Wednesday
Apr152009

For Corvette Racing, excellence is expected

Photo by John Thawley Peter M. De Lorenzo is a national columnist who founded Autoextremist.com, a highly-regarded website devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. He is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.Karl Ludvigsen, the highly decorated author and historian and the man who has covered the automobile industry and motorsports for over 50 years, once wrote the definitive book on the history of Porsche entitled “Excellence Was Expected.” An impressive work that Karl has updated three times, it set the standard for every serious automotive book to come after it, and it remains one of my personal favorites. The title alone spoke volumes about Porsche the man and Porsche the company, and it summed up the essence of that automotive icon in three perfectly honed words.

Think about those words and what they mean for a moment. Excellence - the term that’s thrown around so casually in this modern era but is seemingly harder to achieve with each passing year - describes the raison d’etre of the Porsche that once was, a product of the single-minded vision of one brilliantly gifted engineer. Free of the cold corporate attitude and pure politics that define the company that exists today, Porsche back then defined the very essence of excellence. While Expected suggests that anything less was unacceptable and simply a waste of time, energy and effort. When I use riffs based on the title of Karl’s book, it’s only with the utmost respect to him and the subject I’m writing about.

When I talk about Corvette Racing, I am writing about a motorsports entity that has managed to achieve excellence against almost insurmountable odds. Not born of a corporate culture ingrained with excellence, or even the expectations of such, Corvette Racing has survived and thrived in spite of legions of people who were prepared to derail it with a lethal mixture of malevolence and indifference at every turn.

Longtime racing enthusiasts should be well versed by now in the GM flirtation with motorsports over the years. It careened from front and center, high-visibility programs that lasted momentarily to backdoor efforts that went on for years, and everything in-between. Too often, great racers and racing figures like Jim Hall, Roger Penske, Smokey Yunick, Junior Johnson and countless others toiled under the GM cloak of secrecy, and all we can do is shake our heads wistfully now at what might have been, and the spectacular achievements they accomplished in spite of the situation.

The Corvette Racing program was different from the start, however. It was a serious effort designed to compete with all guns blazing from the very outset, a high-visibility racing program founded on the basic principle of technology transfer, and the idea that racing Corvettes could and would actually not only improve the production car, but would provide technical benefits to the entire corporation. And by all accounts Corvette Racing has delivered exactly that.

This coming Sunday Corvette Racing will near the end of a glittering decade of success in world-class sports car racing with the final U.S. appearance by the Corvette C6Rs in the GT1 category in the American Le Mans Series race at Long Beach. After Long Beach, Corvette Racing returns to Le Mans in June for its final run in the GT1 class, before returning to the States in August and transitioning to the new global GT class based on current GT2 regulations (the GT1 classification will be phased out).

“The best sports car teams in the world have competed in the American Le Mans Series over the last 11 years, but it is impossible to think of one that has generated more success than Corvette Racing – both on and off the track,” said ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton. “The countless people at Corvette Racing, GM and Pratt & Miller who have made this program the most popular among our fans and dominant among its competitors have every reason to be proud as they have made history and rewritten the record book in GT1.

“Corvette Racing has been a benchmark example of developing technology on the race track that gets transferred to the road car,” Atherton continued. “It has succeeded with every challenge, the latest being the pioneering use of cellulosic E85 in the American Le Mans Series. While this marks the end of one era, it signals the start of another with Corvette’s imminent GT2 program. The fight and might it will bring to what already is the most competitive class in the American Le Mans Series will make it even more of a spectacle for fans – especially the legions of Corvette fans – around the world.”

“Long Beach is a great place to say goodbye to GT1 in the United States,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “The race is a hugely successful event attended by thousands of fans, so it’s a very fitting place to finish the GT1 program by taking the Corvettes to the people.

“When the checkered flag falls at Long Beach, I think it will be a moving experience for everyone on the team,” Fehan said. “It will mark the closing of one chapter, the likes of which will never be written again in Corvette history. At the same time, it will mark the opening of another chapter that will eventually see Corvette competing in a global GT class under the international regulations that will come into effect next year. That is one of the most exciting challenges that this team has undertaken, and it will be the culmination of a decade of development and continuous improvement that has made Corvette the standard by which GT cars are now measured.”

For the record, Corvette Racing has won the last eight ALMS GT1 team and manufacturer championships and has posted 75 class wins worldwide – including a record 69 ALMS victories and five victories in the world’s greatest endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Corvette Racing drivers have won a total of 13 ALMS class championships since 2002. Since its debut in 2005, the Corvette C6R has won 38 races, the most of any GT1 car and second all-time in ALMS history regardless of class.

To say Excellence is Expected for Corvette Racing is an understatement, and its achievements are a testament to the dedicated individuals who pulled together to become one of the greatest sports car racing teams in motorsports history.

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