There were more changes in the two-plus months downtime between Long Beach and the second half of the season. Tom Brown joined Burke Harrison on the engineering side and the team tested two days at Road America to set itself up for the seven-race stretch run. A win at Lime Rock eluded them before the team's first 1-2 finish, Jeannette and Gonzalez ahead, at Mosport in July.
“Mosport we dominated, with me starting...I did and left it in a nice position for Gunnar; I was very happy with my performance there,” Gonzalez says of what he considered his best drive of 2011.
Bennett largely agrees: “Winning as an owner, and standing on the podium as second step as a driver, was great but with a twist of jealousy! I had great teammates – but you obviously want to win. Still, I was happy during the year we never had to make any artificial changes, we just let the results fall naturally.”
They fell naturally, but they also fell statistically as the summer months progressed. Jeannette notes the single specification of tires Michelin provides for the class, while still durable, weren't able to run as far on stints in 2011 as in 2010. Additionally, several mechanical issues saw the team not win a race the rest of the year, with potential victories go begging on several occasions.
A power steering issue cost the 06 car 12 laps at Sebring, and the car made up six of them to finish third. A throttle position sensor went off at Baltimore, and finally the twists and turns struck at Petit with an early off-course excursion for Gonzalez and later an accessory belt in the engine that broke when Jeannette was driving. His recovery to make it back to the pit lane was rather miraculous.
“We finished the others in limp mode, and the crew on the 06 car handled everything thrown at them absolutely awesome,” Jeannette says. “Particularly at Petit. The Katech engine guy was there, and they all said there was no way to change without the belt off. But we said, ‘Screw it, we're getting this thing off!' We were only down 25 minutes.
“When Ricardo got shoved off, honestly it did not faze me at all. I knew we had plenty of time to make it up. And it was same when I was in the car and the belt went, literally right through Turn 11. Right past start/finish I shut it off as the way to get back in going down pit out. It took some quick thinking. Those things made the difference in the championship; if we finished sixth instead of third, they would have ended up winning.”
So it ended with the No. 06 Jeannette/Gonzalez car and Lux, who co-drove with Elton Julian most of the year in the No. 63 Genoa car, square on 156 points with the exact same results in nine races. That left the Bennett/Montecalvo car second in the drivers' standings and CORE winners in the team championship by a single point.
Come 2012, the team moves into its all-new, purpose-built 30,000 square-foot facility by the end of this month, just next door to the Composite Resources parent company in Rock Hill, S.C.
A two-car LMPC program continues with Bennett, unsurprisingly, confirming himself for one seat and hinting the driver lineup should be fairly similar. Jeannette says his intention is to return with CORE, while Gonzalez says he is “exploring all options” but doesn't have any motivation to leave the team. The championship-winning pairing had good chemistry and would look to continue it.
“Considering in mid-December none of us had anything, Jon told us they could have had a real tough year without our guys,” Jeannette says. “Being able to put our strengths together as a focused effort made it awesome and fun.”
Bennett continues the program throughout the off-season to keep continuity and the team's staff of 15 full-time employees at work.
“We've always looked at the program as a 12-months-a-year operation and funded it that way,” he says. “Guys who were full-time in August are in December and January, too. That was a thing I couldn't believe about the business of racing, is that a lot of teams send everyone home for three or four months. They don't make a lot to start with then have to come back after temp stuff. Fortunately for me, there's a couple I could bring into the manufacturing business. No one likes to have their paycheck pulled for three or four months.”
CORE's title defense begins next March at Sebring as the team looks to add a win in the 12 Hours of Sebring to its already stout résumé.