The GT2 version of the Corvette C6.R will face its first endurance race test in Saturday's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Although the new-generation Corvette race car has finished on the podium in the last three sprint races – including its first win three weeks ago at Mosport International Raceway – the 1,000-mile/10-hour American Le Mans Series event on the Georgia road course will be the longest race yet for the Corvette ZR1-based machines.
Corvette Racing has seven wins in the GT1 category at Petit Le Mans, scoring victories in 2000-02, 2004-05, and 2007-08. Now the team is making its transition to the ultra-competitive GT2 category to test and develop the second-generation Corvette C6.R race cars in anticipation of a run for the championship in 2010.
“Petit Le Mans is always a formidable challenge because anything can happen in a 10-hour race,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “The fact that the team will be competing in the GT2 class means that it's going to be a tremendous battle. In addition to the endurance factor there will be the competition factor. We'll continue to focus on the priorities that have made Corvette Racing successful in the past: durability, reliability, race strategy, and pit stop execution.”
Johnny O'Connell, a resident of nearby Flowery Branch, Ga., will be in the spotlight in his hometown race. O'Connell and teammate Jan Magnussen notched the Corvette C6.R's first GT2 victory at Mosport on August 30 in O'Connell's record-setting 100th career ALMS start. The red head knows the challenges he will face in his 101st ALMS race.
“Petit Le Mans is definitely a race you want to win, and we have a team that knows how to win long-distance races,” O'Connell said. “That experience is definitely a plus. On the other hand, there could be periods of rain, according to the weather forecast, and we have very little experience with these new cars in the wet. GM Powertrain has done an amazing job with the GT2 engines, but this will be the longest run so far with the 6.0-liter motors. So between the dicey weather and the longer distance, this will be our first true test of endurance in GT2.
“The GT2 Corvette is a little less edgy than the GT1 version, but the drivers still have to push just as hard,” O'Connell explained. “With a smaller engine, we no longer have the horsepower to drive away from the GT2 cars. With steel brakes, we don't have the stopping power that we had with carbon brakes in GT1. It's going to be interesting to see where we stand relative to the competition in the fast and slow corners at Road Atlanta. We'll also have to contend with some very fast and impatient prototype drivers. It will be a challenge, but history shows that Corvette Racing is very good at doing long races without making mistakes.”
Petit Le Mans will be the first race for the team's third drivers in the GT2 specification cars. Antonio Garcia will rejoin O'Connell and Magnussen in the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R, and Marcel Fassler will again be teamed with Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta in the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R. Garcia is riding a streak of endurance racing victories in the Daytona 24-hour, Sebring 12-hour, and the 2008 and 2009 Le Mans 24-hour races.
“Antonio and Marcel are true professionals and they will adapt to the car and to the circuit quickly,” O'Connell said. “Both of them have been racing in other series, so they're already sharp. They're going to show up at Road Atlanta and get dialed in quickly.”