Corvette Racing at Laguna Seca: Getting a Grip on a Challenging Circuit
07.05.2012: Third Round of American Le Mans Series Is Crucial in GT Championship Fight
With 82 class victories to its credit, Corvette Racing has celebrated at race tracks
Third Round of American Le Mans Series Is Crucial in GT Championship Fight
With 82 class victories to its credit, Corvette Racing has celebrated at race tracks from California to France – but it's been four years since the Corvette drivers sprayed champagne from the top step of the podium at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Fresh from a win in the preceding round on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., the Chevrolet team enters Saturday's six-hour American Le Mans Monterey with two objectives: to break the Laguna Seca dry spell, and to prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Corvette Racing has competed in all 13 ALMS races contested at Laguna Seca. It took Corvette Racing six years to score the first of its four wins in the GT1 class in 2004. Since making the transition to the GT class in 2009, the highest finishing Corvettes have placed second, third and fifth on the central California coast.
Now with a pair of new wide-body Compuware Corvette C6.R race cars and momentum from its victory in Long Beach, the team is optimistic that it can come to grips with this roller-coaster 11-turn circuit.
"Laguna Seca has always been a difficult track because it has a low-grip surface that makes it tough to dial in the chassis setup and manage the tires," said Tommy Milner, who notched his first career ALMS victory last month in the No. 4 Corvette C6.R he shares with Oliver Gavin. "Based on our performance in the first two races of the season, I feel that our Corvette will be competitive at every track on the schedule."
While maximizing points at Laguna Seca is the immediate objective, the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans looms large. The first shipment of parts and supplies has already been dispatched on its transatlantic odyssey to France, and the cars and crew will make the journey shortly. Thus the Laguna Seca six-hour enduro will be the final rehearsal for the 24-hour marathon on June 16-17.
"A six-hour race at Laguna Seca is a great warm-up for Le Mans," explained Milner, who won the GTE-Pro class at Le Mans last year with co-drivers Antonio Garcia and Olivier Beretta. "It's an opportunity for us to perform driver changes under race conditions and to work through race strategies with the engineering team.
"Racing in changing conditions at Laguna Seca will also be good practice for Le Mans," Milner added. "The weather can be chilly in Monterey, and we usually have cold temperatures at night in France. We can evaluate how various Michelin tire compounds perform when the track changes. That's valuable information that can help the team to select the right tires for every condition."
Jan Magnussen, who will co-drive the No. 3 Corvette C6.R with Antonio Garcia at Laguna Seca, also regards the series' third round as a crucial rehearsal for the 24-hour race in France.
"The Laguna Seca race will be another chance to run the car in different temperatures as we drive into twilight," the Dane explained. "It's an opportunity to get more data we can use at Le Mans. All of the team's technical developments for this year, from increasing the overall width of the cars to refining the aero package, have produced a better overall package."
While all eyes are on the prize at Le Mans, no one can overlook Laguna Seca's importance in the fight for the ALMS GT championships. After two of 10 rounds, Chevrolet is tied with BMW for first place in the manufacturers championship at 40 points. Gavin and Milner are second in the drivers championship, three points behind BMW drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller and seven points ahead of teammates Magnussen and Garcia. Twenty-two points are on the line for a victory in the American Le Mans Monterey.
"I always look forward to racing at Laguna Seca," Magnussen said. "I love everything about it – the area, the layout of the track, the fantastic atmosphere."
Milner agreed: "The Corkscrew is cool, but the corner that I really love is Rainey Curve, the fast downhill left-hander after the Corkscrew. The faster the corner, the more I like it!"
The American Le Mans Monterey will start at 1:30 p.m. PT on Saturday, May 12, and will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 13. Live coverage is available starting at 4:15 p.m. ET on ESPN3.
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