2006 ALMS Petit Le Mans - Heavy Mettle

A Legislated Weight Gain Ruins The Vettes' Chances At Road Atlanta

Greg P. Johnson Mar 30, 2007 0 Comment(s)
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After the first pit stops, the class settled into a back-and-forth battle for the lead. It didn't take the Aston boys long to catch the Corvettes, with Stephane Sarrazin in the No. 009 car taking front position away from Fellows. Shortly after taking over in the No. 3 Vette, O'Connell was punted off course by one of the LM Prototypes. This was to be the first of two collisions suffered by the No. 3 car, as the No. 007 Aston of Darren Turner would also shove Johnny O. off in the sixth hour. Turner was subsequently penalized with a stop-and-go in pit lane for aggressive driving. Even so, it didn't take the speedy Brit long to catch the leading Corvette once again.

The performance disparity brought about by the machinations of ALMS officials really showed every time the Astons found themselves behind the Corvettes. It was tough to watch the Astons shadowing the C6.Rs, dropping lap times by half a second per lap while in catch-up mode. It was obvious the Corvettes were laboring to brake and maneuver through each corner. The Astons, meanwhile, were pulling up quickly behind the Vettes through the braking zones, seemingly taying off the brakes altogether.

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You want this tire, you gotta come through me, pal.

Once behind a Corvette, the Astons simply waited to pounce. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, it was merely a matter of goosing the gas and away went the DBR9, past the C6.R and off into the sunset. Soon, there was a 1-minute gap separating the two.

The ALMS simply must stop tinkering with the series recipe in an effort to level the playing field. Otherwise, officials may soon find that the "high-calorie diet" being forced on successful entrants has proved detrimental to the development of their young series.

Fortunately, the No. 4 car managed to escape the "offs" and contact experienced by No. 3. Gavin, Beretta, and Magnussen labored away under the same handicaps as their teammates but kept the yellow nose of their racecar firmly planted on the rears of the green machines from Aston. The extra weight carried by the Corvettes eventually took a toll on the cars' brakes, however, and the carbon pads used to stop the C6.R finally gave out. The No. 4 car came in for a pit stop late in the race and was forced to change pads and rotors on both the left and right front. That put the team down two laps to the Astons and took them out of the race for the class lead. Soon after, the No. 3 car was in for service. It, too, required a complete front-brake change, knocking it down two laps despite the crew's miraculous 4-minute pit-stop effort.

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Not surprisingly, the Corvettes' extra poundage exacted a heavy a toll on tires and brake pads.

Although GM's engineers and the Pratt & Miller crew did everything they could to overcome their cars' legislated obesity, in the end, it was all for naught. The race finished with 1,000 miles accomplished in 9.5 hours, the Astons sitting in First and Second and the Corvettes trailing in Third and Fourth.

Only one race remained in the ALMS schedule, and the duel at Monterey's Laguna Seca race course would determine the series championship. The Corvette team was 7 points ahead in the manufacturer's standings after Petit Le Mans, and Olivier and Oliver had an 11-point lead for the driver's championship.

Would the ALMS allow the Corvette to forego the mandated high-calorie diet and regain its original trim form? Either way, the folks at Pratt & Miller and GM Racing would be doing everything they could to keep the foreign invaders from usurping their American championship.

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In 2006, the American Le Mans Series sanctioning body decided to adjust the competitiveness of series entries by penalizing certain teams that showed a performance advantage over their competition. To this end, officials demanded that the successful C6.Rs of Corvette Racing be placed on an immediate weight-gain program.

The ALMS dietitians fiddled constantly with the amount of "success" weight added throughout the year's race schedule. The result was that the Corvettes were consistently overweight compared with their competition. Fortunately for the Vettes, the extra weight didn't have to be added in any specific place. This allowed the engineers to distribute the ballast to their best advantage.

Here, Corvette Team member David James is attaching a weight plate to the inside bottom of the C6.R's carbon-fiber door. These plates, which come in various sizes, were placed in strategic spots throughout the car in an effort to minimize their effect on handling.

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