Ferrari had the fastest car last year, but didn't turn it into championship success. That honor, yet again, went to Porsche and the Flying Lizard squad. The latest version of the German manufacturer's 911 GT3-RSR wasn't the fastest GT last year, but the Lizards made up for it as a team. Drivers Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long barely made a mistake all year, and the Lizards' legendary teamwork did the rest. (Read about their first foray into Daytona Prototypes here
In the past, Corvette Racing, too, showed great speed in the pits and strategic acumen, yet its golden touch deserted it in 2010.
“We made a lot of small mistakes that had a big effect,” says Jan Magnussen, who joined Chevrolet back in 2004. “There were lots of races where we were in with a shot, but we threw it away.”
The 2010 season started badly for Corvette Racing. Its two cars collided in pit lane early in the Sebring 12 Hours, and, unfortunately, that turned out to be a tone-setting incident. There were collisions with GT rivals, incidents with prototypes and drive-through penalties for mistakes in pit lane.
There's a theory that the two years Corvette Racing essentially competed against itself in the ALMS blunted its competitive edge. Some involved in the project dismiss that idea, others give it some credence. Magnussen is very much in the first camp.
“We were always allowed to race each other,” he says. “The drivers raced each other on the track and the crews raced each other in the pits. Everyone was pushing hard even though we didn't have any real opposition.”
Gary Pratt of Pratt & Miller, isn't so sure. “You think two years of not really racing anyone [2007 and '08] isn't going to affect you,” he muses. “But going into a class of six or more cars that can win, you find you've lost something.”
Pratt also concedes that its efforts for the Le Mans 24 Hours blunted the ALMS campaign. “Our main goal was Le Mans, and we focused on that,” he says. “That left us a little off in terms of our sprint package for the ALMS.”
True enough. As usual, the Corvettes flew at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France. “Our trimmed-out package was strong,” says Gavin. “We could run the top speed and get through the Porsche Curves quickly. The homework we did for Le Mans paid off.”
At least in terms of outright speed. Reliability issues with its 5.5-liter V8, developed in-house at GM rather than the Katech company behind the GT1 powerplants, almost certainly deprived Corvette Racing victory at Le Mans. An oiling problem resulted in engine failures on both Chevys. The reasons for the Chevrolet's pace at Le Mans also explain its lack of pace in the rough and tumble of the ALMS. The GT2-spec C6.R was short on downforce, at least in comparison with the Ferraris and BMWs. Kent won't let that happen again, stating clearly that “Corvette Racing's efforts in North America will not be compromised in the name of performance at Le Mans.”
Thus, attention has been paid to the aerodynamics of the car over the winter, according to Kent, and he adds that the “engine has come under scrutiny as have our procedures in the pits.” But ask him what has been the main criteria for Corvette Racing's winter program, and he's admirably blunt: “That we learn from our mistakes.”
Time will tell just how much progress the team has made both with the car and with its operation. Sebring, next month, will provide at least some of the answers.
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the March 2011 issue of RACER magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.