Over the past several years, Corvette Racing has developed into one of the most successful programs in sports-car competition. Losses and other setbacks have been so rare, in fact, that GT1 dominance by the No. 3 and 4 C6.Rs has almost become a foregone conclusion. What does it take to sustain this level of dominance, both on the track and behind the scenes? As you will see, the key ingredients include long hours, plenty of sweat, and-most important-an unwavering commitment to excellence.
The team's racing season officially began at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the longest-running endurance event in the U.S. As always, this year's Sebring challenge was preceded by months of work at the GM/Pratt & Miller engineering offices, build shop, and test track. But even after the cars have been prepared for a race, just getting the team to the track is an immense logistical maneuver all its own.
P&M's Pam Prince and Sharon Riggs are in charge of getting the team to and from its commitments. For Sebring this year that meant ground transportation, hotel accommodations, and airplane tickets for 60 people coming from all parts of the country. The racing squad would finish the Sebring event, work on the car for a day, and then load up for two days of testing at Road Atlanta, only to turn around and head to St. Petersburg for the next ALMS race the following weekend.
While the main body of the team usually travels to events by air, Corvette Racing's big-rig drivers must depart much earlier with the cars and more than 125 tons of support equipment. In addition to carrying every conceivable spare part, the three truck/trailer combinations also serve as the team's shop while at the race track. In the case of Sebring, drivers Don Male, Richard Elred, Kurt Rychener, Steve Longhi, and Dean Doherty left their Michigan homes two days before the rest of the team and drove 21 hours nonstop to set up the team's on-site compound.
Like an experienced drill-team member, each of the five drivers knows exactly what to do to get the facility up and going-a process that usually takes four or five hours. These drivers are also responsible for setting up the hot-pit complex, a state-of-the-art operations center bursting with high-resolution flat-screen monitors and other performance-monitoring equipment. They even perform vital work in the pit and at the trailer/shop complex during the race itself. when the race is over, the same crew breaks everything down and heads for home. Once back at P&M headquarters, it will take them four to five days to clean, check, and restock the transporters for the next event.
Although the Sebring race takes place every year on a Saturday morning, most of the team arrives the previous weekend to prepare for testing on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The test days are long, lasting from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sebring International Raceway, notorious for pushing cars to their limits, is an ideal venue at which to gauge the C6.R's resilience prior to the all-important 24 Hours of Le Mans. Still, the testing pace is not overly fast-just a constant, round-and-round parade to evaluate the performance and reliability of the Vettes' various components.
With a multiplicity of diverse tasks to address, team members must be versatile. Heading up P&M's unofficial "hospitality committee" is team owner Gary Pratt's wife, Robin. Robin's role is to ensure that every team member is cared for in a way that maximizes his or her performance during the race. Her duties also include pubic relations and, with a huge following of diehard Corvette fans at every event, that alone is a big job. Whether it's entertaining an important team guest, handing out fan posters, managing the driver autograph session, overseeing medical and physical-therapy support (principally at long-distance races such as Sebring and Le Mans), or simply making sure that everyone is fed and happy, Robin is in constant motion.
Ralph Simpson has been in charge of the team's food requirements for the last six years. He arrives hours before anyone else (usually by 4:00 a.m.) so that breakfast will be ready for the team members when they arrive. Simpson is charged with ensuring that all meals, snacks, and drinks are ready to be eaten as the team's hectic schedule allows. The job can prove daunting since mechanics and engineers work on the cars constantly throughout the day, stopping only on those rare occasions when their workload briefly remits.