An hour before the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park started on Saturday, program manager Doug Fehan sat on his golf cart and discussed strategy for his two Corvette Racing C7.Rs. As in, how there wasn’t any.
“More than any race on the schedule,” Fehan said, “you could take all the car numbers and pull them out of a hat, and you’d probably be as accurate as anything we could predict. This race, you just don’t know.”
It didn’t help that the IMSAWeatherTechSportsCar Championship’s GT Le Mans class hasn’t been to Lime Rock since 2013. And that – surprisingly, since this is Connecticut – it would be the hottest race of the season. The IMSA GT Le Mans class is the only one IMSA has that is free to choose a tire manufacturer, and everybody chooses Michelin. And Michelin has three different compounds for cool, warm and hot conditions.
And Lime Rock has only one left-hand turn – all the rest are right-handers in the little 1.5-mile track. Meaning two things: The left-side tires are unusually stressed since the weight of the car shifts to the left on right-hand turns. And with its very short straights, there’s no time for tires, or drivers, to cool down. So “medium” compounds on the right, “hot” on the left? Or all “hots?” Or maybe a “cool” on the right rear?
“So it’s a crapshoot,” said Fehan.
Corvette Racing had started the 2016 season like a house afire, winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the first two races. Sebring was Corvette’s 99th victory since this iteration of Corvette Racing got its first win in 2000 at Texas Motor Speedway. (What’s “this iteration?” Think yellow race cars.)
So the next win after Sebring would be number 100, so press releases were written and hats were made and plans were quietly put into place to capitalize on it. Would it come at Long Beach? No. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca? No. The 24 Hours of Le Mans? Watkins Glen? Canadian Tire Motorsport Park? No, no, no.
Seemed the Corvettes had fallen under IMSA’s “Balance of Performance” scrutiny, in which fast cars are slowed down by extra weight, smaller air restrictors, aerodynamics or other adjustments. In Europe, they are more cheerful about it, calling it, for example, “Reward Weight,” as in, “Congratulations! Here’s an extra 50 kilos to carry around!”
Two races ago, IMSA gave back a bit of what it had taken away – this time “rewarding” the Ford GTs – and the Corvettes were competitive again. But everyone had stopped talking about the Corvette’s 100th, especially Corvette. Especially Fehan.
So no one was more surprised than he was – or at least feigned – when Corvette not only got its 100th win on Saturday, but its 60th one-two finish. Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin won in the number 4 car, followed less and a second later by Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the number 3.
A relief, said Milner. “That monkey on our backs was getting bigger and bigger.”
And the hats and press releases were getting older and older. Allow us to present a logo that undoubtedly has been is someone’s computer since March. And congratulations.