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2008 FIA GT3 Silverstone Race - A Stormy Beginning

Grim Weather And A Lightning-Fast Ford Strike Down The GT3 Vettes At Silverstone

Walt Thurn Jan 1, 2009
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The Corvette won a hard-earned FIA GT3 Team Championship in 2007, clinching the title in Dubai by just one point over Ferrari. At the end of the season, Ernst Woehr, director of Callaway Competition, announced he would field a two-car team for 2008. James Ruffier and Arnaud Peyroles signed on to drive Nicola Bulgari's IDEC-sponsored entry, while GT1 driver Sascha Bert was tapped to pilot the Uli Martini-owned car.

With the driver lineup solidified, Woehr and his crew in Leingarten, Germany, began building a new Z06.R for Bulgari. The car started life as an '07 Z06 dealer demonstrator that had been totaled during a testdrive. While the Callaway crew performed the conversion, the Dubai-winning Vette was used to win FIA approval for a new six-speed sequential transmission. The trans improved the Corvette's lap times by almost two seconds, giving team members high hopes for the upcoming season.

Then, several weeks before the season-opening Silverstone event, Martini announced he was retiring from racing. Now down a car, Woehr decided to take the Dubai Vette and the newly completed Bulgari Z06.R to England for the race. This allowed Callaway to enter as a two-car effort, even though the team had drivers for only one car.

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This totaled '07 Z06 arrived at the Callaway Competition shop last October. Only 69 miles showed on the odometer.

Woehr and company arrived at Silverstone on the Thursday before the race. The weather was cold and extremely windy, with the constant threat of rain. Two Friday practice sessions gave Peyroles and Ruffier an opportunity to get familiar with their new car and afforded the Callaway crew a chance to replace a suspect engine.

On Saturday, Peyroles qualified ninth for Race One with a time of 1:54.038; a Porsche took the pole with a 1:52.844. Ruffier, meanwhile, qualified third for Race Two with a time of 1:51.269, just behind the pole-setting Ford GT's 1:50.237. The real surprise of the weekend was the speed shown by the Ford, Porsche, Morgan, and Jaguar entries. All of these former also-rans underwent major revisions over the winter to emerge as real threats.

A total of 42 cars representing 11 manufacturers took the green flag in Race One. As they exited the first corner, the No. 11 Ferrari slammed into the left rear of the Callaway Corvette. Although Peyroles somehow managed to avoid a catastrophic spin in traffic, damage to the car's rear suspension and bodywork quickly dropped it well down the order. (The Ferrari fared less well and was retired.) Slowly, Peyroles learned how to control the ill-handling Vette and began moving back up through the field. Ruffier took over and was able to bring the crippled car home in Seventh Place, well back from the winning Ford GT. Overnight repairs proved successful, leaving the team feeling upbeat about its chances in Race Two.

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The car was summarily dismantled and converted into a Z06.R racer. White was chosen over silver as the team's '08 color.

As the field came onto the main straight on Sunday, the No. 25 Ascari spun in the middle of the pack and took out three cars. Then, when the green flag fell, a Viper hit the left-front wheel of the Corvette. This caused another handling problem, dropping the car back to fourth behind the leading Ford, the Morgan, and the freshly mended No. 11 Ferrari. Soon after, Ruffier got the inside line on the Ferrari in a corner and went for the pass. An abortive attempt to block the move led the opposing driver to spin out and stall. Ruffier then passed the Morgan to take over second place. When the Ford refused to start after the driver-change pit stop, Peyroles took over the lead.

This is when the Ford's true performance potential became apparent. After reentering the race in seventh, the car quickly dispatched the front-running cars until it sat on the leading Corvette's rear bumper with nine minutes remaining. The blue rocket quickly passed the Vette on the outside of Silverstone's Stowe Corner and pulled away to take its second win of the weekend.

Considering the obstacles it faced over the weekend, the Callaway crew was happy to return to Germany with its Seventh- and Second-Place finishes. It's likely that the Ford GT will get a "balance of performance" adjustment before the next race, bringing it into concinnity with the rest of the field. Maybe the storm clouds witnessed at Silverstone have passed, and another championship awaits the Corvettes just over the horizon.



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