June 13, 2012
Editor-in-Chief's Note: One year ago, I wrote the following column about Corvette Racing and its enduring quest to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the greatest endurance race in the world. In thinking about that column, I have decided to run it again (with updates) because it resonates just as much today as it did then. This year, Corvette Racing will again do battle in the white-hot arena of world-class GT racing in the most prestigious road racing endurance event that there is. And with long-distance racing evolving into 24-hour sprint races, Corvette Racing drivers will be going flat-out in every stint, as they try to out-wit and out-fast factory teams from BMW, Ferrari and Porsche.
This year, the twin Corvette C6.Rs have been updated in accordance with the ACO rulebook. They are two inches wider, with corresponding changes in bodywork and suspension components to complement the increased track width. The rear wing is mounted 75mm higher than last year and the Michelin tires have been optimized for the tweaked Corvette chassis. The 5.5-liter Chevrolet small-block V8s are equipped with intake air restrictors that are .4mm larger than in 2011.
"The engineering team ran extensive computer simulations to evaluate the effects of a wider body," said Corvette Racing team manager Gary Pratt. "There is a fine balance between the aerodynamic drag produced by a larger frontal area and the handling improvements that come with a wider track. We expected that the wider body would be better at many of the circuits in the U.S., and the simulations indicated that it would be an improvement at Le Mans as well. Although Le Mans is a big, high-speed track, a significant percentage of the lap is spent cornering and braking," Pratt explained. "With the chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight and fast corners like the Porsche Curves, the wide-body design is beneficial."
Along with the Corvette C6.Rs, the Corvette Racing driver lineup has been re-programmed as well. Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen will be teamed with Jordan Taylor in the No. 73 Compuware Corvette C6.R. And Tommy Milner has moved to the No. 74 Compuware Corvette C6.R alongside Oliver Gavin and Richard Westbrook. These six drivers have a combined total of 12 class victories at Le Mans.
There really is nothing quite like Le Mans, and you really have to experience it for yourself in person to understand why. In lieu of that, you can tune into the SPEED channel this Saturday morning to see complete coverage, beginning at 8:30 a.m. EDT. - PMD
The Enduring Quest.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. For sports car and road racing enthusiasts, this weekend is one of the most anticipated on the summer racing calendar. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of four of the greatest racing events in the world along with the Indianapolis 500, the Monaco Grand Prix, and the Daytona 500. Signature events all, and each special in their own right, these races define greatness and add chapters to their illustrious histories every time they're run. Of the four, the 24 Hours of Le Mans stands out as the most prestigious endurance road racing event in the world. The round-the-clock race in the beautiful French countryside is one of the "must sees" of any racing enthusiast's portfolio, and the unique atmosphere is almost indescribable to those who have never been there.
For Corvette Racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is more than just a race. The French endurance classic has served to define the existence of the program itself. And this year, the team is making its 13th appearance at La Sarthe, with Corvette Racing coming off of its class win in the GTE Pro category last year. For those of you who have grown accustomed to the screaming yellow Corvettes superbly prepared and presented by Pratt & Miller Engineering, you may find it hard to believe that it wasn't so very long ago that this program didn't exist at all, not even as an idea.
Back when the idea for a new Corvette Racing operation was first broached back in 1997, GM and Chevrolet hadn't formally entered a factory racing effort in a major league road racing series since the 1950s. When Zora Duntov and company brought the ill-fated Corvette SS roadster to Sebring back in 1957, little did anyone know that it would be, for all intents and purposes, the last time the factory was ever openly associated with a racing program, at least in road racing*. I'm sure most of you reading this are aware of Chevrolet's glorious history throughout the years as not-so-silent partners with some of the great efforts throughout American road racing history, like the Cunningham Corvette entries at Le Mans, the original Sting Ray racer, the brutally purposeful Corvette Grand Sports, the famed Jim Hall Chaparrals, the Penske Trans-Am Camaros, etc., etc., etc.
But a factory effort? Back in 1997 it was a very delicate and difficult sell.
Needless to say, it was the best decision that Chevrolet and GM Racing could have made. The Corvette Racing program has given the production Corvette its raison d'etre, and vice versa. The direct connection between the factory Corvette C6.R racers and the continual improvement of the production cars in terms of aerodynamics, suspension and braking systems, and overall efficiency due to the development work done by the racing team is real, measurable and ongoing. But what's even more impressive is that Chevrolet engineers have provided critical help to the racing effort as well, like the time when the ACO first demanded air conditioning be added to the cars racing at Le Mans, and the experts in the HVAC discipline responded with an elegant solution, which they have subsequently made smaller and even more efficient since.
But that's only a small part of what makes the Corvette racing program special. Beyond the obligatory "ROI" numbers that can be internally regurgitated at will when required, it's the will, grit, determination and commitment to excellence by the people involved that have defined this team from the beginning. The collective effort from the talented people involved has resulted in one of the most accomplished racing teams of any kind in the world over the last decade. And the fact that it's a local operation right here in Michigan is a source of pride for everyone in this business.
When you see the unabashed fervor for the Corvettes at Le Mans for yourself it puts everything in perspective. It's genuine and heartfelt, and when I first witnessed it I must say I was taken aback and it immediately made me very proud. And it should make every American road racing enthusiast - no matter what your personal favorite brand of car is - very proud too.
Corvette Racing is embarking on yet another quest for greatness at this year's edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It drives them, it consumes them, and yes, ultimately it will define them.
And believe me, they wouldn't have it any other way.
(*Before I receive emails in protest pointing out that the ill-fated Cadillac Racing protoype sports car racing program of the early 2000s was a GM factory-backed effort, I will go on record by dismissing that effort - an effort plagued by internal politics and less than wholehearted support from GM management - as one that pales in comparison to the financial and technical support and commitment given to Corvette Racing over the last 12 years. The Cadillac program was an aberration that never should have happened, especially given the disjointed GM political environment at the time. On the other hand, the Corvette Racing program has been stellar and worthy of being taken seriously almost from the beginning. And thus it's the only official GM factory racing effort - other than the Indianapolis engine program - that I will recognize. - PMD)
(Richard Prince/Corvette Racing Photo)
Corvette Racing will compete in the GTE class this Saturday at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with two factory racing machines. The No. 73 Compuware Corvette C6.R driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor, and the No. 74 Compuware Corvette Racing C6.R driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook. Here fans crowd around one of the Corvettes in downtown Le Mans during scrutineering.
(Richard Prince/Corvette Racing photo)
The Corvette Racing organization is hugely popular in Le Mans and a clear favorite of the French crowd. Race fans in the U.S. will be able to ride along with Corvette Racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the second consecutive year. SPEED's coverage of the classic endurance race will include live video streams from the two Compuware Corvette C6.Rs as they navigate the classic 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe on June 16-17. A third camera in the Corvette Racing garage will take viewers inside the world's most prestigious sports car race. This online coverage can be viewed exclusively at www.speed.com/corvette. This website will also be the only place for fans in the U.S. to watch live coverage of the 24 Hours of Le Mans while SPEED broadcasts other programming from 1:00-2:30 p.m. ET and 7:00-7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 16.
(Richard Prince/Corvette Racing Photo)
June 11, 2012. The Corvette Racing team assembles for a group photo after successfully completing scrutineering at Place de la Republique in the center of Le Mans.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Le Mans, France, June 11, 1967. A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their Shelby American entered No. 1 Ford Mk IV. To this day it is the only all-American victory in the history of the event, meaning by an American-built car, prepared by an American team and driven by American drivers. Check out the videos here and here. And see more in The Line.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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