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Corvette Gears Up For Le Mans

| , RacinToday.com Friday, June 7 2013

The Corvettes are headed to Le Mans this weekend. (File photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)


Corvette Racing’s drive for an eighth class championship in the 90th annual 24 Hours of Le Mans begins this weekend with two Compuware Corvette C6.Rs taking part in the annual Test Day at the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe on Sunday.

The eight-hour session will be critical for the No. 73 and No. 74 ‘Vettes, as it’s the first chance to verify settings and engineering the team established since the 2012 race. A 56-car international field will race twice-around-the clock on Saturday, June 22.

“As is our standard practice, the objective will be to achieve the absolute best track setup for all conditions and not necessarily set the fastest lap time,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. “We’ve learned throughout our time at Le Mans that having a car in which all the drivers are comfortable is far more meaningful than sitting on the pole. Simply put, getting everything right is required for success at Le Mans.”

The test also is key to getting Corvette Racing’s two endurance drivers – Jordan Taylor and Richard Westbrook –reacquainted with their teammates and cars. Neither Taylor nor Westbrook have driven the Corvette since the Sebring 12 Hours in March to open the American Le Mans Series schedule.

“Normally, it only takes a few laps to readjust,” said Westbrook, who will drive the No. 74 Corvette with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner. “But Le Mans is Le Mans, and it’s a very different track than anything else in the world. Things do take longer there. But I’m not too worried. The last two years I missed the test and it wasn’t too much of a problem. So this year being able to do it is a bonus. More track time is better.”

While Westbrook will contest Le Mans for the fourth time and third with Corvette, the 23-year-old Taylor made his debut in 2012. The magic of Le Mans wasn’t new; he spent his formative years watching his father, Wayne Taylor, compete at the 24 Hours. As was the case a year ago, Taylor is teamed with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, who have seven class wins at Le Mans to their credit.

“It will be nice having seat-time in a car that you don’t drive that often,” Taylor said. “Taking a couple months off is difficult, but that’s the benefit of the test day. Getting more laps at Le Mans is always a good thing, as is learning from my teammates who all have massive amounts of experience.

“I knew (Le Mans) so well last year having watched the race my whole life that when I got on the track I already knew where I was. It was a matter of braking points and how much speed you could carry. The track itself is fun for a driver but for an engineer it’s a little tougher because you have high-speed corners where you need downforce but long straights where you want to take it (the downforce) off. There is definitely an engineering compromise, but the Corvette guys do a really job with that and always give us a good car.”

At Sebring, Gavin/Milner/Westbrook drove from two laps down due to an electrical problem to a class victory that gave the team a huge endurance boost.

“Sebring was a monkey off our backs,” Westbrook said. “Even though we won the ALMS championship last year, in endurance races we had a bad record. The last two years I’ve been in the No. 74 car, we were leading by more than a lap and failed to finish. So I personally really needed Sebring and I know the crew wanted to prove they could do it not just in a two-hour race but also in a 12-hour race. It’s a massive confidence-builder going into Le Mans.”

Factory Porsche driver Patrick Long will join Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster at the wheel of the Dempsey Del Piero Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Long was asked by team principal and lead driver Michael Avenatti to take his place in the GTE-AM class Le Mans entry after several non-racing business commitments complicated his schedule. Avenatti remains committed to the remainder of the 2013 American Le Mans Series season in the GT Challenge (GTC) class.

“Just returning to Le Mans is fantastic in itself but having a driver the caliber of Patrick Long join our team is practically a dream come true,” said Dempsey, the actor/driver who debuted at Le Mans in 2009. “We have to thank Michael, too, for making the selfless decision of asking Patrick Long to take his seat instead of making his first start at Le Mans. I know how hard it is to balance a busy professional schedule with racing, and sometimes you have to make a tough choice, but at least it was a little easier knowing that Patrick was still available.”

Avenatti and Dempsey are lead drivers and team principals in Dempsey Del Piero’s two-car Tully’s Coffee Porsche 911 GT3 team in ALMS ,where Avenatti partners with Andrew Davis and Dempsey co-drives with Andy Lally.

Long – America’s only factory Porsche driver – universally is recognized as one of the top international sports car road racing talents of his generation. His numerous championships and race wins include a pair of GT class victories at Le Mans in 2004 and 2007. Long also captured the GT pole position in 2008 with what was at the time the class track record.

“I always look forward to Le Mans but going there this time with Patrick Dempsey and Dempsey Del Piero Racing is very exciting,” said Long, who is in his 10th consecutive year as a factory Porsche driver. “I’ve watched this team quickly emerge as contenders in just its first season in ALMS GTC and I have no doubt we’ll have a fully competitive car for Le Mans.”

Dempsey, Long and Foster recently tested the team’s Porsche at the legendary Monza, Italy, road-course. Foster co-drove with Dempsey in their 2009 Le Mans debuts, when they were the anchor duo in a ninth-place GT2 class finish in an AF Corse Ferrari F430.

The Dempsey Del Piero Racing Le Mans entry is being fielded in a partnership with the Proton Competition racing team.

GRAND-AM Road Racing founder Jim France has been selected by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) to wave the French flag to start the 90th annual 24 Hours of Le Mans on Saturday, June 22.

France, NASCAR vice-chairman, will reprise an honor accorded his brother, Bill France Jr., 37 years earlier. The Frances are the sons of Bill France Sr., founder of both NASCAR and the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA).

The flag France will wave to start the race will be presented during a press conference at Le Mans on June 20 by Don Panoz, founder of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón, and ACO President Pierre Fillon. This will mark the first time in the endurance classic’s history the start will have been given by two members of the same family.

“We are particularly honored that Jim France has accepted to give the start to the Le Mans 24 Hours in this very symbolic year, in which we’re celebrating the 90th anniversary of the greatest endurance race in the world,” Fillon said. “It proves just how close are the links between the club that created endurance racing and the authorities of North American motorsports.”

Sports car racing in North America is approaching 2014 and a new era under the leadership of France and Panoz. Both are on the board of a new IMSA organization which will sanction United SportsCar Racing (USCR), a result of the ongoing merger of GRAND-AM and the ALMS. Last month the ACO officially endorsed the merger agreement.

“I will wave the flag to start the 24 Hours of Le Mans on behalf of the entire North American sports car community,” France said. “It demonstrates the universal interest in the consolidation of America’s two leading road racing organizations. The worldwide racing community is already anticipating the debut of United SportsCar Racing at the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona, with its close association to the ACO and link to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”

In a bid to ramp-up enthusiasm of fans eager for innovation, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1976 featured a distinctly American flavor via creation of the Daytona/Le Mans Challenge _ an IMSA-GTP category; the appearance of several cars from NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, along with John Greenwood and a 750-horsepower Chevrolet Corvette bearing the Lafayette flag.

“On a personal note, it’s gratifying to serve in a role that my brother, Bill, performed in 1976,” France said. “My dad, Bill Sr., always appreciated the international appeal of sports car racing, which he felt was epitomized in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”

| , RacinToday.com Friday, June 7 2013
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