The Corvette Racing Team - Au Revoir, Le Mans

Corvette Racing's GT1 Program Enjoys A Fitting Send-Off At LA Sarthe

Dr. Greg P. Johnson Dec 1, 2009 0 Comment(s)
Vemp_0912_07_z The_corvette_racing_team Racing 2/9

Crew chief Binks had arranged with a private French Corvette team to be out on pre-grid ahead of everyone else. As both teams exited the garage and entered the track, they lined up for a little impromptu race of their own. Eight crew members-four on each car-would push their respective Corvettes to a finish line marked in red tape some 100 yards away. As the start was signaled, the French team sprang out to an early lead, but the factory Corvette crew quickly built up momentum and finished half a car length ahead. This bit of fun was much to the delight of the fans in the grandstands and served to dispel a little of the prerace anxiety.

The race got underway on time, with the prototype Peugeots jumping into the lead. From the start, the two Corvette Racing cars fell into a 1-2 GT1 class lead that would endure through the night. The two ex-factory C6.Rs of the French Luc Alphand team were right behind them, with a privateer Aston DBR9 and a Lamborghini filling out the rest of the GT1 field. The No. 63 and No. 64 cars swapped the lead throughout the first 12 hours, with No. 64 emerging at dawn ahead of its sibling, the beneficiary of excellent driving and a couple of lucky breaks provided by the ACO's full-course-yellow procedure.

The French use two safety cars positioned about half a lap from one other. The field is allowed to pack in behind the cars as they circulate the course, but a competitor's positioning relative to the leaders depends on which safety car he gets behind. If a driver isn't lucky enough to end up behind the one at the front, he's effectively guaranteed to be half a lap down from the lead cars when the race restarts. As Beretta put it while under an early-morning yellow, "Am I behind the good safety car or the bad one?"

Vemp_0912_08_z The_corvette_racing_team Winners 3/9

The weather held as the race carried on into Sunday. At one point during the previous night, the No. 63 car had put 2:07 between itself and its teammate, principally through the stellar driving of Jan Magnussen. Sunday, however, found the car 19 seconds behind its sister Corvette, and with both C6.Rs circulating the course flawlessly, there seemed little hope that it could regain the lead. This left the No. 63 crew hoping for help in traffic, superior pit-stop performances, and, if the rain returned, savvy tire-compound choice.

What no one at Corvette Racing anticipated after more than 22 hours of flawless racing was a catastrophic gearbox failure. Marcel Fassler, who was piloting the No. 64 car, suddenly radioed that he had lost "motivation." He pleaded with Mike West and the engineers to work out a way to get the car back to the pits for repairs, but it was not to be. The problem arose so quickly, it caught the team completely off guard. These gearboxes are constantly monitored in real time, so changes in operating parameters are usually caught before a problem develops. The readout for No. 64's gearbox looked fine for most of the race, but suddenly transaxle temps rose slightly, then spiked, and bang . . . no gearbox.

Under Le Mans rules, Fassler could be the only one to touch the car while it was on the racing circuit. If he could somehow get the car to the pits, four crew members could then help him push it back to the garage for repair. Normally he could have limped the car in on the starter motor, but whatever malady beset the gearbox had wiped it out as well. So, with further progress impossible, course marshals pushed the car off the racing surface, and it was retired from competition. Under Le Mans rules, if a car doesn't take the checkered flag, it doesn't qualify as having finished. So even though No. 64 actually completed more laps than the No. 66 Aston, it was the British car that would eventually end up on the podium.


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