The many technical improvements to the C5-Rs and the improved performance of the team came together on Labor Day weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway. Ron Fellows, Andy Pilgrim and the crew overcame incredible heat to record a decisive win over the factory Vipers. "The win in Texas was important," said team manager Gary Pratt, "not only because it was our first victory but also because of the venue. Texas was a new addition to the series and it's a brand new speedway so everyone went there with a clean sheet of paper. We've shown that on a level playing field, where the Viper's years of experience and data don't mean as much, we can win with a comfortable margin."
Four weeks after the Texas race, Team Corvette demonstrated that their stunning victory in Texas was not a fluke. Two C5-Rs and three factory-backed Vipers traded the GTS class lead many times during the grueling 1,000-mile/10-hour endurance race, but when the checkered flag waved, a Corvette roared across the finish line first.
In testimony to just how competitive the GTS class is, the Vipers rebounded to victories in final two races of the '00 season. At Laguna Seca, one of the Corvettes lost precious time in the pits after being rear-ended by a Viper on the second lap, while the other C5-R fought handling irregularities and poor traction the whole race. In the final North American race of the season, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the No. 3 (Ron Fellows and Andy Pilgrim) car was put out of the race by a tremendous right-rear tire explosion at the end of the front straight. The other car had handling problems and finished a disappointing third, lapped by both surviving factory Vipers.
Though they did not finish the '00 season on the high note they wanted, everyone on the Corvette team is understandably proud of their successes. The consecutive GTS class wins in Texas and Atlanta demonstrated to Dodge and the world what the team had known since their outing at the '00 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in February. The C5-R emerged from its initial year of competition drastically improved and poised for success. It wasn't a question of "if," but rather it was simply a matter of "when?"
Going into the '01 season, the future for Corvette racing looks bright indeed. The C5-Rs will compete in all of the North American ALMS races as well as the 24 Hours at Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Though the factory Vipers will not contest the entire series as they have in the past, they will likely show up for the major endurance contests. A small army of factory-supported, privateer Vipers, as well as the usual contingent of GTS Porsches, promises to keep the competition keen.
And there is a new kid on the block, the very controversial Saleen S7, out of the shops of well-known Mustang "tuner" Steve Saleen. Designed and actually built by British race car specialist Ray Mallock, the Saleen S7's mid-engine design and carbon fiber/aluminum honeycomb-stiffened tube frame make it look more like a prototype than a GTS class racer. The American Le Mans Series' decision to classify the Saleen as a GTS competitor is highly controversial since GTS racers are supposed to be modified production cars and the Saleen is, at the moment a one-off, purpose built racer. In theory at least the Saleen S7 holds the potential to thoroughly dominate the GTS class but it remains to be seen whether the Saleen team can capitalize on their opportunity.
Considering the always threatening Vipers, ever fast and reliable Porsches, and potentially dominant Saleens, the Corvette team's quest for a series championship in 2001 promises to be a fierce battle. It also promises to provide racing excitement, the likes of which have not been seen in decades, so stay tuned!