In May, the American Le Mans Series journeyed west to Utah and the recently opened Miller Motorsports Park. Built near Salt Lake City by auto-dealership magnate Larry Miller, the facility serves as a testament to Miller's professional success, as well his desire to bring high-level professional motorsports to the Beehive State. At a build cost of $150 million, MMP has all the elements of an elite racing venue. The grandstands are first-rate, the garage facilities are some of the best in the business, and the 4.5-mile, 23-turn track is both interesting and challenging.
By the time of the Utah race, the Corvette Racing program had accepted its role as sole entrant in the GT1 class and turned much of its attention to preparing for Le Mans. The practice sessions for the weekend's race were thus designed with two goals in mind. The first was to give the team, the drivers, and the engineers an opportunity to set up for the race at MMP. The second goal centered around testing set-ups for the French 24-hour in June. The Utah track offers many of the same challenges as the Le Sarthe circuit, with a fairly flat layout consisting of long straights interspersed with right-angled corners and sweeping turns.
MMP is situated in a dry, desolate area with little vegetation to hold the soil. While dust on the track is a common hazard, this condition was exacerbated during the ALMS race by a major dust storm that occurred during the previous week. In addition to degrading surface adhesion, the fine, powdery particulate posed a potential threat to sensitive mechanical and electronic equipment.
Prior to race day, the No. 4 C6.R crew participated in the first elimination round of the Klein Tools Pit Stop Challenge. (The No. 3 car was scheduled to compete later in the season.) Although the Corvette team suffered a slow time due to a restart problem, the remaining three cars in the day's competition had their own share of difficulties and penalties as well. The result was that the Corvette team won Second Place in the Challenge, despite a less-than-satisfactory showing.
Even the normally low-pressure qualifying session brought a hint of drama. Oliver Gavin set the GT1 pole time on his first lap, but spun the car on the second, flat-spotting all four tires. Unfortunately, ALMS rules allow only two tires to be changed between qualifying and the start of the race. Swapping out the full set-as the No. 4 team was forced to do-automatically sends the car to the back of the starting grid.
The race itself held great battles among the LMP1, LMP2, and GT2 classes, but with no competition except themselves, the Corvettes only needed to finish the race to take First and Second in GT1. Accordingly, the team organized its race-day schedule to include exercises designed specifically for Le Mans. Team engineers planned tire testing with Michelin, evaluated fuel economy, and continued to monitor the recently installed air-conditioning systems.
From his starting point at the back of the pack, Gavin swept through the field in a few quick laps and soon found himself right behind Jan Magnussen in No. 3. After a series of pit stops, the No. 4 car landed in front of its stablemate, a position it would hold throughout the remainder of the race.
The One-Two finish at MMP was but the latest in a long string of successes for the Corvette Racing team. The cars completed the race in fine shape, and team engineers were given a fresh set of data to pore over before traveling to France for the 24-hour enduro. With 15 entrants-including six Aston Martins, two other Corvettes, and two Saleens-expected in the GT1 category, Le Mans '07 was shaping up to be a real test for the C6.R contingent.
Corvette Racing Leads the Way in Electronics
Corvette Racing is known for its innovative approaches to engineering a winning edge, and the electrical wizards at Pratt & Miller have been working overtime to preserve that advantage. In the past, the team has used the standard arrangement of a few video monitors and engineering stations in the hot-pit lane to keep track of the cars' progress on the track. Prior to this season, the engineering staff at P&M designed a surveillance hub that employs 30 flat-screen video monitors (with 140 degrees of sight line) incorporated into an extremely sophisticated network of computer management.
All of the equipment is housed in a proprietary custom enclosure that has become the envy of pit lane. Normally, the system is powered by regular pit-lane electricity; however, should that power be interrupted, there are team-specific generators that automatically kick in to supply power to the network. If a lag occurs between the moment of power loss and the generators' light-off point, an inverter battery system (boasting 9,000 cold cranking amps) steps in to keep the voltage supply virtually seamless.
The new pit-lane surveillance system provides tire, brake, and fluid temperatures; engine-management data; and other read-outs in real time, allowing the engineers to keep close tabs on the cars' physical condition. The team also has access to satellite weather surveillance, giving it the ability to monitor possible changes in atmospheric conditions. All of this information is relayed back to the Corvette transporters parked in the paddock, where the team's system of four computer servers manages the incoming data.
In addition to observing real-time vehicle conditions, the new system allows engineers to predict potential outcomes. Using data from the cars, weather information, track configuration and conditions, and other factors, such as anticipated driver fatigue, the team has the ability to forecast a 30-lap window within the race. This can be useful for making decisions about race strategy or even predicting mechanical failure. All of this information flows among the three tiers of engineers housed in pit lane with the race team.
Meanwhile, the race team itself has 12 monitors on which to watch the progress of the two race cars on the track. They can literally follow the cars around the whole circuit, observing potential traffic problems as well as track conditions. Little is overlooked in managing the environment in which the cars perform. The new set-up is impressive, giving the team a very sophisticated competitive edge.-GJ