2008 24 Hours of Le Mans - No Cigar

Patchy Weather And A Smokin'-Fast Aston Scuttle Corvette Racing's Chances At La Sarthe

Dr. Greg P. Johnson Dec 1, 2008 0 Comment(s)
Vemp_0812_04_z 2008_le_mans_endurance_race Corvette_C6R 1/8

The C6.R drivers were complaining that the cars felt "all over the place," and engineering staffers were having some disagreement regarding a possible solution. Ron Fellows, meanwhile, was lobbying for a change in rear spring rates. The engineers finally allowed the Fellows adjustment, and handling greatly improved. Olivier Beretta said the change "transformed" the car. Magnussen gave his assessment by setting a new pole of 3:47.699, almost two seconds quicker than his effort the night before.

And so it was that the No. 63 C6.R took the first-ever Le Mans GT1 pole for Corvette Racing. A Saleen S7R took second, the No. 64 Corvette was third, and the two factory-backed Aston Martin DBR9s filled in behind.

Friday morning found the crew back in the garage by 7:00 a.m., where it would change out engines and transaxles and go through both cars in preparation for the race's start the next day. While the drivers took part in the annual Piloti Parade in downtown Le Mans, crewmember Mike West put on a little show of his own. West, an accomplished guitarist, once again brought his electric six-string to Le Mans to give the fans a little taste of "The Star Spangled Banner," Corvette Racing style. West has gained quite a following for the annual display, and this year's performance did not disappoint.

Saturday brought a 9:00 a.m. warm-up session prior to the 3:00 p.m. race. The No. 63 car checked in perfect, but No. 64 sprang a leak in the transaxle, forcing the crew to make a last-minute swap. With all systems restored to perfection, the cars finally were ready to be pushed out to the pregrid.

Vemp_0812_05_z 2008_le_mans_endurance_race Corvette_C6R 2/8

In keeping with Le Mans tradition, the competitors and their cars were led out onto the front straight to be lined up according to their qualifying times. As Crew Chief Danny Binks' No. 63 car rounded the turn to the track, it found the No. 009 Aston right in front of it. As the cars came side by side, a foot-powered race between the two adversaries spontaneously erupted. The C6.R crew ultimately prevailed, passing the Brits just as they approached the end of the garage area. With the foot race over, the cars returned to their respective starting positions, and the prerace ceremonies began.

This year's festivities included everything from a drivers' parade to a bevy of Hawaiian Tropic girls strutting their stuff to pedal car races by French children. As always, it all went down against a backdrop of various national anthems, much enthusiastic flag waving, and other boisterous displays by the fans. There really is nothing else quite like it in motorsports.

At 2:00 p.m. the cars headed out for the pace laps, culminating in the dropping of the green flag. The GT1 class immediately settled into a well-ordered procession, with no one pushing the issue so early in the 24-hour race. The Saleen, interposed between the two C6.Rs at the start, held ground for a brief time until Oliver Gavin shot past to put the Corvettes in first and second place.

The Astons finally showed their true pace and set about climbing the class ladder, all the while laying down lap times equal to or faster than the those recorded by the Corvettes. It quickly became evident that this was a two-marque race, with the rest of the GT1 field struggling to stay close to the top four competitors.

The race settled into a back-and-forth battle between the Astons and Vettes, as pit stops and traffic offered opportunities for each to lead the class. Unfortunately, the No. 64 car ran into a slight problem when an electrical connection to the alternator failed. This forced the crew to change out the unit and pit the car out of sequence, dropping it back two laps from the front of the field.

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