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_06_z 2008_le_mans_endurance_race Aston_martin_DBR9 1/8

Darkness settled on La Sarthe with the No. 63 C6.R in first, the 009 and 007 Astons second and third, and the No. 64 Vette having regained fourth in class. The 009 car continued to put up outstanding lap figures, however, and was slowly reeling in the leading Corvette. The early morning hours of Sunday brought rain and revealed that the two lead cars had again swapped places.

About halfway through the day, the 007 Aston ran into alternator problems of its own. Apparently the pilot had run off-course, causing a rock to become lodged in the belt pulley. The British team quickly changed out the belt, but when it attempted to restart the car, all that could be heard were a whirring starter and a series of clicks. This forced the car into the garage for further inspection.

The confusion allowed the No. 64 car to catch up and pass 007 while it remained in the garage disabled. The kicker was that the Aston was actually OK. The driver had inadvertently pushed the clutch pedal when he engaged the starter button. The alternator on the Aston is tied to the rear-mounted transaxle, so engaging the clutch disconnected the engine from the driveline and prevented the alternator from turning. As soon as the team figured out the situation, the car was pushed back onto the track in fourth position.

With afternoon approaching, the weather began to dry. The Corvettes were again on a hot pace, and it looked as if they might catch the 009 Aston. Unfortunately, the precipitation soon returned, slowing lap times by 10 seconds and foiling the Corvette charge. With the weather proving unpredictable, the teams were forced to make the difficult choice between installing intermediate and rain-compound tires.

Vemp_0812_07_z 2008_le_mans_endurance_race C6R_DBR9 2/8

As the rain came and went, the number of pit stops prompted by the changing conditions increased. By late morning, Jan Magnussen was installed in the No. 63 car after wet-weather specialist Ron Fellows had put in a full three hours.But when the downpour intensified, Magnussen became uncomfortable on the previously installed intermediate tires and demanded a switch to full rain rubber.

Nothing seemed to help the Corvette cause. If the C6.Rs gained a little ground, the lead Aston responded by dropping its lap times commensurately. The Brits were managing their race plan perfectly, staying out in front of the second place No. 63 car by almost two laps. If Corvette Racing was going to have a chance, it needed a break.

With about 1 1/2 hours to go, No. 63 car crew chief Dan Binks decided to take a chance and switch back to intermediate tires. The call proved prophetic, as the rain subsided, allowing the car to immediately pick up the pace. The 009 Aston responded too late. While the car pitted to cover the Corvette maneuver, the No. 63 Vette passed it on the track. Now on the same lap as the Aston, the C6.R looked like it just might do the impossible.

Alas, it was not to be. The No. 63 crew knew the car's right front brake pad was not predicted last the race. Although it was able to swap the pad in under than 90 seconds, the short delay allowed the Aston to hang on to First in class at the checkered flag. The two C6.Rs, meanwhile, were comfortably ensconced in Second and Third for podium finishes. Luc Alphand's French Corvette team (running an ex-Corvette Racing C6.R) scored a Fourth-Place finish, leaving the Saleen, two privateer Astons, and a Lamborghini to fight it out for the remaining GT1 positions.

It's indicative of the level of success to which Corvette Racing has become accustomed that the team was disappointed with its Two-Three finish in what is perhaps the world's greatest race. Still, having come so close to victory after losing to the Aston last year left fans to wonder what might have been. Maybe, as Dan Binks suggested, "We should just run until somebody breaks. That would be a race."

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