 C6.R) and Oliver Gavin (in the No. 4 Vette) behind them.
Kox immediately attempted to squeeze in ahead of Fellows and behind the other Aston. Each competitor is supposed to keep his grid position until the starter's flag is dropped and the cars pass the starting line. Ron, maintaining his place in line, found himself with Kox just off his left side. The two cars made contact, sending the No. 007 Aston careering off the track and into the dirt.
As in stick-and-ball sports, the foul in motorsports is often called on the driver who ends up on the losing end of the exchange rather than the guy who initiated the contact. Fellows took the fall on this one and was slapped with a stop-and-go penalty on the next lap. That dropped the No. 3 car well back in the field, forcing Fellows to press to make up ground.
In the dry, the Astons have a significant advantage. Their Pirelli tires are working well now, and the Prodrive team has been granted significant performance advantages over the Pratt & Miller boys. Beginning with the Mosport race, the C6.Rs were forced to run an air-intake restrictor two sizes smaller than that employed on the DBR9s. Despite the best efforts of the folks at GM Powertrain and Katech, the Astons' advantage in both power and weight (the Corvettes were also carrying 199 pounds of "success penalty" ballast) was starting to show. While the C6.R drivers were pushing hard to run laps in the 1:15-1:16 range, one of the DBR9s let slip a blistering 1:13.
Based on lap times alone, it was obvious the Astons were holding speed in reserve. Moreover, certain performance advantages-the potential for a pass-preventing squirt of power here, a quick defensive move there-don't necessarily show up on the timing clocks. Have IMSA and the ALMS gone too far in their efforts to guarantee a "level" playing field? It certainly looked that way at Mosport.
The Corvette crews were praying for rain, as they felt their wet-weather setups had been honed to a fine point. Unfortunately for them, conditions would continue to dictate dry-weather racing slicks for the entire race. In fact, aside from one full-course yellow that bunched up the field, the day was characterized by hard, clean, delay-free racing. The Mosport track lends itself to furious back-and-forth battles, and the four different performance classes within the ALMS field means there is always a speed differential among the cars battling for track position. It was a fun performance to watch.
Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta put in a heroic effort to push the leading Aston, at one point taking the lead in the GT1 class. But all their energy was for naught as the DBR9's power-to-weight advantage proved too great to overcome. As Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing Manager, said after the race, "We found out today just how far great pit strategy and flawless execution will take you-and that's to Second place."
Meanwhile, Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell hammered the course relentlessly in a futile attempt to make up for lost time. In the end, the Astons finished First and Third in class, while the Corvettes took Second and Fourth. Both Corvette crews were flawless in the pits, and all four C6.R pilots put on a veritable driving clinic. However, the Aston boys were also on their game, and-aside from the early skirmish between Kox and Fellows-ran an essentially mistake-free race.
There are only two races left in the season with the teams off to Road Atlanta next for the Petit Le Mans spectacle. With 10 hours of racing in both daylight and darkness, endurance is certain to play a big factor. It will be interesting to see how the Astons and Corvettes square off in their next confrontation.
One of the highlights of the Mosport ALMS race was a special Corvette Corral. Participants had a chance to rub elbows with Corvette Racing team members as well as bigwigs from GM's racing division. But the real fun came on Sunday morning when every Vette driver had a chance to run his or her car on the track itself. Wet conditions kept the speeds down, and time on track was necessarily limited. Nevertheless, some very lucky owners got the rare opportunity to try their own hand at the best line around the Mosport circuit.
Special events such as this one are staged at selected ALMS races, so keep an eye out for an event in your area. It may offer you the chance to experience a famous track from the "right" side of the fence.-GJ