Corvette Racing arrived at California's famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca raring to go but with no competition in sight. In a scenario that has become all too common over the last two seasons, the C6.Rs would once again be the only entries in the GT1 category. Despite the lack of competition, the team was primed to put on a good show and leave nothing in the garage. Laguna's 2.238-mile track boasts dramatic elevation changes, making the site a fan favorite. And with plenty of challenging turns like the famous corkscrew, Laguna is also a real driver's delight.
Thursday began with afternoon practice sessions. It seemed no one had learned anything from the numerous off-road excursions experienced at Petit two weeks earlier, as numerous drivers pushed their cars to the edge of control. This can be a real problem at Laguna, as in many areas, the wall is only 30-40 feet removed from the racing surface.
Some years ago, in an attempt to improve safety for motorcycle racing, track officials laced many of Laguna's critical areas with deep gravel traps. While these traps are quite effective at slowing down the ultra-light race bikes, cars tend to become hopelessly mired in the gravel, requiring a tow truck to extricate them. The process itself takes a great deal of time to orchestrate, followed by another delay to allow crews to remove the pea gravel strewn everywhere in the process.
Accordingly, Thursday's practice session was an on-again, off-again affair. A green flag would come out, only to be followed almost immediately by a red, stopping all action. This went on throughout the day and into Friday's practice as well, when no fewer than five red flags were waved during the 45-minute session.
Qualifying, meanwhile, proved comparatively uneventful, with the GT cars getting a clear 20-minute session to challenge for pole positions. Jan Magnussen, partnered with Johnny O'Connell in the No. 3 Corvette, scored the winning GT1 class time over Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta in the No. 4 car. This was Magnussen's third pole of the year, and he did it with style, setting a new GT1 course record at 1:19.291.
Saturday afternoon's race went off without a hitch at 2:45, but it took only eight minutes for the first yellow flag to fall. This would continue throughout the day, with a total of 12 yellows waved during the course of the race.
Fortunately, the C6.Rs' characteristic technical superiority was unaffected. The two cars spent the whole afternoon running within a few tenths of each other, with pit-stop durations similarly well matched. Speaking of pit stops, the team usually plans for four such breaks over the course of a four-hour race like Laguna. But because of a spate of yellow flags early on, the team ended up pitting just twice during the whole event. Running at cruising speeds under the constant yellow, they simply didn't require the usual stops for fuel and tires.
With around 50 minutes left in the race, another yellow flag fell. At the restart Beretta, driving the No. 4 car, got a jump on O'Connell, who was caught in slower traffic on Laguna's long front straight. The race would end that way, with the No. 4 team pulling off the race win but losing the GT1 season championship to its Corvette Racing siblings. It was Beretta's 40th ALMS win, extending his record for such accomplishments.
The LMP1 Audi R10 prototypes pulled out a 1-2 overall finish-a surprising result considering that the LMP2 Porsche Spyders had taken the top eight places in qualifying. The Ferrari 430s took the GT2 class win at Laguna but lost out to the Flying Lizard Porsche team for the season championship. Likewise, the Acura LMP2 cars claimed the top two podium steps in class, but the Porsche Spyders nabbed the season title.
For 2009, Corvette Racing will compete in the GT1 class at Sebring and Long Beach, then finish out this portion of its racing history with a last venture to Le Mans for the June 24-hour enduro. After Le Mans, the team will enter the GT2 category with a totally new edition of the Corvette based on the '09 ZR1. GT2 boasts a hotly contested field with manufacturer-backed teams from Porsche, Ferrari, Panoz, and BMW augmented by privateer efforts featuring Ford GTs, Dodge Vipers, and additional Porsche entries. It's just the sort of challenge Corvette Racing thrives on.
Corvette Racing Scores Big At Alms Awards CeremonyThe American Le Mans Series closed out the '08 season with its annual awards gala, held at the Monterey Hyatt Regency the night after the Laguna Seca race. After a very successful year of racing, the GM team hauled in a raft of awards:
* Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan was presented with the "From the Fans" award for the second time since 2004, as the person who made the greatest contribution to sports-car racing in the past year.
* Mike "Westy" West, crew chief of the No. 64 Corvette, was honored as the ALMS GT1 Mechanic of the Year. Remarkably, it was West's first year heading up the crew.
* Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen (shown above) were recognized for their ALMS GT1 Driver's Championship, earned through eight wins in 11 races in the No. 3 Corvette. This was O'Connell's third driver's championship.
* Chevrolet was awarded the ALMS GT1 Manufacturer of the Year. Chevy has compiled 68 wins over the last 10 years.
* Corvette Racing earned the ALMS Team Championship for the eighth year in a row.