Pit Lane Contact Seals Corvettes’ Fate in Classic Endurance Race
For many years, Sebring International Raceway was Corvette Racing’s Bermuda Triangle, a place where strange things happened routinely. After seven victories at the classic circuit, Sebring was once again the team’s nemesis in the 58th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. An improbable collision in the pit lane ultimately consigned the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6. R to an eighth-place finish and the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R to ninth place at the checkered flag.
The race started well for the twin Corvettes, with Jan Magnussen running fourth and Oliver Gavin fifth. At the 39-minute mark, the Corvettes were second and third before the first full-course caution period began. But Murphy’s Law – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – was about to be invoked as the No. 3 Corvette went behind the wall to repair a power steering hose at 1:55 into the race, rejoining the fray with an eight-lap deficit to the leader.
The decisive moment occurred at 3:09 when the No. 3 Corvette pitted, with Magnussen replacing Johnny O’Connell. Magnussen was released from his pit box just as Emmanuel Collard was entering the adjacent stall in the No. 4 Corvette. The resulting contact damaged both cars. The No. 4 went immediately to the transporters where the Corvette crew replaced its front stabilizer bar and bodywork. The No. 3 suffered a punctured front tire and returned to the pits for repairs after completing a lap at reduced speed.
“I can’t tell you all the things that had to line up for that to happen right there, but it was super unfortunate and everyone is feeling bad about it,” Magnussen said. “I feel so sorry for the No. 4 Corvette – we were out of contention because we had a long pit stop, but the No. 4 car was in with a good shot, it was fast. I can guarantee that things will be done so that never happens again.”
“It was a misunderstanding because normally I should pit one lap later, but I had a low fuel alarm on the back straight,” Collard explained. “I put the reserve on and they asked me come to the pits.”
“An incident like this has never happened before at Corvette Racing,” said program manager Doug Fehan. “A perfect storm of events that certainly we can’t attribute to any one thing caused the two cars to come together in pit lane. We’ll go back and look at what took place, establish procedures to ensure that it never happens again, and come back stronger for the next event. Even when our guys were laps down to the leaders, they ran just as hard after that incident as they did before. That tells you what Corvette Racing is about.”
The misfortune continued in the eighth hour as the No. 4 Corvette C6.R with Oliver Gavin at the wheel was hit by an errant tire on the course. It was a glancing blow; a few microseconds later, it might have been much worse. As darkness settled on Sebring, Gavin found that the headlights were not working. He returned to the pits, where the Corvette crew replaced the nose, headlight, and harness assembly.
“I don’t know which of the racing gods I’ve offended, but I’d certainly like to apologize,” Gavin quipped. “It’s been an extraordinary day, the most eventful ever for this team. We had a car capable of challenging anyone, but somehow it all went wrong. So now it’s on to Long Beach.”
In the closing hours, the race settled into a steady routine as the miles went by. The drivers completed their stints without incident, punctuated by pit stops for four Michelin tires and a tank of E85 ethanol fuel. O’Connell took the No. 3 Corvette C6.R across the finish line, and Olivier Beretta piloted the No. 4 to the finish.
“Racing is hard stuff, and no matter how hard you try and how hard you prepare, sometimes things go wrong,” O’Connell said. “You can either beat yourself up or be encouraged by how well the crew performed to get both cars back in the race. The guys were awesome. We got a lot of positives out of this event: We made good progress on our engine development and we got a gauge to measure where we stand versus the competition. The mark of a champion is overcoming adversity and finding ways to win, and I know this team can do that.”
Corvette Racing’s next event is the American Le Mans Series at Long Beach on Saturday, April 17. The one-hour, 40-minute race will start at 4:15 p.m. PT and will be televised at 8 p.m. ET on SPEED
Courtesy ALMS © RIF