The american le mans Series Petit Le Mans event is an important race for the competitors. The 10-hour enduro over the spectacular Road Atlanta course in Braselton, Georgia, offers major bragging rights in the series and an automatic invite to the 24-Hour Le Mans race in July. This year, Corvette Racing arrived early to take advantage of a test day on Wednesday. The new GT2 chassis is still in the sorting-out stage, and the GM program needs to capitalize on all of the testing time it can get. Engineering simulations are pretty good these days, but there's no replacement for real-world track time when it comes to proving the validity of a suspension setup or tire compound.
Wednesday's two-hour test went very well under partly cloudy-but rain-free-skies. The team spent the majority of its time evaluating the new GT2 C6.Rs over the undulating surface of Road Atlanta. The results of the day gave the engineers a lot to contemplate, and they decided a gear-ratio change in the transaxle could be of help.
Thursday was the official beginning of the Petit weekend and offered significant track time in the form of three practice sessions, the last one a two-hour practice beginning at 7:20 p.m. The aforementioned gearbox change was completed for afternoon practice, and the engine was scheduled for a change before the night practice session. That left the team with precious little time to squeeze in the substitution. The afternoon practice was halted early, however, by a horrific accident, when Scott Sharp, in the Highcroft prototype Acura, went off in a huge way. Sharp hit the wall in Turn 3, violently flipping the car three times and completely destroying it. The incident also wiped out a significant part of the track's safety fencing, requiring a lengthy repair, so the officials discontinued the practice 45 minutes early. Fortunately, Sharp walked away from the crash, but the Highcroft team was left with a pile of junk for a race car.
Rain entered the picture in the afternoon, and the start of the scheduled practice session was pushed back two hours. While this combined with the earlier accident to give the Corvette team almost three extra hours of prep time, it still only barely made it to pit lane for the evening session. The night went fairly well, but Olivier Beretta had a "coming together" with a GT2 Porsche as the competitor tried to force an outside move in a corner. The tap to the Corvette's front tire didn't cause a suspension problem, but Beretta did report that the steering wheel was off center as a result of the encounter. Both C6.R crews also worked continuously on resolving persistent fuel-metering problems. The newest powertrain permutation cooked up by the gurus at GM's Wixom engine facility seemed to require a slightly different throttle-linkage setup than its predecessor.
Friday didn't offer much track time for the competitive field. The day started with a one-hour practice at 9 a.m., leaving no other opportunities for evaluation until the 25-minute qualifying at 2:25 in the afternoon. So the Corvette Racing team set up the cars the best it could given the information it had already gleaned. The gear changes must have been the right prescription, as Beretta laid down what was at the time the fastest qualifying time in GT2 behind the wheel of No. 4. It looked as if the pole would go to the No. 4 car until the very last minutes of qualifying, when David Murray in the Ford GT and Tom Sutherland in the LG Motorsports Corvette pipped Beretta's time to take P1 and P2, respectively. This relegated the Chevy Corvette C6Rs to third (No. 4) and seventh (No. 3) on the class starting grid-a sign of just how competitive the ALMS GT2 field is.