The 2010 ALMS season proved a mixed bag for Corvette Racing, with the team working out various teething problems to finish Fourth overall in the GT category. Across the Atlantic in Europe, another Corvette battle has been raging, albeit with very different results. The FIA's GT3 European Championship provides a venue for up-and-coming drivers in race cars that are close to production specifications. Manufacturers such as Ferrari, BMW, Porsche, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ford, and Audi all provide behind-the-scenes support to teams that run their vehicles. Notice that Corvette is not among this prestigious lineup. Instead, Callaway Competition in Leingarten, Germany, is approved by the FIA to build Corvettes for the series. As a private tuner, the company does not receive any official support from GM.
Twelve races are held each year at various European racetracks (two per weekend). The 2010 season started in Silverstone, England, and ended at Zolder, Belgium. In a previous story ("Back on Top," Feb. '11), we covered the first six of these races. In that report Callaway Competition left the sixth race in Brno with the lead in the FIA's Drivers and Team Championship battles. This month, we'll recap the team's results over the second half of the season.
Paul Ricard, France—Rounds 7 and 8
The 5.8km (3.6mi) Paul Ricard circuit is located 30 km (19 mi) east of Toulon in southern France. Paul Ricard is an FIA test track for Formula 1 competitors and is known for extremely fast lap times.
Round 7: Daniel Keliwitz captured the pole in his No. 101 Callaway Corvette, beating the second place No. 16 Graff Racing Vette by 1.2 seconds. Keliwitz made an excellent start and held the lead until turning the car over to Christian Hohenadel on lap 11. Hohenadel took the checkered flag 6.652 seconds ahead of the Second Place No. 16 Graff car to gain 25 Drivers Championship points.
Round 8: Hohenadel qualified the No. 101 Corvette fourth for Round 8. When the dust settled at the start, the No. 16 Graff Racing Corvette was third, and the No. 101 car had dropped to seventh. After the mandatory pit stops, the No. 16 Corvette was first, the No. 61 ProSpeed Porsche 911 second, the No. 76 BMW Z4 third, and the No. 101—with Keliwitz driving—was fourth. Keliwitz proceeded to methodically pick off the cars in front of him, grab the lead four laps from the finish, and take the victory to gain another 25 Drivers points.
Algarve, Portugal—Rounds 9 and 10
The 4.7km (2.94mi) Algarve circuit is filled with tight, twisty turns and numerous elevation changes. With their two Paul Ricard victories, the Corvettes were slapped with "Balance of Performance" adjustments, as per FIA rules. They started the season with a base weight of 1,270 kg (2,794 pounds), along with 60 kg (132 pounds) of ballast, bringing total weight to 1,330 kg (2,926 pounds). The engine, meanwhile, was fitted with a 52mm inlet restrictor. Prior to Algarve, all Corvettes were given an extra 20 kg (44 pounds) of ballast and fitted with a 49mm engine restrictor. The No. 101 Corvette received an additional 40 kg (88 pounds) of "success weight" because of its Paul Ricard victories, pushing the car to a portly 1,390 kg (3,058 pounds).
Round 9: Amazingly, Keliwitz put his overweight No. 101 Corvette on the pole by 0.153 seconds ahead of an Audi R8. Graff Racing brought one car (No. 16) and qualified eighth. The other Callaway entry, No. 100, was 21st on the grid. Two Porsches passed Keliwitz at the start, pushing the Corvette down to third position. Keliwitz maintained that spot until the 11th lap, when he overtook the No. 61 Porsche for second place. On lap 18 Keliwitz pitted and handed No. 101 over to Hohenadel. Hohenadel returned in second and held this position through the finish, crossing the line 5.849 seconds behind the No. 61 Porsche. This added another 18 Drivers Championship points to the Callaway team's total. At this point, the No. 16 Graff Racing Corvette drivers were the only team with a mathematical chance of overtaking the Callaway drivers in the championship battle.
Round 10: An Audi R8 and a Ford GT captured the first two starting spots for Round 10. Hohenadel was eighth, and the No. 100 Callaway Corvette, driven by Marius Ritskes and Dennis Retera, was ninth. The No. 16 Graff Vette of Mike Parisy and Joakim Lambotte was 16th. The Callaway team knew tires were going to be a problem because of the hot Algarve weather. The team decided to be conservative, and Hohenadel cruised around the track in eighth until he pitted on lap 16. After taking over, Keliwitz pushed the car to third position on lap 25. Shortly after that, the No. 16 Graff car slid into the gravel trap and was out of the race. If the No. 101 Corvette finished third or higher, the 2010 Drivers Championship would be secure. Instead, the team decided to go for the victory. On lap 28 Keliwitz passed the No. 61 Porsche to take the lead, which he held to the finish. The other Callaway Corvette finished in Eighth position. The jubilant Callaway team celebrated winning the Drivers Championship, but the Team Championship battle was still up for grabs with two races remaining.
Zolder, Belgium—Rounds 11 and 12
The historic Zolder racetrack is located one hour east of the city of Antwerp. The 4.011km (2.492mi) track opened in 1925 and is very hard on brakes. Following its excellent performance at Algarve, the No. 101 Corvette continued to carry its 40 kg (88 pounds) of ballast.
Round 11: Hohenadel qualified fifth, 0.729 seconds behind the pole-position Ford GT. The extra weight was playing havoc with the Corvette's brakes. After a clean start, Hohenadel moved to third position behind the leading Ford and an Audi R8. On lap eight the No. 100 Corvette spun into the gravel trap and was out of the race. The No. 101 car pitted on lap 17, but Keliwitz was blocked by an Audi while trying to leave his pit stall. This lost the team several valuable seconds. Keliwitz returned in sixth, but was losing ground because of overheated brakes and tires. He crossed the line in Ninth—not good enough to secure the Team Championship. The rival Pro-Speed Porsches finished Second and Sixth, which tightened the championship battle.
Round 12: Keliwitz started in ninth position and moved up to eighth shortly after the green flag fell. He pitted on lap 16, and co-driver Hohenadel returned to the race in sixth position. By lap 29 of the 37-lap race, Hohenadel had put the No. 101 car into third. A Third Place finish would have secured the Team Championship for Callaway Competition, but on the next lap, the car's right front brake disc exploded, putting it out of the race. The ProSpeed 911s finished First and Fifth, which put the Porsche team 10 points ahead of Callaway and gave the Germans the Team Championship. It wasn't the dual-title finish the Corvette contingent had hoped for, but rest assured they'll be back next year with another competitive GT3 effort.