As you're probably aware, the Corvette's competition in ALMS GT1 is sparse to nonexistent. What you may not realize is that across the Atlantic, GT racing is alive and well. The comparative health of European production-based motorsports was apparent at the opening race of the '08 FIA GT series, held at Silverstone Circuit in England. In contrast to the one-marque tedium that characterizes ALMS GT1, the Silverstone race saw three ex-factory C6.Rs going head-to-head with five other manufacturers for class honors.
The private Corvette teams stayed busy during the winter break, preparing for the upcoming season. Phoenix Carsport Racing purchased the '07 Pratt & Miller chassis No. 005, which joined the '05 P&M No. 001 to form a two-car team. A new sponsorship package with GMAC Financial Services was finalized, and both cars were done up in prominent GMAC livery. A driver lineup of Marcel Fassler and Jean Deletraz in car No. 5, and Mike Hezemans and Fabrizio Gollin in car No. 6 was established.
Belgium Selleslagh Racing Team (SRT) was Pratt & Miller's first European Corvette customer. SRT purchased C5-R chassis No. 007 in 2001 and scored many impressive victories with the car. It was eventually sold to Austria's AT Racing to make room for '07 C6.R chassis No. 006. For 2008, the team secured sponsorship from Q-Park, a company that operates parking systems across 10 European countries. Christophe Bouchut and Xavier Maassen were tapped to drive the new car, which will also see action in the FIA GT and FFSA French GT championships.
Silverstone is a World War II bomber base located between London and Birmingham. The 3.2-mile high-speed track hosts numerous events each year, including Formula One and the FIA GT championship. Thirty-one cars qualified for Sunday's two-hour race, 15 of which were classified in the GT1 category. Six manufacturers were represented in GT1: Corvette, Aston Martin, Maserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Saleen. The top six qualifiers were separated by only 0.714 second! On top in very wet qualifying conditions was the No. 5 Phoenix Carsport C5-R, driven by Fassler to a time of 1:55.220. Next was the No. 3 C6.R of Bouchut, with a time of 1:55.303. Hezemans' C6.R was fifth at 1:55.734.
Race day dawned wet, cold, and extremely foggy, prompting the teams to mount intermediate dry/wet tires. The mist was so thick, it was almost impossible to make out the cars coming down the pit straight to take the green flag. When they finally broke into the clear, the Corvettes of Fassler and Bouchut could be seen battling for the lead exiting Turn 1. Bouchut had the inside line and won the skirmish, but Fassler retook the lead at the next corner. Meanwhile, the No. 33 Aston Martin, driven by Karl Wendlinger, took advantage of the Corvette battle and slipped by both cars to lead the first lap. Then, on Lap Nine, Wendlinger spun out, allowing Fassler to retake the lead. By Lap 22, Hezemans had pulled in behind Bouchut, putting the Corvettes in first, second, and third. After a round of pit stops, the order on Lap 27 was Aston, Corvette, Corvette, Aston, Corvette, and Maserati.
By Lap 36, Fassler was back in front, closely followed by Bouchut. But another round of pit stops that included fuel, tire, and driver changes pushed the Corvettes back to third, seventh, and ninth. On Lap 52, Deletraz made contact with a Maserati, spinning out both cars and sending the lightly damaged Vette tumbling down the order. With six minutes to go, the top five cars were only 4.7 seconds apart, with Corvettes in fourth, fifth, and eighth.
The checkered flag dropped on Lap 59, giving the win to the No. 33 Aston. The No. 3 Bouchut/Maassen Corvette finished Fourth, while the No. 6 Hezemans/Gollin Vette took Fifth. The crumpled No. 5 Fassler/Deletraz car managed to claw its way back to a respectable Eighth. Meanwhile, the GT1 Citation Cup-a concurrently conducted race for nonprofessional drivers-went to the Wolfgang Kaufmann/Aliaksandr Talkanitsa team in the AT Racing C5-R.
Despite the Corvettes' disappointing showing, it was exciting to see them once again duking it out with the world's best sports cars. With a little tuning and good pit strategy, we think the Vettes will be back in the winner's circle in the very near future.