Victory in Europe . . . and Beyond As contributor Walt Thurn notes elsewhere in this issue, the recent success of Corvettes in top-level road-course competition has, perhaps unexpectedly, earned the marque a devoted corps of fans and race-team aspirants on the other side of the Atlantic. But even we were surprised to learn the extent to which the Vette has made its presence felt of late at racing venues throughout Europe, the Middle East, and even China. The victories earned during these expeditionary sorties are made all the more impressive by the fact that virtually all of the cars in question are campaigned by privateers, none of whom have access to the golcondas of engineering and financial support available to factory-backed teams.
One of the more tantalizing aspects of non-domestically sanctioned races is that these events pit the Corvette against cars that, although well known in foreign circles, are unfamiliar to all but the most hard-core American motorsports fans. To be sure, we've all heard of Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Porsche, but what about Gillet, Lister, Spyker, or TVR? Indeed, the spectacle of a richly variegated field of production-based cars trading paint in exotic, far-flung locales is an exhilarating tonic to the increasingly corporatized and rules-strangled snooze-fests that predominate present-day NASCAR and Trans-Am competition.
Arguably the best-known Corvette currently in international competition is the No. 6 GLPK-Carsport C5-R, driven throughout the '05 race season by Belgians Anthony Kumpen and Bert Longin and Dutchman Mike Hezemans. Competing in the Fdration Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) GT1 class, the car notched victories at Imola (Italy) and Zhuhai (China), while managing Fourth-place finishes at Magny-Cours (France) and Brno (Czech Republic). These showings, coupled with consistently high placements over the course of the season, landed the team in Fourth place in the team championship. The Corvette, meanwhile, finished third in the Manufacturer standings. (It is revealing to note that the First- and Second-place marques-Maserati and Ferrari-were heavily represented in FIA GT1 in 2005, with an average of four and five entries per race, respectively. Only two Corvettes saw action during the season, and never at the same time.)
Intrigued? For more information on this and other cool race series we don't see in the states, visit www.fiagt.com.
Would You Like Some Freedom Fries With That? They may not be exactly euphoric over current U.S. foreign policy, but French motorsports fans continue to evince remarkable unit in their enthusiasm for American race cars. France's most popular production-based racing class, the Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile (mercifully abbreviated as "FFSA") Grand Touring series encompasses 16 races held over the course of eight weekends at courses around the country. Series rules stipulate that each driving team comprise one professional driver and one amateur. In the case of the series' only Corvette, the No. 21 Anaveo SRT C5, the pilotage was split in 2005 between Peugeot/Pescarolo ace Soheil Ayari and gentleman racer Bruno Hernandez. The car quickly proved its competitive mettle by grabbing pole positions at Pau, Dijon, and Magny-Cours. Unfortunately, mechanical problems kept the Vette from finishing any higher than Third, a feat it managed in back-to-back appearances at Le Mans. In addition to C5 (and, for 2006, C6) Corvettes, the series includes Ferraris, Lambos, Listers, Porsches, Saleens, and a positively shocking number of "Chrysler" Vipers. (The Dodge brand doesn't exist in Europe, so Chrysler it is.)
Encouraged by the obvious potential of the Corvette platform, the Belgium-based SRT team recently acquired the ex-Pratt & Miller C5-R that took the GT1-class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans back in 2002. With a fully sorted car and a season's worth of experience under its belt, the team promises to challenge for the FFSA Grand Touring title in 2006.
For you Francophones out there-or if you just like looking at pictures-check out the series' French-language Web site, www.superserieffsa.com.