In October, race impresario Don Panoz and the American Le Mans Series cele-brated their 10th year running the Petit Le Mans enduro. The race is designed to test the strength and speed of Le Mans-spec cars over a 10-hour span or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first. Road Atlanta is the home track for the ALMS, and organization officials are rightfully proud of the way this event has flourished over the last decade. There has been a continued effort to improve the track itself as well as the support facilities for fans and competitors alike. Coupling this with a knockdown, drag-out fight between world-class racing cars brings the fans in droves.
The Corvette C6.Rs had already taken a step toward on-track comfort by attending a tire-testing session held at Road Atlanta two weeks earlier. Not only did that give them a good feeling for the new track surface, it also seasoned the roadway by laying down a significant coat of fresh rubber. Consequently, the Corvettes looked pretty good on the Thursday practice day, which included a two-hour night session.
The rain was hitting off and on all day, and it struck again during the evening practice. The Corvette team elected to dodge most of the wet conditions and call it a day, taking the cars into the garage as soon as each of the drivers ran the three laps required to be certified for driving duties during Saturday's race. The only hiccup experienced was a faulty alternator suffered by the No. 4 car. That situation was quickly remedied, and the car was prepared for qualifying the next day.
Friday's schedule included a morning practice and a qualifying session in the afternoon. Track conditions had changed, as a thorough washing the previous evening had stripped away all the fresh rubber laid down over the last few weeks. The teams had to start from scratch on their racing setups.
Qualifying also proved interesting, as competition in the form of a Maserati MC12 turned up to challenge the Corvettes in GT1. The Doran Racing Maser ran strong from the outset and even bested the Vettes to take pole position for the class. Was it possible the Corvette boys had finally found some legitimate class competition?
Corvette Racing protocol for endurance races (Sebring, Le Mans, and Petit) is to change the engines and gearboxes after qualifying, a process that pretty well occupies the crew until the morning of race day. Morning practice usually involves a 30-minute lapping session to be sure the newly replaced powertrain parts are functioning as expected.
In an uncharacteristic pit-stop miscue, Olivier Beretta put the No. 4 car into Reverse and applied power as the Vette was dropped down off the air jacks. Everything but Beretta's ego seemed to escape undamaged, but the team was forced to pull the newly installed transaxle, disassemble it, and inspect the internals to be certain.
Highlights of the prerace ceremonies included a special performance of the national anthem by C6.R driver Johnny O'Connell's 10-year-old daughter, Kelly. Proving that the ability to perform under pressure is an inherited trait, she reeled off a flawless rendition of the song in front of the more than 100,000 spectators.
The Petit race starts at 11:15 a.m. and is scheduled to conclude by 9:15 p.m. With the recent improvements to the track surface and the increasingly pitched battle between the prototype Audi R10s and the Porsche Spyders, the event was not expected to run the full 10 hours. In fact, there were prerace predictions by Road Atlanta's staff that the race would end before 8:00 p.m. Rain proved not to be a factor, but the intensity of the on-track action eventually took its toll.