No American Le Mans Series title. No Le Mans 24 Hours victory. Corvette Racing missed its twin targets in 2010, the first year it has failed to hit either since 2001. There was a solitary win in the ALMS and five more series podiums in its first full season in the GT class (formerly, GT2 class), results that for most teams would have added up to a decent season. But as Mark Kent, General Motors racing director, says: “Corvette Racing isn't a normal team.”
The man under whose purview the Chevrolet Corvette program falls is keen to remind that the GT-class 'Vettes “were on the podium consistently and regularly challenged for victories.” But he admits that's not enough for an operation that has notched up seven ALMS drivers' titles, eight manufacturers' crowns and five class victories at Le Mans in the GT1 class (and its forerunner, GTS).
That's why, he explains, “Every element of the program, from top to bottom, came under review during this off-season. There's been no silver bullet, just a series of tiny improvements aimed at putting the Corvette back where it's accustomed.”
There are a number of theories to explain Chevrolet's worst season since it started winning in the ALMS back in 2000. But it is important to understand that the Pratt & Miller-run team was facing its stiffest challenge ever after swapping over to the GT2 class, as it was still known in the ALMS when Chevrolet made its debut in the category at Mid-Ohio in 2009.
Arguably, there was and remains no sterner challenge in sports car racing around the world.
The GT1 Chevys never truly had more than one opponent capable of depriving them of victory in the ALMS: first there were the ORECA Dodge Viper GTS-Rs; then the Konrad squad's Saleen S7R; occasionally the Prodrive-run Ferrari 550 Maranellos; and, for a little over a year, the factory Aston Martin DBR9s. In stark contrast, last season the all-new GT2 Corvette C6.R (which confusingly retained the nomenclature of its GT1 sibling) came up against factory or factory-backed opposition from Ferrari, Porsche and BMW, all at the same time. Ferrari and Porsche are stalwarts of a class in which they have largely shared the silverware since it was established back in 1999. BMW was a returnee with a big-buck factory program masterminded on the ground by the Rahal Letterman Racing team. They were all formidable opponents.
Chevrolet probably achieved too much too soon in its new arena during '09. It was on the podium first time out and won at the third time of asking at Mosport. Whether or not the dispensation it received to run a GT1-based engine (complete with direct injection) played a major part in those results isn't clear, but some were still predicting that Corvette would make the renamed GT class its own in 2010.
In fact, it was Chevrolet's rivals which, according to one of the team's stalwart drivers, Oliver Gavin (LEFT), “ratcheted it up a notch.” The Ferrari 430 GT – the GT2 class winner at Le Mans in 2008-'09 and the fastest car in class in the ALMS over that period – took a giant step forward. Ferrari had experimented with running the 430 at the higher 1245kg [2745lbs] (rather than 1125kg [2480lbs]) weight limit allowed in GT2 at the end of the 2009 FIA GT Championship. This allowed Ferrari a larger-diameter air restrictor and thus more engine power, as well as wider wheels and tires. Ferrari, whose ALMS charge was again led by Risi Competizione, picked up something in outright pace and, more significantly, tire durability.
“There were times when they absolutely nailed us, and everyone else,” recalls Gavin. “At Long Beach, the Ferrari was half a second clear in qualifying. We went to Mosport, and it was the same. To put it simply, we didn't have enough speed in the car.”