Callaway Competition in Leingarten, Germany, has now won three major sports-car championships in three consecutive years with its Corvette Z06.R racers. The company began its remarkable championship journey in 2005, when the FIA introduced the GT3 series. The series pits the world's top supercars against each other, including Ferrari, Aston Martin, Maserati, Porsche, Lamborghini, Jaguar, Ascari, and the Corvette Z06.
Each manufacturer had to submit exhaustive documentation of the car's content to the FIA before it could be considered for approval. GM elected to not submit paperwork on the Z06, so the FIA designated Callaway Competition as the Z06's manufacturer. To date this decision has prevented the Z06.R GT3 from competing in the American Le Mans (ALMS) series in the U.S., since the ALMS only allows cars from the original manufacturer to compete.
Callaway Competition and PK Carsport formed Team Carsport Callaway and began constructing their first car in October 2005. The team converted an export Z06 acquired from Corvette Europe, which became the first Corvette GT3 race car and was dubbed the Z06.R GT3. Every part was photographed and documented during construction. When the project was completed, 175 pages of paperwork were submitted to the FIA.
The new racer arrived in Monte Carlo for its debut on December 1, 2005. Extensive testing was conducted in January and February 2006, and a number of modifications were made to make the car competitive. These included revised fenders, suspension, new engine-management software, bigger brakes, air jacks, aerodynamic aids, and center quick-release wheels. The changes were then documented and resubmitted to the FIA for final approval.
After the homologation was approved, the team's next hurdle was completing the "Balance of Performance" process. The FIA uses a designated driver to test each manufacturer's car on the same day, at the same track, to determine its performance potential. Officials then adjusted the cars' performance with inlet restrictors, ballast weights, and ride-height adjustments to "balance" them against the competition.
Once approved, each manufacturer had to enter six cars. Since only one Z06.R GT3 Corvette existed, Carsport Callaway enlisted the help of Koos Pettinga, Brand Manager Corvette Europe, to acquire more Z06s. Pettinga contacted Corvette Chief Engineer Dave Hill for assistance, and Hill delivered five test-fleet cars for conversion to GT3 specs.
The conversions were completed just before the first GT3 race at Silverstone, England, in April 2006, giving the team the requisite six entries. Three were assigned to Carsport Callaway, and three went to the French Riverside team. The season didn't start out on a positive note for the Corvettes, with broken engines, transmissions, axles, and rearends keeping the cars out of victory circle. But by the end of the season, Carsport Callaway had sorted out the Corvette's reliability problems, and the cars were very competitive.
After the season, PK Carsport sold its part of the team to German sportsman racer Uli Martini. Martini Callaway Racing was created, and three cars were developed for 2007. Team Riverside, meanwhile, continued on with three cars as well. The Martini Callaway team won the 2007 FIA Team Championship by one point over Ferrari at the last race in Dubai. Team Riverside was disbanded at the end of the 2007 season, but former Riverside driver Marc Sourd formed Marc Sourd Racing and continues to campaign two cars today.
Martini Callaway built two new cars for 2008 and assigned them to drivers James Ruffier/Arnaud Peyrolles (No. 1) and Klaus Ludwig/Uli Martini (No. 2). Ruffier and Peyrolles provided the team with a winning edge, with consistent top three finishes and several overall victories. This performance helped them secure the 2008 FIA GT3 Drivers Championship at the final race in Dubai by 11 points over the Second Place Ford GT.
For 2009, the team was renamed Callaway Competition, and it competed in both the FIA GT3 series and the German ADAC GT Masters series. Negative balance-of-performance rulings by the FIA made the Corvettes noncompetitive throughout the GT3 season, so the team wisely poured additional effort into winning the GT Masters championship. It entered three cars to face an onslaught of factory-backed Audi R8s. Once again the reliable and wickedly fast Corvettes prevailed and captured the Team Championship. They took five Firsts, three Seconds, and three Thirds in 14 races to beat the factory Audi team by 15 points.
On October 1, 2009, the team delivered a new Z06R.GT3 to TAM Auto Engineering in Dubai. The new car, driven by Karim Al-Azhari for the House of Portier, is competing in the eight-race 2009-2010 Total UAE GT Championship. With four back-to-back victories, the Z06 is on its way to capturing another championship for the Callaway Competition supercar. TAM Auto Engineering prepares the car and crews it for each race. In addition, one Callaway Competition technician attends each race to support the team.
As this is written, the small shop in Leingarten is preparing for the 2010 season. The Callaway Competition team will continue to build and campaign one of the most successful racing Corvettes in the marque's history. While it's hard to match Corvette Racing's C-5R and C6.R successes, it's important to remember that this is a private effort driven by passion, dedication, and engineering excellence, not cubic dollars. Stay tuned, as we know there's more to come from Callaway Competition in 2010.