The American Le Mans Series arrived at the Miller Motorsports complex in Utah for Round 4 of the '08 season. The brainchild of Utah businessman Larry H. Miller, this relatively new track sprang up in the rural suburbs of Salt Lake City and quickly became a series favorite with fans and competitors alike.
The track configuration at Miller was changed for this year's race. Instead of running the complicated road course laid out by the ALMS last season, the track was laid out in a 3.048-mile "outer boundary" course that made for very fast running. This configuration allowed the teams to see speeds and cornering g's similar to what they would experience at Le Mans, an ideal situation for the Michelin tire engineers who work hand-in-hand with Corvette Racing.
The team was asked to utilize three tire-change pit stops, instead of an anticipated two, for the 2-hour, 50-minute race. As a result, it would run only 24 laps between each service appoint-ment. The Michelin engineers then set out speci-fic sets of tires to be run on each of the cars in a predetermined order. It was obvious that pre-Le Mans tire testing was an important part of Corvette's Utah race plan.
The remote Miller track can prove to be a handful, as dust and sand from the surrounding landscape often blows in and coats the racing surface. Fortunately, the strong winds that materialized during last year's event were absent this time around. What did materialize was the heat filtering through whispery clouds, building to over 95 degrees for race day.
The two C6.R teams went after each other with a vengeance in qualifying, the long, grippy Miller track giving them a rare opportunity to compete on speed alone. All through practice and most of qualifying, the No. 3 car, under Johnny O'Connell's stewardship, ran slightly faster than Olivier Beretta in No. 4. But Beretta pulled out a blistering lap near the end of the session, nudging his way into the top spot by less than 0.2 second. It was Beretta's 22nd pole position, further extending his ALMS record in that category.
In other racing categories, the LMP1 Audis were battling it out with their archrival LMP2 Porsche Spyders for overall pole position, a spot the Porsches would once again capture. Meanwhile, the GT2 class witnessed a gripping battle as a Porsche 911 from the Flying Lizard team tied a Risi 430 Ferrari with exactly the same qualifying time of 1:47.135. The Porsche set the time earlier in the session, so it was awarded the pole.
The Miller track features a long straight and a wide racing surface, which allowed the field to spread out into a magnificent eight-across display as everyone maneuvered for an advantage after the green flag. The superior torque of the diesel Audi R10s prevailed, and they managed to grab positions 1 and 2 by the time everything was sorted out through Turn 1. Still, it wasn't long before the LMP1 Lola of John Field's Intersport Racing team overtook both Audis and settled into the lead.
An interesting side note: Earlier in the weekend, the Intersport team had encountered clutch problems and needed spare parts. As often happens, the well-prepared Corvette Racing team ended up as the paddock's unofficial parts-supply house. Believe it or not, it's not all that unusual to see someone from another ALMS team arrive at the C6.R transporter asking to borrow parts or testing equipment. Fortunately for Intersport, the GM contingent had just what was needed, and it wasn't long before the upstart LMP1 team was back in business.
Despite its freshly mended clutch, the Intersport car could not maintain its blistering early pace and soon succumbed to the more powerful Audis. Meanwhile, the Corvettes in GT1 were battling tooth and nail for the class lead. Beretta held O'Connell in second place for most of their run together, but he was unable to gain more than a couple seconds advantage over the No. 3 car. It was a combination of luck and a quick pit stop by Danny Binks' crew that pushed O'Connell into first in class by the time both teams had serviced their cars.