The '07 FIA GT3 season was an epic battle between the top supercar manufacturers in the world. Each of the ten races saw a minimum of 35 competitors supported by manufacturers including Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ascari, and Lamborghini. You'll notice our omission of the Corvette, as it was the only car not directly supported by its manufacturer.
Callaway Competition didn't let this lack of corporate backing stop it from designing and building the fabulous Z06.R GT3 Corvette. In 2006, with the help of private sponsors, the Callaway folks purchased several street Z06s and removed the interiors, windows, and suspension. Next, they added complete rollcages, coilovers, adjustable antiroll bars, open exhausts, upgraded transmissions, and rearend coolers. In addition, the revised Z06s received wider carbon-fiber fender flares, hood vents, and a wind-tunnel-tested aero package that included a new front splitter and a rear wing from the C5-R.
The completed car was tested extensively by the FIA to determine if it would be competitive in GT3. Guess what? It was too competitive, so FIA officials mandated that the Z06.Rs be fitted with a 10mm air restrictor, hard-compound tires, and 132 pounds of extra weight.
Six Z06.Rs were built initially, and two teams were formed with three cars each. For 2007, these teams were Martini-Callaway and Team Riverside. After a hectic season, both crews headed to Dubai for the last two GT3 races of the year. Martini-Callaway was in second place in both the team and drivers championships, while Team Riverside's No. 19 Corvette drivers, James Ruffier and Arnaud Peyroles, were a close third in the drivers championship race.
The team championship is awarded to the team that accumulates the highest finishing-points total, among all three of its cars, over the course of the season. At Dubai, only two teams were fighting for that honor: the Kessel Racing Ferraris and the Martini-Callaway Corvettes. The first race was won by the Nicola Bulgari-owned No. 18 Z06.R, driven by Luca Pirri and Jff,rgen von Gartzen. The second Martini-Callaway team car finished Fourth, and the third car was Fourteenth. This performance moved the Martini-Callaway team into a three-point lead with only one race remaining.
Von Gartzen qualified the No. 18 Bulgari Z06.R in third in the final race, behind the No. 19 Riverside Z06.R and the pole-winning Aston Martin. The other two Martini-Callaway team entries were eleventh and thirteenth on the grid. The pressure was on Pirri/von Gartzen to place ahead of Ferrari drivers Henri Moser and Gilles Vannelet and salt away the championship.
Moser, driving the No. 38 Kessel Ferrari 430, qualified fifth. He started the race at a good pace and maintained his position just two spots back from von Gartzen. This continued until the No. 16 Martini-Callaway Z06.R, driven by Klaus Ludwig, slipped by Moser to take fifth position. Moser began losing time behind Ludwig, so the team called him into the pits early. When co-driver Gilles Vannelet left the pits too early, the Ferrari was given a stop-and-go penalty. Pirri, meanwhile, was second after the driver change, behind the No. 26 Hexis Racing Aston. If he and von Gartzen could maintain this position, they would be champions.
At this point, the No. 38 Ferrari was lying in seventh position. But with around 15 minutes left in the one-hour race, the Kessel team No. 39 430 spun out. Unable to start, the wounded Ferrari completely blocked the track, bringing out the safety car.
"This safety car was a gift for us," Vannelet said later. "I had nothing to lose. When the green fell, I pushed as much as I could." He managed to overtake five cars, including Luca Pirri's Corvette. Pirri's hard-compound Michelin tires had cooled during the safety-car period, and when the green flag finally fell, he had trouble maintaining traction.
By the end of the race, Vannelet's inspired driving had landed the No. 38 Ferrari in Second Place, behind the winning No. 23 Aston. Pirri finished Fourth, Skula/Matzke's No. 17 Z06.R was Fifteenth, and Berberich-Martini/Ludwig's No. 16 Vette was Sixteenth. These finishes were better than the Kessel team entries', giving Martini-Callaway a one-point win in the team championship. Sadly, Pirri and von Gartzen missed the drivers championship by one point and finished Second.
"Of course we are disappointed we did not win the drivers' championship," said von Gartzen. "But we won the team championship, which is important for Martini-Callaway Racing." In a down-to-the-wire season, the hardworking Martini-Callaway team overcame significant hurdles to propel its privateer Corvettes to the coveted GT3 team championship. Those of us fortunate enough to witness it were treated to a truly amazing performance.
Getting By With A Little Help
Team Riverside manager Jean Perrin had a dilemma. One of his three Corvettes had broken its steering rack during qualifying, and even though the team had brought a truckload of spare parts from France to the race, a new rack was not among them. So, when Perrin noticed several members of the Dubai Corvette Club drooling over the Riverside Z06.Rs, he decided to make a last-ditch appeal to charity: Did anyone have a C6 Z06 they might be willing to part with for a few hours? Club president Steve Roberts did, and he offered up his own '06 as a temporary donor car.
Roberts pulled his Z into the Riverside garage, and the crew began the job of dismantling the front end. Other crewmembers, meanwhile, labored to remove the faulty rack from the stricken No. 20 racer. With the borrowed rack installed, No. 20 was able to participate in the final race of the year. When the race was over, the Riverside crew reinstalled the rack in Roberts' Z, and he was on his way. Even half a world away, no automobile enjoys a more enthusiastic, tight-knit following than America's favorite sports car.