The following day featured a panel discussion and Q&A with Fehan, Corvette racer George Wintersteen, Corvette prototype race driver David Donohue, and Dr. Fred Simeone, owner of the Simeone Museum.
As the senior racer on the panel, Wintersteen went first, explaining how it was through his friendship with Roger Penske that he became the first to drive Penske’s ’66 L88 prototype. He also has some history with Grand Sport roadster No. 002.
After taking delivery of the car, a reliable L88 427 engine was installed and Wintersteen went racing. Things were advancing so fast back then that the Grand Sport’s 4-year-old design was already our dated. That didn’t keep Wintersteen from having a great time. Having driven a production-based L88, he reported that the light weight of the GS dramatically changed the driving experience (and yes, the front-end lift was bad). But despite the car’s short comings as a competitive racer, Wintersteen regrets selling it.
David Donohue is a prototype racer and the son of racing legend Mark Donohue. In 2012 he drove the Action Express Racing No. 5 Corvette Daytona Prototype. Donohue explained that because the DP cars are built to deliver comparable performance, the driving and crew work are extremely competitive. For example, when he won the 24 Hours Daytona race in 2009, he was just 0.2 second ahead of the Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus driven by Juan Pablo Montoya.
Questions from the audience of more than 150 were wide ranging. Wintersteen was asked why he didn’t use the all-aluminum 377 engine in his Grand Sport. His answer was pretty basic: “I just wanted a bloody reliable, powerful, and fun car with lots of grunt.”
Someone else asked Fehan why ALMS cars have fixed wings, rather than movable wings like the F1 cars. “Is technology being restricted by rules?” he wondered.
“Our objective is to create a series that attracts pride and passion for the customer, so cars have to have production relevance,” explained Fehan.
Wintersteen offered some historical perspective, adding, “I had a drag-reduction program when I was racing the Grand Sport, [so] I just ducked my head down a little bit.”
Another audience member wondered how difficult it had been to keep the Corvette Racing program alive following the GM bankruptcy.
“[GM] had eight or nine racing programs; only two survived,” replied Fehan. “NASCAR took a 50 percent budget cut, but the Corvette Racing budget was untouched. The return-on-investment for Corvette Racing is the best in the company.”
The last question concerned the role ethanol will play in future Corvette Racing seasons.
“A few years ago we started using flex-fuel,” replied Fehan. “We thought it was a good idea to get on the bandwagon, so I gave orders to our engine guys to run the engine on E85. It runs cooler, and we can run with more compression. IMSA let us run with ethanol, and now they’re thinking of an ethanol program. We were the first team to [do it]. It’s not the answer, but it’s part of the solution.
“It’s difficult to say what the future will be. Liquid fuels will be around for a while, and we’ll see smaller engines. The customers will determine the direction.”
After the panel discussion wrapped up at around 1:30 p.m., a Corvette Racing team assistant fired up the C6.R and carefully drove the car into the museum’s three-acre courtyard to display it in front of the team trailer. Meanwhile, Simeone volunteers carefully pushed the Wintersteen Corvette into the courtyard for a few demonstration “laps.”
This is perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the Simeone Museum: Once a month, Dr. Simeone and his staff pull together three or four cars with a specific theme or commonality, and present them on a Saturday at high noon. Simeone explains each car’s history and importance, after which attendees get the opportunity is see, hear, and smell these magnificent machines run. It’s an added feature you don’t normally get from a car museum.
After museum curator Kevin Kelly (the only person who drives the race cars besides Simeone) racked up about 10 laps, the Grand Sport was parked in front of the C6.R’s trailer with the hood and doors open so the crowd could get a close-up look. The L88-powered Vette has the reputation of being the loudest car in the Simeone collection, and it’s arguably the most popular. On a picture perfect autumn afternoon, the GS and C6.R basked together in the sunshine and the adoration of the crowd. Which car attracted more attention? Not to take anything away from the C6.R, but sometimes you just can’t beat a classic.
The Legends of Corvette Racing event was so well received that plans are underway to make it an annual event. Visit simeonemuseum.org for more information and updates.