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.
This order would endure to the end, with O'Connell and Jan Magnusson taking their third GT1 win of the year. Though both Vettes escaped significant damage, Oliver Gavin got into the side of Adrian Fernandez's Acura prototype with just 20 minutes remaining in the race. The acci-dent banged up the No. 4 car's driver's door and right rear quarter-panel. The No. 3, meanwhile, suffered a small tweak to the left side of the rear diffuser undertray. Fortunately, the damage to both cars was relatively insignificant, with repairs scheduled to be effected in Michigan before the C6.Rs left for France the next week.
The LMP2 prototypes of Porsche and Acura prevailed overall, taking the top six finishing spots. The favored Audis had problems with penalties and a significant shunt with the lone GT2 Ford, relegating them to 7th and 21st.
After the race, the Corvette team leapt into pack-up mode, with everyone pitching in to get the transporters on the road as soon as possible. With four Astons, two French-owned Corvette C6.Rs, a Saleen, and a Lamborghini waiting at Le Mans, the Corvette Racing squad would need all the prep time it could muster.
Corvette Racing Profile: Ross "Roscoe" Jeffrey
Ross Jeffrey has been around motor racing all of his adult life. He first came to the attention of Gary Pratt when Pratt was running a race-prep company known as Protofab. A chance meeting with Pratt and an offer to do anything, anytime for the company won the then-19-year-old Jeffrey the job. He started out sweeping floors and as the company "gofer." As his interest and experience grew, Jeffrey graduated to performing just about any task the team needed, from fabrication to mechanical work.
Jeffrey was then hired by Cars and Concepts, where he met current Corvette Racing honcho Doug Fehan. When Cars and Concepts folded, Fehan found a place for Jeffrey with the Roush Racing organization. Time spent with the racing trucks at Roush continued to hone Jeffrey's skills, leading Pratt to offer him a spot on the rapidly developing Corvette Racing program at Pratt & Miller Engineering in 1999.
Jeffrey-"Roscoe," to those who know him-is now something of a jack-of-all-trades at P&M headquarters. When the team travels, he's the outside tire changer for the No. 4 car during pit stops. He's easily identifiable, as his tall, slender frame allows him the liberty of expelling spent tires by shoving them backward between his legs, rather than pitching them to one side like the rest of the crewmen. "It's just faster that way," he says.
Jeffrey is perhaps most notable for inventing the now-famous racing-repair material informally known as "bear bond." In 1998, while working for Roush, Jeffrey realized that teams needed a material that could be used like duct tape to repair bodywork damage during a race. He wanted a product that was easy to apply, exceptionally strong, and adaptable to any shape. Eventually, he developed just such a material in a sheet configuration that could be cut to any dimension. After he figured out how to impregnate the material with any color a racing team might require, it was time for Jeffrey's wonder product to make its debut.
Bear bond proved to be a big hit, starting with NASCAR trucks and quickly spreading to other race applications. In fact, bear bond played an instrumental role in the Corvettes' loss to a Saleen at Sebring in 2001. When the Saleen needed body repairs during the race, the team used a sample piece of bear bond that Jeffrey had thoughtfully offered them. With bear bond holding the Saleen snugly together, the car was back in the race quickly enough to hold on and beat the Corvettes.
In his off hours, Jeffrey stays busy brewing up his sticky concoction in the barn of his 63-acre rural-Michigan home. Perhaps the only time he truly slows down is when he's locked in the No. 4 car's driver's seat to provide ballast during corner-weight exercises on the scales. So even when he's not on the move, this multitalented member of the Corvette racing family manages to stay productive.