Season-Opening 12-Hour Sebring Endurance Race Is Toughest Test for New Cars, New Technology, and New Drivers
SEBRING, Fla., March 14, 2011 – Corvette Racing will begin the 2011 American Le Mans Series at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on Saturday, March 19, with two new cars, two new drivers, and a wealth of new technology.
The team has constructed a pair of new Compuware Corvette C6.Rs to take on the world-class competition in the GT category. Based on the GT2 Corvettes that the team introduced in 2009, the new race cars have benefited from months of development and testing.
“2010 was an extremely productive year for Corvette Racing from the standpoint of gathering information,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “The team learned a tremendous amount about the production-based LS5.5R engine package, the aero package, and the chassis setups – all of which were brand new to us. The winter was spent distilling that information, running it through various matrixes, and coming up with what we think are going to be very competitive race cars in 2011.”
The ALMS regulations now allow the use of paddle shift transmissions in the GT category, and Corvette Racing has adopted this new technology. Similar to the paddle shifters that are available in production Corvettes, the race cars’ fingertip shifters allow the drivers to change gears with both hands firmly on the steering wheel. The team has integrated this new system with the electronic controls for the production-based 5.5-liter GM small-block V-8 engines that power the Corvette C6.Rs.
“It’s been pedal-to-the-metal all winter long,” said team manager Gary Pratt. “The base chassis is identical to the design we’ve raced previously, but we’ve worked on all aspects of the cars, from aerodynamic refinements to driver safety and comfort.
“The paddle shift system is new technology for us, and our engineers have worked very hard on the communication system that links the new engine management system and the shift system. We’ve also adopted a new power control system that automatically performs many of the functions that used to be done manually, such as turning on the reserve fuel pump and switching the batteries during pit stops.
“We also installed new driver displays and new steering wheels with all of the controls on the wheel,” Pratt explained. “The steering wheel system is more user friendly, and drivers of various sizes can reach the switches more easily.”
Two of the six drivers are new to Corvette Racing’s international driver lineup in 2011. Tommy Milner, 25, of Lake Mary, Fla., will share the No. 03 Corvette C6.R with Olivier Beretta of Monaco for the full season; Spaniard Antonio Garcia is the third driver for endurance events (Sebring, Le Mans, and Petit Le Mans). Richard Westbrook, 35, of London, England, will be teamed with Jan Magnussen (Denmark) and Oliver Gavin (UK) in the No. 04 Corvette C6.R in the long-distance races.
“The paddle shift is a big plus, particularly in the braking zones,” said Gavin. “You can get hard on the brakes, then downshift really quickly. Going up through the gears, the shifts are smooth and solid. In terms of consistency and reliability, the system is a really good step forward.”
This year’s Sebring enduro marks Corvette’s 55th year in international road racing. John Fitch and Walt Hansgen drove a Corvette to a ninth-place finish overall and a Class B victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1956, the first step onto the world stage that established Chevy’s sports car as a contender in top-level competition. Corvette Racing first participated in the Sebring 12-hour race in 1999, and scored seven Sebring victories in the high-tech GT1 class (2002-04, 2006-09).
Today Corvette is competing in the production-based GT category against its showroom competitors. The 19 entries in the GT class include two Corvette C6.Rs, a Ferrari 430 GT, two BMW M3 GTs, four Ferrari F458s, a quartet of Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs, one Panoz Abruzzi, two Jaguar XKRs, two Doran Ford GTs, and a Lamborghini Gallardo. An additional five cars are entered in the GTE AM class, which requires at least one amateur driver in the lineup, including a Corvette C6.R from the French Larbre Competition team (last year’s No. 3 Corvette).
“The competition is going to be intense,” said Fehan. “We’ll face powerful new Ferraris, redesigned BMWs that won last year’s manufacturer championship, and the defending driver champions in a Porsche. I can tell you this, nobody is going to go 9-0 this season!
“Beyond the value of racing against Corvette’s market competitors, every bit of the technology that we pick up on the race track goes into the next Corvette production model, and eventually the next generation Corvette,” Fehan said. “We’re not going to disappoint Corvette fans on the race track, and we’re not going to disappoint Corvette customers in the showroom.”
The season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will put the new hardware, new drivers, and new technology to a grueling test. The race will start at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 19, and end 12 hours later at 10:30 p.m. The race will be shown live on ESPN3.com and americanlemans.com from 10:15 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. ET. ABC will provide coverage from 12:30 to 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 20.
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