The No. 4 car, with Gavin aboard, led into the first corner, with Jan Magnussen piloting the No. 3 car tucked in close behind. With no other competition in class, the war was again between the two Corvette stablemates. They ran nose to tail until the first driver change, when Johnny O'Connell was installed in the No. 3 car one lap ahead of his teammate. Olivier Beretta soon re-entered the fray just ahead of O'Connell but was unable to defend his lead position on cold tires. Going into Turn 7, Beretta got "into the marbles" and briefly ran off track. The momentary bobble was all Johnny O. needed to scoot by into the GT1 lead. With the cars optimized and the driver corps well balanced, only on-track incidents and pit stops would provide a potential advantage.
As the race wore on, the gap between the two Corvettes built up to between 20 and 30 seconds. The difference was mainly attributable to the No. 3 car crew, which was recording some breathtakingly quick pit stops. The race ended with the winning No. 3 C6.R setting a class record, covering 10 more laps than any GT1 car in Sebring history-all while running on clean-burning E-85 cellulosic ethanol fuel.
In fact, by finishing Sixth and Seventh overall in the race, Corvette Racing won the GT category's (GT1 and GT2 combined) Michelin Green Challenge award as the most environmentally friendly team in the GT field. Johnny O'Connell set records of his own, achieving the most starts as a driver and gathering his eighth victory at the Sebring race.
Along the way, the Corvette team welcomed two new members to the expanded driving squad employed at Sebring, Le Mans, and Petit Le Mans. After much testing to prove their abilities and talent, Marcel Fassler (No. 4 car) and Antonio Garcia (No. 3 car) replaced veterans Max Papis and Ron Fellows. Both drivers acquitted themselves well at Sebring, running creditable lap times and challenging the seasoned regulars. Fassler has previous experience in the C6.R, as he previously raced one of the factory team cars in the European FIA series. Garcia is an accomplished pilot in his own right, having gained experience as a development driver in the Aston Martin DBR9 GT1 effort and scored a class win with Aston at Le Mans last year.
The overall win went to Audi, with Peugeot pushing the Germans hard all the way to the end. Although the LMP1 Acura team of Gil de Ferran did take the race's pole position, the cars proved unable to keep pace with the Audi and Peugeot juggernauts. The Mazda team broke both of its cars, ceding LMP2 to the Fernandez Acuras. In GT2, the F430 Ferrari of Risi Competizione came out on top, besting the Porsche 911s
The Corvette team is hoping to give its GT1 cars a proper sendoff in the form of a class win at Le Mans. After that, the focus will shift entirely to the hotly contested GT2 category. All of the other teams in GT2 have a great deal of lead time on the Corvette effort, providing precisely the sort of steep learning curve the GM bunch thrives on. We can't wait.
A Familiar Hand Takes The WheelFormer Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter recently assumed control of the Corvette's future, taking over for outgoing Vehicle Line Executive Tom Wallace. Wallace often said that he appreciated Juechter's engineering prowess, since it provided the product-based solutions he needed and freed him up to fight the corporate battles. Our conversation with the new boss revealed that he's also a consummate "car guy"-and fully committed to upholding the Corvette's performance mystique.
Juechter's enthusiasm for Corvette performance became obvious soon after he arrived at the Corvette Corral in the paddock at Sebring. After showing up in one of the new GT1 Championship Edition C6s, he tore off to retrieve the inside cover of a Z06 center-console lid. He then tracked down Jan Magnussen to have the Danish driver autograph the part. "Nrbrgring, June 23, 2005, 7:42.99," wrote Magnussen in white ink.