Although Corvette Racing's official involvement in GT1-class competition ended with this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, a number of ex-factory C6.Rs will continue to race in Europe through the end of the 2009 season. At the Silverstone event in England, four GT1 Corvette teams showed up to race on the twisty 5.14-km (3.19-mile) circuit, located between London and Birmingham. The former Phoenix GMAC team is now racing Audi R8s in the FIA GT3 Championship and has placed C6.R chassis 001 up for sale. The second GMAC C6.R, chassis 005, is owned by Toine Hezemans and is currently being campaigned by PK Carsport in Belgium. It's driven by Mike Hezemans and Anthony Kumpen and raced under No. 4.
Another Belgian team, SRT, is back with chassis 006 and drivers James Ruffier and Bert Longin. Ruffier drove a Callaway-Corvette Z06.R last year and was the 2008 FIA GT3 Driver Champion. This will be his first drive in the C6.R, which wears No. 3 in competition. DKR Engineering is racing C6.R chassis 002 with drivers Jos Menten and Markus Palttala; it's badged as No. 9. The last C6.R entered at Silverstone, chassis 003, is campaigned by Luc Alphand Aventures from France. The team has two C6.Rs, but is only racing one of them in the FIA series. Drivers for the No. 19 entry are Xavier Maassen and Guillaume Moreau.
Qualifying saw a hotly contested battle between a Saleen S7, a Maserati MC 12, and the No. 4 Corvette of Hezemans/Kumpen. The Corvettes were required to run on very-soft-compound tires, and after just a few short laps the cars began to understeer badly. After the dust cleared, the Saleen was on the pole with a 1:42.216. Hezemans was fourth with a 1:43.792. The large time gap caused by the soft tires would prove to be a major hurdle for the Vettes in the upcoming race. The Saleen carried very few restrictions, and its performance was startling to the other GT1 teams. Complaints about the car's speed could be heard up and down pit row. Tellingly, the No. 14 Saleen qualified 0.934 quicker than the second-fastest car, a Maserati MC12. (An additional Corvette-an ex-Callaway Z06.R running alone in the G3 class-ran well behind the pack.)
Race day dawned cool and overcast but with no rain in the forecast. Twenty-six GT1 and GT2 cars thundered into Copse Corner at the end of the pit straight for the start of the 65-lap, two-hour race. The Saleen quickly pulled out a big lead over the rest of the field. Corvettes were fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth. By lap 12 the Saleen driven by last year's race winner, Karl Wendlinger, had an 8.9-second lead.
Most of the GT1 cars, including all of the Corvettes, pitted for fuel, tires, and a driver change between laps 25 and 29. Then, on lap 49, the race-leading Saleen dived into the pits, putting the No. 19 Luc Alphand Corvette in second position. After all of the pit stops were completed, the No. 19 Vette was third, No. 4 was fourth, No. 3 was sixth, and No. 9 seventh. The cars maintained this order to the checkered flag, putting Saleen, Maserati, and Corvette on the podium. (The G3 Callaway-Corvette finished First in its class and 21st overall.)
"It's been a good start," said Xavier Maassen after the race. "The car was competitive, and we were the best of the Corvettes. Our front-engined car had a disadvantage today on the soft tires. We need to resolve the handling problem before the next race."
"This first podium feels like a victory to me," added Guillaume Moreau. "I think we can improve a lot in qualifying. My pit stop was good. After I found out how to navigate the traffic, I did some good moves and finished Third, which is good for me and my team and a good start for the year."
While the C6.Rs didn't come out on top, these aging warriors nevertheless acquitted themselves admirably against some of the world's top sports cars. Look for this Corvette quartet to turn in plenty more eye-opening performances before their end-of-season retirement party.