Laguna Seca, one of the series favorite destinations, has a new place in the American Le Mans Series schedule and a new race format. The ALMS has elected to move the date for the Laguna track and its world famous setting on the idyllic Monterey, California peninsula from the season ending October time to late in May - following Sebring in March and Long Beach in April. Additionally, for the first time, the race is now a 6-hour enduro offering more series championship points than the typical 2+ hour race format seen in most of the schedule. This made the Laguna race an important event to attend if you were serious about series bragging rights.
At first blush putting the two California dates back to back seems a natural. However the CA events were placed 4 weeks distant from each other. This meant they were spaced too far apart for the teams to stay over after participating at Long Beach. For most of the entrant field it resulted in multiple cross country trips in a very short space of time. On top of that issue many of the teams, Corvette prominently one of them, were traveling to Le Mans for the 24-Hour enduro scheduled early in June. Corvette Racing would have to finish the Laguna race late Saturday night, load the cars and equipment, and leave for their home base in New Hudson, Michigan early Sunday morning - it was a whirlwind trip for the drivers who are in charge of loading the trucks as well as the driving duties home. The whole team pitches in to help load the gear but a late night finish and an early morning send-off comes with seemingly little sleep. They have to hustle the journey in a 2-day jaunt as the cars need to be prepped for Le Mans and on the plane for France within the week. This is an extremely tight schedule as the cars, crew and spares need to be in place and ready to go in La Sarthe only 10 days after returning from Laguna Seca. Any complications, like significant damage to either of the cars during the race weekend, would put a big "wrench" in that projected timeline.
During the last few months the Chevy Racing team has been preparing a spare racecar and equipping it just in case a new car needed to be built following the last California event. Hopefully that would not be necessary as there is quite a lot of sorting to do on a new chassis and no time to develop a replacement car. In addition to the potential time line issues the volcano eruptions in Northern Europe have resulted in intermittent and prolonged airport closures for the last 2 months. The likelihood of an airport closure pinning the C6.R's to the ground on the wrong side of the Atlantic was very real. The cars could be sent by sea but that would mean a minimum of 5 days transit on the ocean following a 5-day quarantine required by "homeland security" rules before departing. The 10-day journey could be possible, but only barely possible, in a very tight schedule. At that it would only work if the French custom authorities would immediately release the Corvettes after arrival in France, a probability most unlikely as they are quite famous for making entry extremely difficult if not impossible - and certainly not timely. Something will have to be done with the sequence of the ALMS event dates if this schedule sequence is to survive for the future.
At Laguna the cars were officially on track the first time for a Thursday night practice from 6pm until 8:30pm. It gave the teams a chance to run the cars in the approximate conditions they would face for the last 2 hours of the 6-hour enduro planned on Saturday. The 4-car did take a few turns on the track earlier in the day to sort out some new adjustments, but otherwise the Corvettes waited for evening in their paddock parking space with the rest of the field. The evening practice time proved to be cold and very windy which brought down the temperatures even further. This weather pattern would persist throughout the weekend. The skies were partly cloudy with intermittent sunshine and strong winds. These unseasonably cold California conditions would at least allow Corvette racing to add to their playbook for the new engine and car chassis set-up in preparing for Le Mans scheduled just a few short weeks alter - Le Mans can throw out some pretty cold conditions.
Friday provided a one-hour practice session in the morning and another afternoon practice time followed by 30-minutes of qualifying. The Corvettes showed well for grid placement capturing 3rd and 4th places in the starting field for the GT class. Veteran Oliver Gavin in the 4-car, partnered by Olivier Beretta, topped ace teammate Jan Magnussen, with co-pilot Johnny O'Connell, by continually putting down ever faster circuits of the twisty 2.238-mile 11-turn California track. The 430 Ferrari of Jaime Melo took pole honors with another Ferrari alongside to fill out the GT class front row.