07-13-2006: Corvette Racing Finishes Third in Inaugural Utah Grand Prix
Source: GM Media
O'Connell and Fellows Are Top Finishers for Chevrolet as Performance Adjustments Handicap Corvettes
SALT LAKE CITY - For the first time since October 2003, Corvette Racing didn't finish first or second in the GT1 class in American Le Mans Series competition. Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell had to settle for third place in today's inaugural Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park as the effects of series-mandated handicaps throttled the Corvettes' performance at this high-altitude track. The win went to Aston Martin for the second consecutive race as Tomas Enge and Darren Turner claimed victory over Stephane Sarrazin and Andrea Piccini. Corvette drivers Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta were fourth.
"Racing the Aston Martins under these rules is like playing five-on-four hockey for an entire game," commented Fellows after the two-hour, 45-minute race.
As a result of performance adjustments imposed by the sanctioning body, the Corvettes went into battle with 1-mm smaller intake air restrictors, 10-liter smaller fuel tanks, and 199 more pounds than their British rivals.
"It was a long, hot day, and despite our hard work it was disappointing to finish third," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "With the way the rules are now, we never really had a chance."
"I'm proud of the team for coming out here, going full throttle all afternoon, and representing Corvette to the best of our ability in this situation," Fehan continued. "They did a great job, and they never gave up."
The performance imbalance became apparent shortly after the race began at 6:05 p.m. as the Aston Martins opened a gap and then led every lap. Fellows and Gavin started in the No. 3 and No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.Rs respectively, but the front-running Aston enjoyed a 15-second lead after four laps around the 4.5-mile road course. The Corvettes moved to second and third at the one-hour mark when an Aston made an early pit stop for tires. Beretta took over from Gavin and O'Connell replaced Fellows on the first round of pit stops after completing 26 laps, but 10 minutes later, the Astons were running first and second on fresh rubber.
The race's only full-course caution period with 25 minutes remaining sealed the Corvettes' fate as the yellow cars were caught behind the safety car and Enge gained nearly a lap. When the pits reopened, the Corvettes made their final pit stops for fuel only, but couldn't make up the deficit to the Aston Martins in the closing laps. O'Connell passed Beretta with nine minutes remaining to take the final place on the podium.
"That was hard work today," O'Connell declared. "It's an amazing track and we gave it everything we could, but with these rules it's not a fair fight. That was as hard as we could race. We hoped their times would fall off with worn tires, but they didn't, so congratulations to Aston Martin Racing. Maybe today's race will show the powers that be that they have gone too far."
Gavin agreed: "It was a hard and hot race today," he said. "Early on we had a lot of trouble passing the LMP2 cars, and if we hadn't had that problem we might have been closer. This equalization rule is crazy; to pass the Astons would have been extremely difficult because they're just so fast on the straights. You have to wait for them to make a mistake, and that's how I got around Sarrazin when he made a mistake in Turn 3."