Chevrolet Corvette C5R - Winners

The C5-Rs Get A "Two-Fer" By Beating The Vipers At The Road Atlanta Petit Le Mans

Richard Prince Feb 1, 2001 0 Comment(s)

When the green flag waved at slightly past noon on September 30th, the Millennium Yellow C5-Rs and 37 other cars roared away. The race would last 10 hours or 1,000 miles, whichever came first, and though the Petite Le Mans is a true endurance contest, it would be nothing less than an all-out sprint to the checkered flag. In the ensuing hours the lead in the GTS class was swapped between the two Corvettes and Vipers #91 and #92 no less than 15 times. The vicissitudes of fortune visited both camps indiscriminately throughout the battle, exacting a higher toll from some than from others. In the afternoon, the #91 Viper was slowed by a blown front tire after colliding with a Panoz.

The #3 Corvette was hampered by handling irregularities all day, making it all the more challenging for drivers Ron Fellows, Chris Kneifel, and Justin Bell. The disappointment was expressed by Fellows after he turned the car over to Kneifel 51/2 hours into the race: "It's really frustrating out there. We can't seem to get the car to behave. We were loose, now it's pushing."

The #92 Viper ran well throughout the race, but was fighting an uphill battle owing to the fact that it was usually a fraction of a second slower than both of the Corvettes. The Viper was also hampered by a 20-second penalty for not having a fire bottle at the ready during an early pit stop

The #4 Corvette also performed consistently well for the entire race, but did not entirely escape the wrath of Lady Luck. It suffered a heart-wrenching setback when track officials made a glaring mistake about halfway through the race. A privately entered Viper crashed at the beginning of the front straight, coming to a stop on its roof. This instigated a full-course yellow flag, which in turn brought out the pace car. The pace car was supposed to position itself in front of the race leading car; to do so every car between it and the leader is waved by and allowed to go past the pace car and into the pits. Unfortunately, there was confusion regarding which car was the overall leader, resulting in a number of cars erroneously getting "waved by." This group, which included both the #91 and #92 Vipers, essentially gained a "free" lap on the other cars. The teams that got shafted protested bitterly but to no avail. Race officials said they were sorry but claimed they had neither the authority nor the mechanism to restore each car to its proper position.

The mistake took away the #4 Corvette's one-lap lead and put it only a few seconds ahead of the Vipers. An hour later those few seconds disappeared when a mistake was made during what should have been a routine pit stop. The nut holding on the C5-R's right rear wheel was cross-threaded, giving the impression it was tight when it really wasn't. Kelly Collins had to take a rather harrowing lap at reduced speed before he could bring the car back in for a new wheel and wheel nut. By then, of course, both Vipers had jumped out in front by a considerable margin.

At a little past 7:00 p.m. events took a turn for the worse in the #91 Viper pit. Battery failure prevented the car from starting after a routine stop, and the precious minutes it took to diagnose the problem and install a new battery proved irreplaceable.

Scarcely an hour later bad fortune struck in the Corvette camp. In spite of its inexplicable handling inconsistencies, #3 was managing to stay in or near the lead until about 8:30 p.m. It was then that the car lost power in one cylinder, slowing it considerably. This was a certain deathblow given the intense level of competition.

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