Corvette Racing Wins Third-Straight Titles in Season Finale ALMS Round 9, Petit Le Mans
Corvette Racing Wins Third-Straight Titles In Season Finale
ALMS Round 9, Petit Le Mans
October 18, 2003
4th GTS: Oliver Gavin, #4 Compuware Corvette C5-R, 1m29.574s (102.083 mph)
6th GTS: Ron Fellows, #3 Compuware Corvette C5-R, 1m30.230s (101.341 mph)
3rd GTS: #4 Compuware Corvette C5-R, Oliver Gavin, Kelly Collins, Andy Pilgrim, 366 laps
5th GTS: #3 Compuware Corvette C5-R, Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell, Franck Freon 353 laps
Corvette Racing accomplished what the team needed to achieve in the final race of the 2003 American Le Mans Series: They clinched their third consecutive GTS team, auto manufacturer and tire manufacturer championships for Corvette Racing, Chevrolet and Goodyear, respectively.
The weekend didn’t lack for nail-biting tension. When it was all over, Chevrolet won the manufacturers’ title by just one point over Ferrari, 167 to 166. Corvette Racing’s and Goodyear’s margin over Prodrive and Michelin, respectively, was four points – 167 to 163.
The way the mathematics worked out, if Ferraris finished first and second, a Corvette had to finish third to stay ahead in the championship races.
Trying to pull off an upset, Ferrari stepped up with a third car for the Prodrive team. Combined with the Olive Garden team Ferrari that has been getting stronger through the season, it shortened the odds for the team scoring its three-peat.
“They showed up at Road Atlanta will all guns blazing,” said Gary Pratt, team manager for Corvette Racing. “They had four strong cars, and that made things really tough for our two Corvettes. It wasn’t easy. We had some problems and weren’t thrilled with the way the race went. But we pulled it off and won our third-straight championships. That part really feels good.”
A tough time keeping up
The preliminary sessions showed just what the Corvette team was up against. Even though the Corvettes were faster on Road Atlanta’s 2.54-mile circuit than they had been in the June race, the Ferraris had gained even more.
“Basically, we were a second a lap faster than we had been in June,” said Ron Fellows, “but the Ferraris were two seconds faster. So we were looking at the same kind of issues as we faced at Laguna Seca; we were going to have a very tough time keeping up.”
The qualifying session took place on a damp track, and Fellows’ pole record from 2000 (1m18.632s – 116.289 mph) was safe for another year. David Brabham put his Prodrive 550 Maranello on the pole with a time of 1m26.338s.
Oliver Gavin proved to be the quickest of the Corvettes, but he was a little over three seconds off the pace Brabham set.
Long day’s journey
A thousand miles is a long race — almost 10 hours on the Road Atlanta circuit if conditions are good. It’s especially long when you’re trying desperately to overcome a disadvantage.
For a while the prospects were looking good, with both cars running in the top three. Then the number 4 Corvette was forced back when a full-course caution came out at just the wrong time.
Then, at about the six-hour mark, Johnny O’Connell made what was supposed to be a routine pit stop. But the car would not re-start. The crew had to push the car behind the wall, and it turned out that the flywheel ring gear had failed. They had to replace the gearbox, which took half an hour and put the number-3 car out of contention. The only bright spot for Fellows and O’Connell was that they had clinched the GTS championship for drivers in the previous race at Miami.
We did it!
The best part was, by this time the number-4 Corvette was back in contention — at least for third place — and in the final two hours they were able to cruise when two of the Ferraris suffered setbacks. Everyone had fingers crossed that nothing would go wrong … and it didn’t.
“We were fortunate,” said Fellows. “What it amounted to was, we had fourth-place cars, but Oliver, Kelly and Andy finished third, and that’s what we needed. We have to be happy.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy with a third-place finish,” commented Pratt. “It wasn’t pretty, but it made all the difference in the world to the outcome of our season. It was tough, but we did it.”
“We had a great season, and we did what we set out to do,” said Gavin. “Now, we’re already preparing for next year. We’re working on cars that we hope will bring us even more victories in 2004.”