Action resumes for the American Le Mans Series this weekend in Lime Rock after an extended delay due to the annual break for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but the recent trip to France was far from a vacation for the Corvette Racing team.
The Michigan-based factory program sent its pair of Corvette C6.Rs to La Sarthe, along with most of its personnel from the Pratt & Miller workshop, but the ongoing development, design and construction of its next-generation racecar continued without interruption back in the USA.
Built to the ACO's GTE Pro specifications, the first Corvette C7.R, set to replace the championship-winning C6.R, is almost ready to begin testing ahead of its competition debut at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.
“Where we are right now – I just got back from the shop today – is the very first car, which will be the test car, is in its final stages of completion,” Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan (ABOVE) told RACER. “Bodywork is being mounted, final wirings going in the car. We plan on testing that car this month.
“The other two cars that we will actually end up racing are currently on the surface plates and they are beginning construction. We will be testing those at the end of the year. And then should have everything up and running and ready to go by Daytona.”
Based on the 2014 Corvette Stingray (RIGHT), which was launched to wide acclaim earlier this year, the C7.R is a timely replacement for the C6.R. Despite winning the 2012 ALMS GT title, the V8-powered icon has been showing its age as few areas of development remain to be exploited.
Bringing the C7.R to bear has come with a sense of urgency for the Corvette Racing team, but according to Fehan, that pressure isn't simply about creating a fresh platform to use at Le Mans and in the upcoming United Sports Car Racing championship.
Working against a shortened timeline to get the C7.R ready for a Rolex 24 debut, rather than the usual unveiling at the 12 Hours of Sebring, has the GM factory team working overtime behind the scenes.
“When we look at a compressed timeframe, ordinarily when we did this in the past we had to mid-March at Sebring to get all our ducks in a row. Now combining the series, now we've got to the end of January and all the pre-event testing that goes on before that. So that has created a much larger challenge than what we faced in the past.
“That said, we have it as well under control as any organization possibly could. Racers are an amazing breed. They will of use all the time that you give them, whether it's two minutes, two weeks, two months or two years, at the end of that time they will still be working on something. So you gauge it, you write yourself an accurate GANTT chart and work it until you're done and ready to race.”
With the current lead in the ALMS GT standings and seven races left to run, Corvette Racing will need to continue splitting its resources as the season accelerates to the series finale at Petit Le Mans in October.
“We did this before when we moved from GT1 to GT2,” Fehan notes. “We did it before when we moved from C5 to C6. Obviously, things have escalated now on a couple of different fronts. First and foremost is the competition today is far more intense and far deeper than it was in years past, so that makes it a little more difficult, because you can't afford to take your eye off the ball here in 2013 championship for an instant or you will be left in the dust. So that challenge is similar but greater than it's been in the past. That's something we have to safeguard against.”
As the C7.R prepares to break cover, Fehan says that despite an early first outing for the test mule, it's unlikely the team will unload for the Rolex 24 feeling like it has amassed enough time and mileage on the cars.
“Ideally, you'd like to have 30 test days between now and then but that's a luxury we don't have, both from a financial standpoint and just simply from a timeline standpoint,” he confirms. “But we know that regardless of how many test days we have with the car, it certainly won't be fully developed when we get to Daytona and that development will be continuous throughout the life of that car.
“If it's two, three, four, five years, it'll get better each year. But we know that. We've lived through that. But the margins are so slim today, it's incredibly hard to show up with a new car and expect to wow people the first time out.”
Taking on the build of customer C7.Rs, provided there's a demand, will also be considered, but Fehan believes the new Corvettes will only be seen in factory colors – at least to start the 2014 season.
“We have the capacity to essentially build as many racecars as there is demand for. If more teams wanted cars, we'd be happy to build them," he said. "We'd be happy to provide whatever support that fits their economic plan. But we don't have any plans to actively go forward with that. It's not a requirement; our program is a marketing-based program.
“It's not controlled by the amount of racecars that we sell, unlike other programs. So it puts us in a very comfortable position. We'd love to have more Corvettes running and we're prepared to do that but we don't actively market that. Nor do we have any plans to compete against our customers.”