Corvette Racing's twin Compuware Corvette C6.R race cars have completed thousands of laps since the team's debut in 1999, but the one that stands out is the last lap at Petit Le Mans in 2010. After more than nine hours of racing, Corvette driver Oliver Gavin caught and passed the class-leading Ferrari within sight of the final corners. As the fuel-starved Ferrari faltered, Gavin swept past to score Corvette Racing's eighth win at Petit Le Mans.
Now Corvette Racing is targeting its ninth Petit Le Mans title and its 11th win at the classic Road Atlanta circuit on Saturday, October 1. Scheduled to run for 10 hours or 1,000 miles – whichever comes first – Petit Le Mans is the third jewel in the Triple Crown of endurance racing. Corvette Racing notched a podium finish in the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, and won the GTE Pro class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. The most successful team in ALMS history is seeking to wrap up the 2011 season with a repeat victory on the classic 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course.
"I vividly remember those final laps at Road Atlanta last year," Gavin said. "I was having a dialogue with my engineer, Chuck Houghton, over the radio, and I could tell from his voice that he was sweating the fuel numbers. It was going to be very close for us; he was telling me to save fuel, telling me the gaps to the cars in front and behind. It was one of the most intense couple of laps I've had in a race car.
"I can still see the Ferrari now, weaving from side to side to pick up the last drops of fuel," he recalled. "It was all a blur when I went by him. I took the checkered flag, but it wasn't until I'd reached Turn 3 that Chuck finally told me that we'd won the race. The tone of his voice told me that we'd managed to pull off an amazing victory!"
A repeat at Petit Le Mans is just the kind of challenge that Corvette Racing relishes. The race, which is also the penultimate round of the International Le Mans Cup, has attracted a topflight field that includes the Audi and Peugeot factory LMP1 teams and additional factory-backed GT teams. With 58 entries, including 19 cars in the production-based GT class, the task will be formidable.
"Petit Le Mans is a brutal race every year, regardless of how many cars are competing," said Gavin, who will share the No. 4 Corvette C6.R with Jan Magnussen and Richard Westbrook. "Whether it's the weather, the surface, the nature of the track, the number of cars, it always turns up something unusual. It's going to be a battle just to get through the race. Petit Le Mans is always an epic event."
American Tommy Milner will make his first appearance with Corvette Racing at Road Atlanta with teammates Olivier Beretta and Antonio Garcia in the Le Mans-winning No. 3 Corvette C6.R. Milner recognizes the challenges: "The track is a lot of fun to drive by yourself, but it's very tough when you add in fast prototypes," the American noted. "It's going to be packed in the pit lane and it will be tight out on the track. The goal is to have a clean race and not get caught up in someone else's accident. That's going to be difficult with all of the traffic, so you have to put yourself in the best position possible for the duration."
The race will start at 11:30 a.m. and end in darkness. The sun will set at 7:20 p.m. at Road Atlanta, and nightfall will present special problems for the GT class drivers.
"The Audi prototypes in particular have a very aggressive lighting package, and if they flash their lights, you have no depth perception and can't judge the distance to the car behind you," Gavin explained. "The first part of the track has a lot of changes in direction; you're trying to keep an eye on the racing line while watching everyone behind you at the same time. That's when Corvette Racing's spotting system with the crew chiefs watching out for us is priceless."
In spite of the dangers and difficulties, Road Atlanta is held in high regard by the Corvette crew. "It's a real race track," Milner declared. "It's one of the classic race circuits, like Mosport, Watkins Glenn, and Road America. It's a track with character."
Corvette Racing’s next event is Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga., on Saturday, October 1. The 10-hour or 1,000-mile race will start at 11:30 a.m. ET. Live video coverage will be available on ESPN3.com in the U.S. and americanlemans.com for international users. ABC will televise Petit Le Mans on Sunday, October 2, at 4 p.m.