Corvette Racing found the silver lining in the dark clouds that soaked the Circuit de la Sarthe in the June 1, 2008, test for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Intermittent downpours, sporadic showers, and frequent red-flag periods punctuated the day as the Corvette Racing team tested a range of Michelin tires and evaluated chassis and gearbox setups. With the changeable weather in the Loire Valley, the knowledge gained today could prove valuable in the upcoming 24-hour endurance race.
The long day on the immense 8.481-mile circuit was virtually trouble-free for the Corvette Racing team. Max Papis set the fastest time between the two factory Corvettes at 3:55.520, turning his quick lap in the No. 64 Compuware Corvette C6.R in dry conditions at the start of the four-hour afternoon session. Johnny O'Connell posted the quickest time in the No. 63 Compuware Corvette C6.R at 3:55.877 during the same period. The Corvettes ended up third and fourth among the 10 entries in the GT1 class behind the No. 009 Aston Martin DBR9 (3:53.531) and the No. 50 Saleen S7R (3:55.383).
"I think we maximized the opportunities that we had today," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "It certainly wasn't the test plan we had laid out, but the conditions were the same for everybody. When it's all said and done, it may actually be to our advantage when a day like this happens because we're well prepared when we arrive, and more practice time tends to narrow the gap.
"The drivers are very satisfied with the development work we've done," Fehan continued. "When we briefly had a dry track this morning, the cars were very stable. I think this is probably the best start we've had at Le Mans from the standpoint of having cars that are really good out of the box, and everyone is very encouraged by that."
All six drivers rotated through the cars and evaluated tires, suspensions, and gearboxes. The No. 64 Corvette turned 39 laps, while the No. 63 completed 42 circuits. A sudden shower and a final red flag at 5:30 p.m. effectively ended the session 30 minutes before its scheduled conclusion.
"It was definitely an eye-opening experience in the beginning of my stint with the track half dry and half wet," said Papis. "It was fortunate that we could run today because we learned quite a lot. This test was really more a session for the drivers than anything else, an opportunity for us to get acquainted with different track conditions and different Michelin tires for wet weather. I feel confident about the race, and up to now it's been a great exercise."
The crew of the No. 63 car made a scheduled gearbox change during the one-hour lunch break, and O'Connell promptly posted his quickest lap time.
"We worked with ride heights and gear ratios a little, so hopefully the engineers can look at that data and decide where they want to start both cars," said O'Connell. "We were testing different setups on the two cars, and gathering as much information as we could. We had maybe eight laps on a dry track, so it's very difficult for a driver to run consistent times. It's a situation like this that shows the benefit of having a team that's been here for so many years and a driver lineup that doesn't need to learn the course. In conditions like we had today, about the only thing you can prove to the world is how stupid you can be if you fall off the track! We run a tight ship at Corvette Racing, and we keep our eyes on the big prize – finishing first on the 15th of June."
The session was the only opportunity for teams to test on the Le Mans course, which includes stretches of public highways. The start of official practice and qualifying for the world's most prestigious sports car race begins on June 11.
There are four Corvettes among the 10 entries in the GT1 class, the premier division for production-based race cars. Joining the two factory entries is a pair of Corvette C6.Rs entered by Luc Alphand Aventures. The Corvettes will face a quartet of Aston Martin DBR9s, a Lamborghini Murcielago, and a Saleen S7R for the GT1 trophy.
Thye June 1 test was a prelude to two days of qualifying on June 11-12 and the 24-hour race on June 14-15. The 24 Hours of Le Mans will start at 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. EDT) on Saturday, June 14 and finish at 3 p.m. (9 a.m. EDT) on Sunday, June 15. SPEED will televise the start of the race on June 14 from 8:30 a.m. EDT to 12 p.m. EDT, and the finish from 9 p.m. EDT to 6 a.m. EDT on June 15.