Whelen Racing created quite a stir during last year's SPEED GT season, when driver Eric Curran recorded multiple victories in a Marsh Racing-prepared No. 30 C6. We recently had a chance to tour the team's facility in Old Lyme, Connecticut, where we got an up-close look at how these dazzlingly fast Corvette race cars are built. Afterward, we spoke with team sponsor/No. 31 car driver Sonny Whelen, Marsh Racing owner Teddy Marsh, and Curran about the team's history as well as its outlook for 2008.
Vette Magazine: Sonny, how did you get interested in racing?
Sonny Whelen: It started with a media ride around Lime Rock in a Viper. After that, I bought a Viper and started participating in track-day events. Then, I attended the Justin Bell and Panoz driving schools. That helped me get comfortable racing, [at which point] I bought a fully race-prepared Viper. I had a lot of success in the Viper Racing League and won several championships. I was ready to move into SPEED GT, and naturally I wanted to drive a Viper.
VM: What made you switch to a Corvette?
SW: Dodge was not very supportive, so I bought a C5 Corvette SPEED GT car from 3R Racing. We ran that car throughout the '05 season, and Teddy made steady improvements to the car as the year progressed. At the end of the season, Teddy rebodied the car with C6 panels, and I drove it in the '06 season.
VM: Where did the second car come from?
SW: Teddy found a C5 frame on eBay for $4,000, and between races built a second car [No. 30]. Near the end of the '06 season, we hired Eric Curran to test it. Teddy had met Eric when he sat beside him on a plane from Laguna to Phoenix. Because he lived so close, Teddy suggested hiring Eric to sort out our new car. He did a great job with the car, but he was under contract with Real Time Racing.
VM: Eric, what changed with Real Time that allowed you to join Whelen Racing?
Eric Curran: At the beginning of the '07 season, Real Time called me and said they would not need my services. This was two weeks before the first race at Sebring. I called Teddy and told him about my situation, and he suggested I talk with Sonny. Sonny and I met, and he invited me to join the team.
VM: Teddy, how did you find out that you had a new driver?
Teddy Marsh: Two hours after Eric and I talked, Sonny came into the shop and said, "Can I see you in your office?" We sat down and Sonny said, "What do you think about running a two-car team?" I told him we'd need to find a second motor and scramble a little, but we could do it. Sonny said OK, and that was that.
VM: What did you think about Eric joining your team?
TM: I was very excited. I've been following Eric's career because he's a local, and I knew he drove a SpeedVision GT Corvette back in 2000 for Reid Knight. He had four top-five finishes with that KAC Technologies Corvette. Now, he has multiple victories with Whelen Racing. So, I'm still excited.
VM: Eric, your first race at Sebring was pretty interesting, wasn't it?
EC: Boy, is that an understatement! We went to Sebring's test session on Tuesday before the race, and during the second session we blew out an oil-filter gasket. The car caught on fire, and I had to scramble out to keep from getting burned. The team did an amazing job repairing the damage in time for Friday's race. So, it was a pretty wild two weeks having this deal come together, the car burning, and then winning my first race.
VM: What did you think when you were so far ahead during the first part of the Sebring race?
EC: I kept looking in my mirrors and asking myself, "Am I the only person racing?" Then I started worrying that I might have missed a yellow flag. But then the field bunched up under a yellow, and my race to the win from that point was pretty tight. The rest of my victories were pretty close.
Vette: Teddy, how close is the competition to your Corvettes?
TM: Across the board, the Corvette, the Cadillac, and the Viper are on a pretty level playing field. The Porsche is another story; they're really playing games to keep their car competitive. For example, at Watkins Glen, Randy Probst and Eric were stuck to each other during the first part of the race. Eric couldn't get away from him. A yellow was waved, and Eric burned a plug wire and had to pit. When the green flag fell, Randy went a second faster than Eric's time, set the fastest lap, and won the race. But overall, the SCCA does a great job keeping the competition pretty level. The Corvette is a great car to race-it's fast, stable, and strong as a tank. It should be an exciting and competitive '08 season.
For more information on Whelen Racing, or to follow the team's progress, visit www.whelen.com/motorsports/sccasch.htm.