Four-hour Monterey sports car championships is final test for new production-based GT2 corvettes
MONTEREY, Calif., Oct. 7, 2009 – While most teams in the American Le Mans Series are looking to Saturday’s Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as the end to a long season, Corvette Racing will go to the scenic California circuit to wrap up its test and development program for the GT2 version of the Compuware Corvette C6.R race car.
After retiring the championship-winning GT1 Corvette C6.Rs with the Chevy team’s sixth victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, Corvette Racing has used the second half of the ALMS season to refine the performance and reliability of its new-generation GT2-spec race cars. The four-hour race at Laguna Seca on October 10 will be the final step in a five-race testing program that began with the debut of the GT2 Corvette C6.Rs in early August at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Since then the twin Corvette C6.Rs have tallied a victory at Mosport International Raceway, a runner-up finish at Mid-Ohio, and a pair of third-place finishes (Road America and Mosport). The lessons learned in the final five races of 2009 will provide a strong foundation for Corvette Racing’s run for the championship in the series’ unified GT class in 2010.
“By any standard, it’s clear that Corvette Racing’s GT2 development plan has been successful,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “It’s not only our results on the race track – although that is certainly important – but the fact that at each successive event we’ve learned more about the GT2 Corvette C6.R race cars. They have been more consistent, quicker, and more competitive. That is exactly what we would have expected if we’d conducted a test program in private.”
In the midst of a tumultuous year for the automotive industry, Corvette Racing managers made the decision to conduct the GT2 testing program in the public eye at ALMS events. The series’ final five rounds provide a variety of circuits, surfaces, and formats to hone the cars’ performance. Rain at Mosport and a deluge at Road Atlanta presented unexpected opportunities to evaluate the Corvette’s wet-weather characteristics.
“We knew we would have a variety of race tracks on which to test in the second half of the season, and that played a key role in our decision,” Fehan said. “It’s not possible to conduct a private test at Laguna Seca, so participating in the race this weekend is a win-win for us. I think our cost-effective approach to testing has demonstrated that Corvette Racing is a fiscally responsible race team.”
Corvette Racing has scored four wins previously at Laguna Seca in the GT1 category (2004-05, 2007-08). Adding a victory in the GT2 class to that list will require the engineers, crew and drivers to come to terms with the sandy Laguna Seca circuit.
“Laguna Seca is something of a mystery for us, as it is for many teams,” Fehan explained. “The track surface can vary greatly from day to day, so there is always a question of grip. We’ve engineered more mechanical grip into the GT2 Corvette than in any previous Corvette race car, so we’re very eager to see whether that proves to be an advantage. This race will be our only opportunity to test at Laguna Seca before we return next year in earnest, so it is important to gather as much data as possible.”
Team manager Gary Pratt sees tires as a key to success at Laguna Seca. “Laguna has traditionally been a low-grip track, and I expect it to be the same this year,” he said. “The lack of grip there was a problem for us until we partnered with Michelin. Michelin has always brought tires that suit the track, and that could be an advantage for us in a four-hour race. Most of the corners are medium-speed, with hard braking in Turn 11 before the pit straight. Consequently Laguna Seca is a momentum track where the drivers need to carry their speed through the corners. I think the GT2 Corvettes will do that very well.
“We’ve been able to find a good balance with the GT2 Corvette’s aero package so it is not as ‘edgy’ as the GT1 car,” Pratt continued. “This makes the GT2 Corvette more predictable and the drivers more confident in traffic. We’ve always been a little anxious about running in wet conditions, but the GT2 Corvette has proven to be very good in the rain with its wide track and good balance. The drivers like it, and I’m not so hesitant about practicing on a wet track.”
Based on the production Corvette ZR1 supercar, the GT2 Corvette C6.R introduced several new components that are being tested in the heat of competition.
“The ZR1’s aluminum frame was a question mark when we initially designed the GT2 Corvette C6.R,” Pratt said. “The engineering analysis looked good, but you never really know until you test under race conditions. So far we’ve run the cars hard at various tracks with different loads, and it’s all been good.
“Working with GM Powertrain on the 6.0-liter GT2 engines also has been a good experience,” Pratt added. “Katech did a tremendous job with the GT1 engines, but the move to GM’s in-house engine program has been seamless so far. The change from direct injection to port fuel injection before Petit Le Mans was not in our original plan, but the GM Powertrain engineers worked very hard in a very compressed timeframe to make the conversion. That has actually moved us forward in the development of a 5.5-liter small-block engine for next year.”
While some teams will celebrate ALMS championships when the checkered flag falls at Laguna Seca, Corvette Racing will savor different rewards.
“Racing in GT2 has been a great experience so far,” said Pratt. “I realize now how much everyone on this team enjoys having good competition. We have been able to carry over everything we learned in previous programs to GT2, and we were competitive right out of the box. That underlines the importance of the people and the continuity of the program.”
Corvette Racing’s next event is the season-ending Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The four-hour race is scheduled to start at 2:45 p.m. PDT on Saturday, October 10. SPEED will broadcast the race tape-delayed on Sunday, October 11, at 2:30 p.m. EDT.