The Aston team was so confident in its lead that it began "single stinting" its tires-that is, putting on fresh rubber at each pit stop. The Corvette team tried cutting down the Aston lead by double-stinting tire and driver replacement, thereby saving elapsed time each hour a pit was required. The strategy helped some, but it was becoming increasingly clear that the lead DBR9-now up by a full lap-would be extremely difficult to catch.
Meanwhile, disappointed members of the No. 64 C6.R crew sublimated their frustration by pitching in with tire preparation and other duties on No. 63. Crew chief Gongla and company even helped members of the Luc Alphand Corvette team rebuild the gearboxes in their C6.R and C5-R. While the French team was very grateful for the unanticipated help, all the extra toil throughout the night took a heavy toll on Gongla and the rest of his crew.
By midday Sunday, it was becoming apparent that the race finish was to be drenched in rain. A look at the on-line weather site the team was using revealed that everything west of Le Mans was completely socked in by foul weather, with heavy precipitation moving directly toward the Loire Valley. Although the meteorological shift presented a challenge, team members also felt the rain might provide their only chance of catching the Astons.
When the downpour did come, it was relentless. Ron Fellows, a highly experienced foul-weather driver, capitalized on the change in conditions to gain from 8 to 15 seconds per lap on the GT1-leading 009 Aston. With time winding down, the hope was that the Aston driver would be forced to quicken his methodical pace and perhaps make a costly mistake on the slick track surface.
Sadly, it was not to be. With only 30 minutes remaining, the ACO decided to bring out the safety car and hold the field in position throughout the completion of the race. In the end, the No. 63 Magnussen/O'Connell/Fellows C6.R took Second in class and Sixth overall, finishing 6:08.031 behind the GT1-winning 009 Aston. While it was not the result Corvette Racing had hoped for, it was an admirable showing under the circumstances.
"There's disappointment in not winning, but this is an impossible race to win," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "Just the honor of competing with the world's best sports car teams and finishing on the podium is a huge reward. There's no shame in finishing second. We've actually finished second here before and lived through it."
Aston's strong showing at Le Mans only stoked rumors that the factory-backed DBR9s would return to ALMS racing full-time at some point during the '07 season. Assuming the Astons are finally ready to compete with their Corvette nemeses on an equal footing, that's one heavyweight showdown we'd love to see.