The American Le Mans Series (ALMS) opens each season with its granddaddy of events, the 12 Hours of Sebring. Sebring alone has the history, the panache, and the importance to lend the series credibility. With an early March date, teams from all over the world use the opportunity to begin serious tuning for the Le Mans 24-hour race scheduled in June. The bumpy surface and crotchety twists and turns are the perfect proving ground to test car and driver. Indeed, 12 hours on the tortuous Sebring circuit are equivalent to 24 hours of abuse at La Sarthe. After a winter of tweaking, taking a car to Sebring determines whether those adjustments will stand the demands of endurance racing.
Sebring started as an auto-racing venue in the '40s, when enthusiasts scoured the country looking for venues to unleash their pent-up passion after four years of war. America in those days was full of young people trained in all things mechanical, bred on discipline, and honed in an environment of excitement and danger. After WWII, the country was also overstocked with expansive, lightly used concrete airstrips-a perfect crucible for the evolution of sports-car racing. The airport at Sebring was one such airstrip, where 58 years ago a bunch of like-minded car nuts launched America's endurance-racing tradition. Walking along the side of the track, you'll traverse fields filled with steel aircraft tie-downs intended to keep a B-17 Flying Fortress at bay. The undulating surface of the Sebring track is the legacy of the site's martial origins.
Corvette Racing arrived at Sebring the weekend before the race to continue its development program on the new GT2 C6.R. This car was launched last August to run a limited schedule in the ALMS, entering the last five races of the 2009 season. It was an ambitious move, as it would require a major shift from an established GT1 program to the dictates of GT2 just six months into the racing year. (The team had run the first few races and Le Mans with its existing GT1 entrants.) While the C6.Rs' success in GT1 had literally run the competition out of the class, the GT2 category was thriving and even contained several factory-supported teams. Corvette Racing naturally decided that GT2 had became the best place to showcase its hardware and abilities.
Using the Corvette ZR1 as a basis, the '09 GT2 car incorporated a normally aspirated 6.0L engine developed and built by GM's Wixom engine facility. For 2010, the car sports a 5.5-liter engine that puts it in compliance with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest's (ACO) future plans for one international GT class featuring those powerplant requirements. The smaller engine has had its share of teething problems, a fact that became evident during prerace testing early in the week. Fortunately the team managed to get them sorted out in time for the first official practice on Thursday.
Both the No. 3 and No. 4 Corvettes sported a new black-and-yellow, star-spiked livery, but apart from their appearance and the new engine, they were essentially the same GT2 cars that raced in 2009. Pratt and Miller, enlisted by GM to help develop the Corvette Racing program, usually produces two fresh chassis each year. But in this day of fiscal conservatism, it was decided that the '09 cars would be used for 2010 as well. In fact chassis 001 (the No. 3 car) is also the development chassis on which all of the initial testing miles were done to iron out the GT2 specification in Corvette guise.