Ten years have passed since the Corvette C5-R first appeared at the 1999 24 Hours of Daytona. The C5-R and C6.R have since won multiple 24-hour races and championships, successes that ultimately helped bring an end to their amazing career. But while the C6.R will no longer compete in the ALMS series, five ex-factory C6.Rs are still being raced by private teams in Europe. These teams include DKR Engineering, Luc Alphand Aventures, PK Carsport, and SRT. A sixth C6.R is currently for sale and is being stored at Phoenix Racing headquarters at the Nürbürg-ring in Germany. These private Corvettes are competing in the remainder of the FFSA, LMS, and FIA GT Championships. All have major sponsorship packages, top-flight drivers, and professional pit crews.
The Total 24 Hours of Spa is the longest and toughest event on the FIA calendar. Nine GT1 cars were among the 39 entries for this around-the-clock grind through the Ardennes forest in Belgium. Seven-three Corvette C6.Rs, three Maserati MC12s, and one Saleen-were current GT1 cars that will retire at the end of the season. Two other entries-a Nissan GTR and a Ford GT-were 2010-spec cars.
Qualifying started out in dry conditions that quickly turned wet. The Maseratis were able to capture the top three positions before the rain started, with the No. 2 car taking the pole. As conditions deteriorated, the No. 8 Corvette of the newly formed Brazilian Team Sangari managed to secure fourth. This C6.R was driven by Maassen/Streit/Bernoldi and crewed by DKR Engineering. The No. 3 SRT Corvette, driven by Longin/Ruffier/Soulet/Gavin, captured fifth, while the No. 4 PK Carsport Corvette of Hezemans/Kumpen/Menten/Mollekens was seventh.
Season regular drivers Mike Hezemans and Anthony Kumpen came to Spa only three championship points behind the No. 1 Vitaphone Maserati team. As a further incentive for the team, the race would start on Hezemans' 40th birthday. It was shaping up to be an epic battle between the Corvettes and Masers.
The green flag fell at 4 p.m. under cloudy conditions. The No. 8 Corvette quickly passed the three Maseratis for the lead but fell behind the SRT Corvette on lap five. Heavy rain began pelting the track on lap 17, but the front-running drivers elected to keep running on their slick tires. The first Corvette drama occurred on lap 56, when Roberto Streit crashed the Sangari C6.R heavily into the barrier at the top of the Eau Rouge turn. The driver was unhurt, but the front and rear of the Corvette was badly damaged, and the car could not continue.
Shortly after this crash, it began raining hard enough that all the front-running cars pitted for rain tires. At the end of the fifth hour, the order was No. 4 Corvette, No. 1 Maserati, No. 3 Corvette, and No. 2 Maserati, with the four cars separated by a mere six seconds. By hour eight the SRT Corvette was leading with Gavin behind the wheel, followed by Hezemans in the No. 4 Vette. The three Maseratis trailed close behind, waiting to pounce on the leaders. Suddenly, on lap 186, the No. 1 Maserati of Andrea Bertolini crashed at Turn 12, ripping off the right front wheel and causing severe damage to the front and rear of the car. Somehow Bertolini managed to limp the crippled car back to the pits for repairs.
Then, on lap 205, the No. 33 Maserati collided with the No. 124 Porsche at Turn 1. It took 14 laps to repair the damage. That left the lone No. 2 Maserati to battle the two leading Corvettes. The SRT C6.R held the lead until the 11th hour, when the PK Carsport Vette took over. At the 12-hour mark, the PK car held a 3.44-second lead over the SRT entry, closely followed by the No. 2 Maserati. The No. 1 Maser re-entered the race on lap 250 after lengthy pit repairs, running 65 laps behind the leader.
The top three cars continued to swap places for the lead until the beginning of the 19th hour. The No. 2 Maserati held a slim lead over the SRT Corvette when suddenly, on lap 419, it lost its right rear wheel and slammed into the barrier between Turns 11 and 12. Driver Tim Mullen was unhurt, but the car was unable to continue and was withdrawn from the race. This gave the SRT Corvette a comfortable 1:13 lead over the No. 4 PK car.
During the 21st hour, Gavin pitted to report smoke was in the cockpit. The crew discovered a massive oil leak and pushed the car into the garage for repairs. The epic battle between the top cars was now settled. If the No. 4 Corvette could last for the remaining three hours of the race, the C6.R's last 24-hour victory would belong to PK Carsport.
At 4 p.m. on Sunday, the well-worn C6.R took the checkered flag to close an amazing endurance record for the Pratt & Miller-built Corvettes. The SRT car was able to complete the two final laps and was credited with a 19th Place finish and Fourth in GT1. The battered No. 33 Maserati was Second, 11 laps behind the winner, while the Nissan GTR was Third, and the No. 1 Maserati was Fourth, 70 laps behind the winning Corvette.
"Fantastic! An indescribable feeling," a jubilant Jos Menten shouted out as the checkered flag fell. "I have now won this race twice. It was a very hard race, especially the first 15 hours when the gap was 15 seconds. Unbelievable!" added birthday boy Hezemans.
The victory gave the PK Carsport drivers a one-point lead over the No. 1 Maserati team in the championship chase. Perhaps more important, it served as a fitting close to a proud era in Corvette racing.