Despite the abysmal state of the world economy, the FIA GT3 European Championship continues to provide what teams, drivers, and sponsors all want from international motor racing. This season's lineup features 11 of the world's most famous GT marques, including the addition of two new entrants: the Audi R8 LMS and the BMW Alpina B6. Two-time series champions Callaway Competition, from Leingarten, Germany, has returned this year with two Callaway-Corvette Z06.Rs to defend its title. Marc Sourd Racing is also competing this year with two Vettes.
During the winter break, Callaway Competition Director Ernst Woehr sought FIA approval to reduce the Z06.Rs' penalty weight from 60 kg (132 pounds) to 30 kg (66 pounds). He also wanted to add side windows to improve aerodynamics. To offset these changes, Woehr proposed reducing the LS7 engine's power with a smaller inlet restrictor. The FIA approved all of the changes except the side windows. (Small side wind deflectors were allowed.)
The Callaway team came to the first race at Silverstone, in England, with a new driver lineup. Arnaud Peyrolles teamed with Jurgen von Gartzen in Corvette No. 5, while Wolfgang Kaufmann and Luca Moro took over in No. 6. Marc Sourd Racing, meanwhile, tapped Diego Alessi and Luca Pirri to drive the team's No. 17 Vette, while Sourd himself paired with Johan Charpilienne in No. 16.
While the Callaway team arrived at the season-opening Silverstone race with expectations of victory, its hopes were quickly doused by a "balance of performance" rule change just days before the event. During off-season testing, the FIA ruled that the Callaway Corvettes would run on soft compound tires, as opposed to the hard-compound tires they ran in 2008. To adapt, Callaway developed a new set of springs, along with a revised exhaust system designed to work with the aforementioned air restrictor. Although these items were initially approved for use by the FIA, they were unexpectedly banned by the sanctioning body just four days before Silverstone. As a result, all of the Corvettes had to start the race with an untested spring/tire configuration.
"We really can't understand this decision," Woehr said. "We took part in the 'balance of performance' test before the season. During these tests, the new parts were [ruled] OK, and four days before the season starts, everything is changed. We spent a lot of money to develop and test these new components, which are now useless."