2006 ALMS Laguna Seca Race - Showdown At The ALMS Corral

Corvette Racing Shoots For Its Sixth Straight Title In GT1 Competition

Dr. Greg Johnson Apr 9, 2007 0 Comment(s)
Vemp_0705_01_z 2006_ALMS_laguna_seca_race Corvette_c6R_front_view 2/11

The Corvettes of Pratt & Miller and GM Racing headed west, arriving at California's Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for an old-fashioned, knock-down, drag-out confrontation with their season-long rivals from Aston Martin. If the Corvettes could score a Second Place in class or better, they would take home the Manufacturer's title for Chevrolet. Anything less would give the Astons the championship, or at least a share in the title.

Throughout the season, ALMS officials had contrived to intensify the battle by constantly fiddling with the amount of weight carried by the two cars. In further efforts to create a level playing field, series stewards also choked down the amount of air the Corvettes' Katech engines were allowed to breathe. For the last race of the season, the Corvette would be penalized with an air restriction and 50 kilograms (about 110 pounds) of added weight. The Aston DBR9 was only hit with the weight increase.

This year, Monterey's famous 2.238-mile track offered fantastic race weather, with the sun shining and no clouds to be seen. Track temperatures were in the mid-70s for most of the week. Qualifying provided an interesting glimpse at the teams' divergent strategies. The Corvettes charged out to put their best numbers on the board, with Johnny O'Connell pushing the team to the front of the class grid and using most of the available track time to accomplish it.

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The season in microcosm: C6.R and DBR9 go door-to-door for the GT1 class lead. The teams would swap positions all race long, making for one of the year's most exhilarating contests.

The Aston Martin team, meanwhile, stayed in the pits until they had seen what the Corvettes were capable of. Then, with just a few minutes left in the only qualifying session, the No. 009 DBR9 went out and established a class pole-position number on its second hot lap of the course. With that accomplished, the team brought the car back in and sent out its stablemate. The No. 007 car settled for a fourth-place starting position in class after just three tours of the newly resurfaced Laguna track.

Prodrive was apparently intent on placing its cars around the Corvettes in an effort to take advantage of any situation that might arise during the opening laps. It was painfully obvious that the team's DBR9s had the horsepower to do anything they wanted, when they wanted-perhaps not surprising in light of the engine restrictions placed on the C6.Rs.

Saturday's four-hour afternoon race started right on time at 2:45 pm. That meant the competition was to be staged in the afternoon's slightly cooler temperatures with a finish in the dark of night. Laguna's relatively short front straight leads uphill to the start/finish line and tends to bunch up the field, leaving many cars to round the initial corner even as the starter's flag falls. Once over the hill, everyone rushes to grab the most advantageous place to get around a very tight Turn 2. This year that task was completed without incident, and as the green flag was displayed to the field, the 007 Aston motored past one Corvette then another with a striking lack of effort.

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Laguna Seca's wicked Turn 2 bunches up the field at the start, forcing drivers to jockey for position. The Astons had a distinct advantage here, thanks to their more lightly restricted engines.

The GT1 field quickly settled into an Aston/Aston/Corvette/Corvette lineup. During the opening lap, one of the GT2 Ferraris got into the Corvette No. 4 car of Olivier Beretta and ripped open the left-rear quarter-panel. This caused the team to pit the car early for repairs, putting them out of sequence with the rest of the field and the No. 3 car of Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell.

Olivier was not to be denied, however, and went about putting his car back into contention. The race was a pitched battle between the two teams for the next three hours, with everyone getting the chance to run in the class lead. Any lapse in driver concentration, any flaw in the crew's pit-stop performance, or any failure in the car's mechanical integrity would decide the outcome of the match.

During this time, a combination of pit stops, full-course yellows, and a driver change in the No. 3 car (O'Connell subbing for Fellows), allowed No. 4 to slip ahead of its Corvette Racing teammate. The C6.Rs found themselves sitting in the third and fourth positions in GT1, while the Astons held down first and second. With the Manufacturer's title on the line, the teams locked into what would prove to be one of the best races of the year on any racetrack.

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Think it's tough tuning your street car's PCM? In the ultra-competitive world of ALMS GT1, seemingly inconsequential variances in output can spell the difference between victory and defeat.

With 76 minutes left in the contest, Stephane Sarrazin pitted the 009 Aston for fuel and tires. Two minutes later the cars of Corvette Racing came in for their final pit stop. They were now in synch with each other for the final service appointment. With their last driver substitution accomplished earlier, the No. 3 car was in for fuel and tires only, getting out quickly ahead of No. 4, now piloted by Beretta. This put Johnny O. ahead of Olivier, and the Corvettes were still running a disappointing third and fourth in class.

Finally, fate dealt the Aston team a blow. With 56 minutes remaining, Tomas Enge in the 007 DBR9 suffered a left-front-tire failure and was forced to limp around the course before the team could effect repairs. Sarrazin, in the 009 car, swept past his teammate to assume the lead in class, with the Corvettes inheriting championship-winning second and third positions. By the time Enge reentered the race, his Aston was relegated to a position one lap down to the trailing Corvette.

Johnny O'Connell's job now was to pressure the lead Aston. With aggressive driving, he was able to cut Sarrazin's lead to 0.486 second with just 35 minutes remaining in the contest. Then, with 25 minutes to go, Johnny finally caught Sarrazin and pushed the issue by passing the Aston going into Laguna's lefthander leading onto the front straight. The two raced door-handle-to-door-handle under the starter's tower, over the hill, through the slight Turn 1 kink, and into the track's tight, switchback Turn 2.




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