Tracking out of the corner, the DBR9 was able to sneak past the Corvette and reestablish the lead. Johnny continued to press the Aston, but the effort of catching up had wiped out his tires. Johnny quickly found himself with little between his car and the road surface and unable to keep pace with the group. He reluctantly allowed Olivier Beretta in the No. 4 car to pass him, ensuring that a Corvette would continue to hold down the all-important second-place position. Johnny settled into survival mode, falling ever farther behind his teammate. The No. 3 car was still well ahead of the Aston 007, however, and the race finished with the Corvettes in Second and Third in class.
They had done it. Corvette Racing had snatched the '06 Manufacturer's and Drivers' titles from the grasp of the British invaders. The team erupted into wild celebration as the reality of what they had accomplished settled in. They had fought as hard as they could, enduring unrelenting rule changes and pushing the edge of the performance envelope all season long.
While the cars circled the track after taking the checkered flag, Oliver Gavin jumped from the pit wall to hug Corvette Racing Manager Doug Fehan and corral team owner Gary Pratt. High-fives and hugs flowed freely among the whole team as the pent-up anxiety of the day gave way to unrestrained jubilation.
It was a tough pill for the No. 3 team, which had endured an unusual spate of bad luck this year. They had been looking forward to a win to finish the season, taking some gratification in the honor of carrying the team to its hard-fought championship. Nonetheless, they were as joyous and excited as the rest of the team, proving once again that this group lives and breathes as a family, with every individual's contributions considered invaluable to ensuring overall success.
For the sixth year in a row, the GM Racing/Pratt & Miller team took home both the Manufacturer's and Drivers' championships in American Le Mans GT1 competition. Factor in the three-peat at Le Mans last summer, and no one can deny that the Corvette and its support personnel represent the class of the series.
Making the scene even more poignant, 2006 marked GM Racing's 50th year in international motor racing, a tradition that began with a win at Sebring in 1956. The reward for the team and the corps of GM engineers responsible for the season's success was a quick turnaround to face the 2007 campaign. By the time you read this, they'll be back at the test track, perfecting the next-generation C6.R, stoking the flame of inspiration and genius, and spreading the word that Corvette is king.
Postscript: The annual ALMS awards banquet followed the season-ending race at Laguna Seca. There, the GM Racing/Pratt & Miller team took home a stash of gold, including the GT1 Team and Manufacturer's championships. Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin, meanwhile, were awarded the Drivers' championship. No. 3-car pit boss Dan Binks was honored with the GT1 Crew Chief of the Year award, and Ron Fellows was voted Most Popular Driver by the fans.
Chillin' in the Driver's Seat
Trying to keep a driver cool and comfortable inside an enclosed race car like the C6.R Corvette can be difficult. These pilots are expected to perform at their highest level of competence 100 percent of the time, so getting overheated simply isn't an option.
There is no back window on a C6.R-just a solid bulkhead. The side windows are fixed, with only small cutouts for air entry and escape. Temperatures inside the cockpit are elevated, due to the engine heat that is transmitted into the driver's space. Add to that a triple-layer driver's suit, Nomex underwear, high-top leather driving boots with Nomex socks, leather/Nomex driving gloves, a Nomex balaclava under a full-faced helmet, and ambient temps of 90-100 degrees, and it's easy to see why keeping one's cool can be a challenge.
The Corvette Racing Team tried several approaches to beating the heat, including "coolsuits" (essentially, an undershirt lined with cooling tubes and fed with refrigerated coolant) and different venting schemes. Ultimately, they settled on an air-delivery system that forces cool air onto the driver's back.
The air is taken into the car through the right-rear-window opening, just in front of the B-pillar (Image 1). The round duct at the opening is fitted with an electric fan, which pulls fresh air into the ductwork. The air is then sent to the back of the driver's seat through a grid of escape holes (Image 2).
In Image 3, you can see the effectiveness of the system in the pattern of spots on the back of the driver's race suit. This is created by the brake-dust particles that are pulled into the ductwork along with the fresh air. When a racing seat must be customized with a seatback insert, that insert is drilled with matching holes (Image 4). The drivers report that this system is much more effective than the other methods tried on the C6.R.