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24 Hours of Le Mans

UPDATE: JLOC to race after all!

© Planetlemans – Marcel ten Caat

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, but the rain in France fell mainly on the Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans tonight. With a wet track and treacherous conditions, the GT1 qualifying order established on Wednesday night was unchanged. The No. 64 Compuware Corvette C6-R driven by Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Max Papis will start third in the GT1 class, and the No. 63 Compuware Corvette C6-R shared by Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen is qualified fifth in the premier production sports car division.
The session began 30 minutes after its scheduled starting time at 7:00 p.m. due to oil on the circuit after practice by a field of historic race cars. As the twin Corvettes waited in the pits for the racing line to be cleaned, heavy rain inundated the course at 7:39 p.m. The rain subsided and the Corvettes finally went onto the track at 8:04 p.m. with Papis and Fellows at the helm. All six Corvette Racing drivers rotated through the race cars before the first half of the session concluded at 9:30 p.m.

The No. 64 Corvette clocked its fastest lap tonight at 4:35.281, and the No. 63 had a fastest time of 4:36.285. The slick track produced lap times more than 40 seconds slower than those recorded on a drying track yesterday.

"The track was very slippery and it was unusually bad at the start of the session because of the oil that was put down by the historic cars that ran before us," said Fellows. "I could see an oily film on the surface, but as the rain continued, it eventually washed off."

"You have to be careful of the puddles," Fellows noted. "You’re still going 170 mph and it’s very treacherous on the sections of track that are on public roads – Mulsanne, the run to Indianapolis, and between Arnage and the Porsche curves. The physical loads are much lower when you’re driving in the rain, but you hold your breath a lot more. There’s no time to relax."

"This was the first time I’ve driven the Corvette C6-R in the rain, so it was very helpful to get out there tonight," Papis reported. "I would have rather been on a different race track than this one in wet conditions because you run so fast here that even a small mistake can be very costly. I have some more work to do, but I’m pleased with how I drove the car in the rain for the first time."

With a strong possibility of rain during the 24-hour race on Saturday and Sunday, the Corvette Racing crew focused on preparing the race cars for wet conditions.

"There were several things we worked on tonight," said Steve Wesoloski, GM Racing Road Racing Group manager. "First, how can we generate mechanical grip in these conditions? We looked at several choices in rain tires and tire pressures. Then we looked at visibility issues, and how well the drivers could see, and all of those systems worked very well. Third, we wanted to get the drivers comfortable and give them time to find the racing line, learn where the puddles are, and determine their braking points."

"If it’s a wet race, it’s going to be about who survives and who makes the smart decisions," Wesoloski predicted. "The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a long race and there’s no reason to take risks. We want to stay on the road, keep the cars healthy, and then push when it’s dry."{mospagebreak }

Olivier Beretta, No. 64 Corvette C6-R: "It looks like it might like 2001 all over again. We haven’t had a single dry session, but that of course goes for everybody. This obviously also means we didn’t get to do all the things we had planned to do for dry weather conditions. On certain parts of the track there is a lot of water, as you might expect. Apart from that the team did a great job, sorting out the headlights and making sure the windscreen doesn’t mist up in the wet. I guess this weekend will be all about the weather."

Ron Fellows, No. 63 Corvette C6-R: "The biggest thing we work on in these conditions is visibility, through the side windows as well as the windshield. Corvette Racing has done a magical job – I scarcely had to turn on the windshield wiper. I did make some adjustments on the brake bias and the traction control for the wet conditions.

"The other issue is visibility when you’re catching other cars. With the high speeds here, the cars create a wall of spray and you’re running down the track in a fog. If you’re running alone it’s not too bad, but in traffic it’s very difficult."

Jan Magnussen, No. 63 Corvette C6-R: "I was working on learning where the puddles are and seeing where we might have issues in the race. The Corvette C6-R worked very well, but it’s going to be very difficult to see anything in traffic. There are two ways to solve that – you either push to get ahead of the guy in front or you fall back. The conditions were very difficult tonight, but it was good to learn where to be careful and how hard you can push."

"Speed still plays a big part in a wet race, but mistakes play a really big part. When conditions are like they are now, the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. You must really think about every chance you take, and be 100 percent focused on what’s going on with the track conditions. That’s what is going to make or break this race for us. It would be a mistake to get caught up in fighting another car instead of keeping an eye on the conditions."

(credit: Corvette Racing)

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