Throughout the winter, Corvette Racing fine-tuned its two C6.R GT entries to prepare for the 2011 season. This included revising the driver lineup, engineering a new shifter, and refining the car’s aerodynamics. Winter testing proved that these changes were successful, and the team was optimistic coming into the 59th annual 12 Hours of Sebring.
Richard Westbrook and Tommy Milner replaced Emmanuel Collard and longtime Corvette driver Johnny O’Connell behind the wheel. Westbrook and Milner will also join the other drivers for the endurance events at Le Mans and Road Atlanta. O’Connell has moved to the new World Challenge Cadillac CTS-V racing program, where he joins another longtime Corvette driver, Andy Pilgrim.
The Corvette Corral also underwent some changes this year. In the past the Corral was the responsibility of the National Corvette Museum, but this year GM was more heavily involved. Nevertheless, NCM members were still on hand to help with a variety of tasks such as parking and guest relations. This was fortunate, since the Corral enjoyed record crowds throughout the weekend.
Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter introduced the new black “Jake” edition Grand Sport to the audience, and fielded plenty of questions about both the ’12 Vette and the upcoming C7. Alas, Juechter was not forthcoming with any juicy news about the C6’s replacement.
Over in the Pratt & Miller garage, large crowds gathered and waited in the sun for the drivers’ autograph session. Fans brought all kinds of memorabilia to be signed, including hats, scale models, shirts, posters, and photographs. All six drivers were present, and they did their best to accommodate the many requests for signatures at this popular fan event.
Qualifying on Friday was an all-out battle among Corvette, Ferrari, and BMW. Ferrari won by 0.182-second over the No. 04 Corvette driven by Westbrook, Oliver Gavin, and Jan Magnussen. Ferrari came to the event with four new 458 Italias, but last year’s 430 model captured the GT pole with a time of 2:01.561. The No. 04 Corvette was a tick behind with a 2:01.743, and the No. 03 C6.R qualified ninth in GT at 2:02.633. This close grouping of times shows just how tough the competition is in the GT class.
Race day was clear and hot, and record crowds filled the grid to get a close-up glimpse of the 56 race cars, three of which were Corvettes. In addition to the two Corvette Racing entries, Larbre Competition from France brought C6.R chassis 001, which it had previously purchased from Pratt & Miller. The team will campaign the car in Europe during the 2011 season, including the Le Mans enduro. Larbre has been very successful across the Atlantic, and the team’s impressive performance seems likely to continue with its latest vehicle acquisition.