The American Le Mans Series celebrated its 11th year and 100th race at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March. While the field for domestic racing's longest-running endurance sports-car race had shrunk to just 26 starters by the current economic climate, its overall quality was arguably unsurpassed. Audi again upped the ante by debuting its new R15 TDI diesel, a technological tour de force with an aggressive look to match. Peugeot returned with its 908, while Acura's presence was bolstered by privateer LMP1 entries from Duncan Dayton and Gil de Ferran. Mazda, meanwhile, brought two new closed-cockpit LMP2 entries to battle the '08-spec Fernandez Acura racing cars.
With Corvette Racing once again running uncontested in GT1, the largest and most competitive category remained GT2, with officially sanctioned efforts from Porsche, BMW, and Ferrari battling private teams utilizing Ford, Panoz, and Aston Martin hardware. (In case you're wondering, the Aston factory team has left GT1 to field an LMP1 entry, but this new car won't make its racing debut until Le Mans in June.)
As we've noted in the past, the C6.Rs will enter only three races this year: Sebring, the Long Beach Grand Prix, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After that, the GT1 C6.R will give way to a new GT2 racer based on the architecture of the '09 ZR1. All reports are that the GT2 car is spectacular looking, with an appearance even more dramatic than that of the current car.
With the bulk of Corvette Racing's development dollars going toward the new GT2 program, changes to the C6.R have largely been limited to those mandated by IMSA and its international counterpart, the ACO. These include a smaller air restrictor for the engine intake and 50 pounds of additional weight, bringing the car to 1,175 kilos (2,585 pounds). The livery, meanwhile, has been updated to promote the newly released GT1 Edition, which celebrates the immense success Corvette Racing has enjoyed in production-based racing over the past 10 years (see sidebar).
The team arrived in Sebring having performed exactly zero testing days in the C6.R since last year. This made the time spent at the event all the more precious, since it would be the only opportunity the crew would have to fine-tune the car prior to Le Mans. As a result, the bright-yellow race cars were poised for every opportunity to be on the 3.7-mile, 17-turn track during the week leading up to the Saturday's race.
We spoke with Ollie Gavin after Thursday morning's practice session, at which time he was still a bit ambivalent about the No. 4 car's setup. Team engineers responded by making a number of changes to the car, and Gavin took the class pole position in that afternoon's first qualifying session.
Before the two-hour night practice on Thursday, the team changed the gearboxes on both cars. A torrential downpour early that evening brought cooler temps and provided an excellent opportunity to break in the newly installed transaxles under optimum conditions. The following morning, the crew performed its typical pre-enduro chore of swapping out the engines.
Saturday morning's practice got underway at 8 a.m. The No. 4 car completed the session without incident, but the No. 3 car experienced some problems with fuel pressure. The team immediately went to work to sort out the issue, and all was squared away in time for the race's 10:30 a.m. start. The green flag dropped on time, though not before a pre-race spectacular incorporating bagpipe bands and a Clydesdale-drawn Budweiser wagon with ALMS/IMSA impresario Don Panoz aboard to preside over the festivities.