After a successful outing in 2009, Callaway Competition, located in Leingarten, Germany, spent the winter further improving its Z06.R GT3 Corvette. The company made three important changes to enhance that car's handling, including revising the rear-suspension attachment points, adding larger front tires, and installing a new antilock braking system. The revisions improved the rear-suspension geometry and almost eliminated the Corvette's tendency to understeer. All of the changes were approved by the FIA for the 2010 season.
A total of five Corvettes are competing in the 12-race GT3 series in 2010. Two (Nos. 100 and 101) are from Callaway, one (No. 18) is from Toni Seiler Racing in Switzerland, and two (Nos. 16 and 17) are from Graff Racing in France. Seven manufacturers are represented in the series, including Corvette, Porsche, Ford, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, and BMW.
The first race of the season was held in April at the Silverstone circuit. The 5.9km (3.69-mile) track is located 18 miles northeast of Oxford. Silverstone is fast and usually favors the Corvettes' speed.
Corvettes qualified second, fifth, seventh, and thirteenth for Round 1. The No. 101 Callaway entry lost a water hose on the 10th lap of the 28-lap race and was withdrawn. The No. 16 Graff Racing Corvette took the lead but ran out of fuel on the last lap, giving the win to a Porsche, followed by the No. 18 Seiler Racing Vette.
In race two the No. 18 Toni Seiler Corvette captured the pole position, and the No. 101 Callaway Competition Corvette was third fastest. The start followed a brief rainstorm, and the drying track caused Dino Lunardi, the No. 18 car's driver, to spin and make contact with the second-place-qualifying Porsche. This pushed Lunardi well down in the order and forced the Porsche into the pit to replace a punctured tire. Christian Hohenadel in the No. 101 Corvette took the lead, but co-driver Daniel Keliwitz received a stop-and-go penalty when he crossed the white line after the mandatory pit stop. Keliwitz drove a brilliant race after his penalty and stormed through the field to take a convincing win over the Second Place Hexis Aston Martin.
Brno, Czech Republic
The next race was held in late May in Brno, Czech Republic. The circuit is 5.45 km (3.55 miles) long and has 14 very technical turns. The track sits in a hilly, forested area 10 km (6 miles) northwest of the city of Brno.
Saturday brought precipitation, prompting the FIA to call a rain race and allowing teams to mount wet-weather tires with no penalty. Keliwitz jumped into second place in the No. 101 Corvette and quickly caught the leading No. 24 Lamborghini driven by Phillip Geipel. Geipel tried to keep the Corvette from passing, but Keliwitz found the room and took the lead. The No. 16 Graff Racing Corvette, driven by Joakim Lambotte, also caught the Lambor-ghini and passed it on lap seven. Lambotte was the first to pit and change drivers. Mike Parisy, the reigning French GT3 driving champion took over and put the No. 16 car into the lead. Christian Hohenadel returned to the race in second place driving the No. 101 Corvette. Albert von Thurn und Taxis was third in his Lamborghini but was given a stop-and-go for a pit-stop infraction. This moved the Seiler Racing No. 18 Corvette into third position. Corvettes finished First, Second, Third, and Fifth, a first for the marque in the GT3 series.
Sunday's race started under scattered clouds with a slight threat of rain. Hohenadel started second in the No. 101 Corvette beside the No. 87 Ferrari 430 of Diego Alessi. Mike Parisy's No. 16 Corvette jumped into second place at the start. Hohenadel was almost taken out when a Ford GT hit him in the passenger door. The Ford then crashed into a Porsche, putting both out of the race. When racing resumed the Ferrari led the Parisy Corvette by inches. Parisy kept the Vette's nose tightly tucked under the rear of the Ferrari lap after lap. It was an exciting display of driving skill by both drivers. Meanwhile, Hohenadel retreated to the rear with an apparent engine problem. When the pit window opened on lap 10, he pitted immediately for a driver change and repairs. The crew replaced two burnt plug wires, and Keliwitz returned to the race in 17th position driving like a man possessed.
On lap 24 the Corvette passed the BMW M6 to move into third. At the checkered flag it was Corvette (No. 16), Lamborghini (No. 24), and Corvette (No. 101). Vette fans had a lot to celebrate with First and Third Place finishes for the amazing Z06.Rs. Callaway Competition took the lead in the driver and team championships.
After Brno, the FIA reduced the Corvette's throttle-body size from 52 to 50 mm. The No. 16 Graff Racing Corvette gained an extra 40 kg (88 pounds) of ballast thanks to its double victories. The No. 101 Callaway Corvette received an additional 25 kg (55 pounds). All Corvettes carry a base 60 kg (132 pounds) of ballast in the passenger compartment.
In late June the teams headed to the circuit in Jarama, Spain, located 27.8 km (18 miles) north of Madrid. The course is a tight, narrow, 3.85km (2.41-mile) track with little room for overtaking.
Corvettes qualified second, eighth, and twelfth, with the Lamborghini of Thurn und Taxis taking the pole, followed by Keliwitz in the No. 101 Corvette. Graff Racing could do no better than eighth place, thanks to its fresh "reward weight." Keliwitz took the race lead after contacting the pole-sitting Lamborghini. But with a sure win in hand, the Corvette's engine sputtered on the last lap, allowing the second place Audi R8 to sweep by to take the victory. After the race, the team found that a faulty fuel pump was to blame for the power loss.
The championship-leading No. 101 Corvette of Keliwitz and Hohenadel qualified first but was moved back five grid positions to sixth because of its altercation with the Lambo a day earlier. Porsche led at the start, followed by the No. 16 Graff Racing Corvette, but the extra ballast quickly pushed the Vette down to fourth. Keliwitz was holding steady in third position until the same fuel problem cropped up again on the last lap. The fourth place Audi passed Keliwitz and took Third, while the No. 16 Vette finished a lowly 10th.
With six races in the book and six to go, Keliwitz and Hohenadel led the FIA GT3 driver's championship by 37 points over second place Graff Corvette drivers Mike Parisy and Joakim Lambotte. Can the 4-year-old non-factory-supported Z06 possibly win a fourth championship? Or will the FIA impose a severe weight penalty and knock the Vettes out of contention? Stay tuned.
Hitching A Ride To Brno with The Callaway Crew
FIA racing teams encounter many non-race-related expenses during the season, including travel, food, and lodging. To help defray these costs, Callaway Competition drives to as many races as possible during the season. The team uses a Fiat minibus called the Ducato to transport up to eight crewmembers and their luggage to the races. Powered by a turbo-diesel engine, the Ducato provides excellent fuel mileage, even while cruising at high speed.
During our recent trip to the GT3 race in Brno, Czech Republic, we were invited to travel along with the crew. Brno is 656 km (410 miles) east of Leingarten, Germany, and the drive takes about six hours. The team also uses an 18-wheeler to transport all of its large equipment, including a portable garage, pit equipment, and three Corvette race cars. Some crewmembers ride in the semi, while the rest travel in the Ducato.
Seven of us departed Leingarten at 1 a.m., cruising at 185 km/h (116 mph) throughout most of the trip. Our primary route was the A6 Autobahn that cuts through Nurnberg to the Czech border. The Czech Republic is not part of the European Union, and commercial vehicles must clear customs to enter the country. Once we were past the border, we drove to Prague, then turned south and continued for two more hours to Brno.
After arriving at the track at 7 a.m., the real work began. The three cars were unloaded, followed by the toolboxes and equipment. Finally, a large tent was erected and rubber flooring was laid out to provide a comfortable surface for the crew to work on. Setup was completed four hours later, and the crew began getting the cars ready for Friday's first practice.
The day finally wound down at around 7:30 p.m., and we all headed to our hotel for a welcome night's rest. This grueling schedule continued for the next three days, until it was finally time to dismantle everything and return to Leingarten.