Lone Star Le Mans – Racing Into the Night in Texas

The joint TUDOR / FIA WEC Lone Star Le Mans at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) featured the penultimate round of the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship and the American round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) on the same day. The TUDOR race was held at lunchtime and was a 2-hour and 45-minute sprint race. The FIA WEC race was six hours in length, starting at 5 p.m. and ran well into the darkness for an 11 p.m. finish.

The TUDOR race did not go well for Corvette Racing, Antonio Garcia came into the race leading the drivers Championship and Corvette Racing was second to Porsche in the Manufacturers points. To help their chances Porsche decided to build and enter a 3rd factory car, the #910 for this race. With the car in the hands of Patrick Pilet, the 910 car took the pole position on Friday only to lose it in the post-race technical inspection as the car was found to not be running the series mandated roof camera mount.

Qualifying highlighted the fact that the Corvette C7.R currently cannot hold pace when compared with the other manufacturers. The Pilet time of 2:03.302 was a second and a half ahead of the time set by the #3 C7R which qualified in 8th with a time of 2:04.847, the #4 qualified in 10th with a time of 2:05.093.  The series organizers IMSA announced the final Adjustment Balance of Performance (BoP) just before this race meaning the gloves were finally off and all the manufacturers could finally run flat out without the fear of being penalized for being better than the other teams.

Sadly for Corvette Racing, they were already running flat out and had no further performance to release from their engineering bag of tricks. The Porsche and the SRT Viper teams both showed in qualifying and the practice sessions that they were going to be the cars to beat and so the race proved.

The #93 Bomarito / Wittmer Viper inherited the pole with the #910 Porsche’s infraction but at the start of the race the #911 Porsche of Bergmeister / Tandy took the lead, followed by both the Viper and the second regular season Porsche #912, these three continued to pull away from the rest of the GTLM field. Both Corvettes struggled as did the BMWs especially in the first half of the race. The #62 Ferrari that had won the previous two rounds of the championship at VIR and Road America also struggled at first but seemed to improve as the race went on and eventually finished in 4th.

TUDOR Corvettes

There was only one full course caution during the race, called to remove the rear bodywork that had detached itself (with help of another car) and was sitting on the track. Just as the track went back to green flag racing most of the GTLM field made their first pit stops. Corvette Racings slick pit work did improve the Corvettes positions but they soon lost out to the cars around them due to their lack of pace. The second round of pit stops saw the #4 Corvette lose time as the passenger side door refused to latch, bit this didn’t matter as the car returned to the track in the position it left which was eleventh, last in its class.

The #911 Porsche which had been leading the class and looking good for the win actually retired with a mechanical failure, a broken driveshaft, handing a 1-2 finish to the SRT Vipers. The Corvettes also achieved a 1-2 finish of sorts in that they were last and next to last place of the cars in the GTLM class, excluding the DNF (Did Not Finish) cars.

Antonio Garcia will now need a small miracle / class win with others failing in the final round at Road Atlanta in two weeks time to retain the drivers title he shared last season with Jan Magnussen. Corvette now has little chance of winning the Manufacturers title either, but as the final race is also the final round of the North America Endurance Cup (NAEC) they do have a chance to win this if they can score points not only at the end of the race but during the race. The six point lead Antonio enjoyed coming to Texas is now a seven point deficit to the driver pairing of Bormatio and Wittmer in the #93 Viper.

Let us all hope that next season IMSA gets the balance right and doesn’t panic themselves into changing the balance before the end of the first season as they have done this year to the detriment of Corvette Racing as well as the GTLM class racing as a whole.

FIA WEC Corvette

Corvette Racing built a third C7.R (chassis C7RGT-001) to run in the FIA WEC round with an all-American driver line-up of Tommy Milner, Jordan Taylor and Ricky Taylor.

The car had been the test car and also the one present for the debut of the C7 Z06 back in January at the NAIAS in Detroit. The car raced as the #65 in the FIA WEC, the same series that the other two Corvettes had run in at Le Mans back in June. The car was running a slightly different specification then its sister cars running in the TUDOR series. The car was built with a different capacity fuel tank as per the FIA WEC rules and there were some minor other changes to comply with the series regulations. Michelin and Konica Minolta were the main sponsors of the car, hence the new graphics. The qualification time for the C7.R was a 2:08.674 good enough for 7th place in the LMGTE Pro class. Pole went to the AF Corse Ferrari which set a time of 2:06.456 for the FIA WEC they use an average of the best two laps for two drivers per car.

The race started at 5 p.m. Central Time with sunny skies and no forecast for rain, but who ever believes the forecast? Especially here in Austin where it had rained on and off since I arrived on Friday night, the result of hurricane Odile apparently.

The weather had been unpredictable all weekend with high humidity, sunshine and periods of rain. At about 6:30 p.m. the heavens opened and the hardest rain of the race weekend descended on the circuit which caused carnage for some, as cars heading down the long back straight at close to 200mph suddenly found they had no grip and slid helplessly towards the awaiting gravel trap. Numerous cars ended up off the track all around the circuit and with the torrential downpour the officials decided they had no choice but to effectively stop the race with a red flag period.

The clock continued to count down on the six hour race and eventually after about one hour, the race resumed behind the safety car as dusk descended on the circuit. During the red flag period the cars were parked out on the start / finish straight and as a result of the #65 pitting for rain tires as the red flag was thrown, they lost a lap to the leaders and then a further lap as a result of the wave around before the race resumed. The FIA WEC obviously have a similar ethos to TUDOR in that poor performance and/or stupid drivers are rewarded whereas driving to the conditions and pitting for the correct tires is frowned upon and penalized.

Winning Audi and Drivers

The overall race went to Audi with a 1-2 finish and Aston Martin won the GT PRO Class.

For Corvette Racing the only real plus from the whole weekend was the chance to run in the FIA WEC and for Ricky Taylor to get some C7R competitive seat time. For the record the #65 C7R finished 24th overall and 7th in Class, matching the performance of the TUDOR race, last place.

Oh well, lets hope for a better result at Petit Le Mans in 2 weeks time, maybe by some miracle the Corvettes will suddenly perform better and perhaps they will manage to win the North American Endurance Cup where points are awarded at different times in the race, like at five hours in and at the conclusion. Currently Corvette leads, but again it is tight with the Porsche and Viper teams.

I will be at Road Atlanta for the finale so lets hope my next report can be more upbeat!

 

About the author

Nigel Dobbie

A certified petrol-head Nigel Dobbie is a native of the U.K. and a long-time Corvette owner. Currently living in the U.S., he drives a 2010 ZR1 and also owns a 2003 C5 Z06 that is currently in its third rebuild, which should end up as an 800 horsepower twin turbo track rat. He is passionate about motorsports, as long as it involves making right-hand turns. Nigel can usually be found trackside with his trusty Canon on any given ALMS race weekend. He is a freelance contributor for Power Automedia.
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