Corvette Racing today unveiled its new GT2-spec C6.R racer and invited folks to listen in on a conference call with those responsible for running the team as well as one of the drivers of the No. 3 car, Johnny O’Connell.
For years Corvette Racing has ran a team of cars in the top-level GT1 category in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but decided to move to the lower GT1 class for several reasons, namely the competition and the marketing potential. For starters, the GT2-spec C6.R is closely based on the new ZR1, whereas the old GT1 cars had little in common with their road-going counterparts. Being so closely related to a street car is ideal for marketing.
“With the international regulations converging around a single GT class, Corvette Racing will continue its motorsports heritage by racing against manufacturers and marques that Corvette competes with in the marketplace, while also increasing the production content of the C6.R race car and the relevance of racing to our customers,” said Mark Kent, GM Racing manager. “This is truly a step that positions Corvette Racing for the future of production-based sports car racing worldwide, and a move that is perfectly aligned with GM’s marketing and business objectives in racing.”
As for the competition, the GT1 class has heated up over the past few years. Traditionally dominated by Porsche, Ferrari is now a major contender. Additional players include BMW, Aston Martin and Panoz. Competition on GT1 is almost non-existent now as Corvette Racing has developed into such a dominating sport over the years (beating Ferrari, Aston Martin, Saleen and Dodge).
“There was literally very little competition on a global basis to race in the existing GT1 category,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager.
Under the hood, Corvette Racing has modified the 7.0-liter GT1 powerplant, adding a new crankshaft to decrease the displacement to 6.o-liters (as the rules demand). A new engine is also in development for 2010 when the rules change to limit the maximum displacement to 5.5-liters. According to Fehan this new engine will be based on a production 5.5-liter V8 that is planned for future GM products. The Corvette Racing GT2-spec C6.R will make its racing debut at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 6-8. Familiar faces Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen will share the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R, and Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta will drive the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6. R.
GALLERY: GT2 Corvette C6.R
Corvette Racing Teleconference Transcript
Corvette Racing Provides Details on GT2 Corvette C6.R
DETROIT – Corvette Racing released information on the GT2 version of the Corvette C6.R race car in a media teleconference today. The following are highlights of the teleconference. The next-generation Corvette C6.R will make its competition debut in the GT2 class at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the sixth round of the 2009 American Le Mans Series on August 6-8.
Mark Kent, GM Racing manager: “Over the past decade, Corvette Racing has had some amazing accomplishments in the GTS and GT1 classes of competition, including winning 77 races and eight consecutive ALMS championships. Corvette Racing’s success has truly been an amazing story, and like most great stories, Corvette Racing’s story consists of several chapters. Last month, after Corvette Racing’s sixth victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, we finished a chapter in Corvette Racing’s story by retiring the GT1 Corvettes. We’re here today to start the next chapter in Corvette Racing.
“Corvette Racing is moving toward the future of production-based sports car racing with the introduction of the next-generation Corvette C6.R race car. With the international regulations converging around a single GT class, Corvette Racing will continue its motorsports heritage by racing against manufacturers and marques that Corvette competes with in the marketplace, while also increasing the production content of the C6.R race car and the relevance of racing to our customers. This is truly a step that positions Corvette Racing for the future of production-based sports car racing worldwide, and a move that is perfectly aligned with GM’s marketing and business objectives in racing.
“The all-new Corvette C6.R will debut this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and it will compete the balance of the season in the GT2 category of the American Le Mans Series. Based on the Corvette ZR1 supercar, the next-generation Corvette C6.R has even stronger links to the production version of America’s performance icon than its predecessor. While the new C6.R will have new graphics, it will retain the Velocity Yellow and black color combination that has become synonymous with Corvette Racing. We will also continue with the support of our long-time sponsors and technical partners. Compuware is the team’s primary sponsor, with Mobil 1 supplying low-friction lubricants and Michelin providing its world-class racing tires. Corvette Racing’s sponsors also include XM Satellite Radio, UAW-GM, Genuine Corvette Accessories, Bose, Motorola, PRS Guitars, and BBS.
“While much of the hardware is changing, Corvette Racing’s roster of championship-winning drivers remains the same. Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen will share the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R, and Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta will drive the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6. R. Then at Petit Le Mans, they will be joined by Antonio Garcia and Marcel Fassler.
“We look forward to competing against a strong field of outstanding competitors. The competition will be fierce and we know that in order to win the American Le Mans GT2 class not only takes a great team and great drivers, but it also takes a great race car. We believe our new GT2 Corvette C6.R is a great car. To tell you more about the new race car, I would like to introduce GM Racing’s program manager for Corvette Racing, Doug Fehan.”
Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager: “Thank you, Mark. Just from an historical perspective, I know questions are going to be out there, why the move? It should be fairly obvious to most who follow the sport that throughout the last decade after we dispatched the Viper and Saleen and Ferrari and then finally Aston Martin, there was literally very little competition on a global basis to race in the existing GT1 category. Back in the late fall of 2006 and early in 2007, we had begun discussions on what the future of Corvette was going to be as far its performance on a global stage in racing. It looked to me and to others that the GT category was still going to remain strong, but it was going to be heading off in the direction of GT2. Porsche had pretty much dominated that, Ferrari was making moves to come over, other manufacturers were looking at it. So we began a quest to do some research on how we would approach that. We also knew at that point what we had on the table with the new ZR1, the highest performance car that GM has ever built, which was going to be coming along in that same timeframe. We thought it might be advantageous to take a look if it made some sense to move to the GT2 category. As it turned out, it was correct. The last two years we’ve been racing, as people like to say, racing ourselves, but quite frankly, there hasn’t been much better competition than ourselves. Anybody who has watched any of the races, I think can see that to be true.
“2008 was our most challenging year since we started racing, and it was for a couple reasons. Number one, Le Mans has always been the cornerstone of our program, and we wanted to ensure that our last effort there at Le Mans was going to deliver us the results that Corvette deserves, and that would be a victory. We focused on that. We ran a couple of races at the beginning of the year to keep the team sharp, to keep the drivers sharp, to keep the organization running and operating at the level at which we had become accustomed to operating. But alongside of that, at the same time we were busting our butts back at the shop designing, developing and building the new GT2 car. We were doing that with the same group of people, so they were really doing double time back there. It was pretty impressive to watch that happen. The cadence that Pratt & Miller had laid out from an engineering standpoint, then a build standpoint, then a test standpoint, and now finally debuting at Mid-Ohio was very well orchestrated, very well thought out. A lot of time was spent planning and organizing, all the while doing that on the most expeditious timeframe and the most expeditious budget that racing, I think, has ever seen. We have become very lean, very quick, and we have become very efficient. I think you’ll see at Mid-Ohio this weekend what I’m talking about.
“Technical differences between the cars? Pick up the rulebook and it will pretty much run through it. Broad brush, when you look at the car, it’s going to look identical to a ZR1. It is the exact same body shape. The only difference is it has fender flares on it – the rules require that. A careful eye would tell you that if you looked at our GT1 car, the side profile of the car was identical to the production car. What we did, according to the rules, we sectioned the body down the top of the front and rear quarter panels, so essentially we added those louvers that widened the front fenders. When we got to the outside areas of the car, they were production, which made for a pretty cool long, low looking race car.
“The GT2 rules don’t allow you to do that, so consequently the fenders that are on the car are the same fenders, the quarter panels are the same quarter panels, virtually the same hood – those dimensions are identical to the production vehicle. The headlamp buckets and lenses are exactly the same size. In the GT1 you might not have noticed it, but they were about 5/4 scale; we blew that up so that proportionately it looked cool. To me anyway, it makes a much meaner looking race car when you put those fender flares on there. We’re pretty excited about it.
“The rules also require that you run a little smaller front splitter, virtually production. The chord length on the rear wing is reduced, so it’s a little smaller wing, obviously resulting in less downforce than the GT1 car. Probably the biggest and most challenging change was the GT1 was a production steel chassis. In the GT2 car, it is an aluminum chassis. The engineers at Pratt & Miller have done an absolutely outstanding job, and we can give you more details later, on how they have integrated a steel roll cage into an aluminum chassis. Others who have that same problem merely put some saddle clamps, bolt them on, build the roll cage off of that, which functionally works, but not up to the safety standards we like to employ at GM and GM Racing. The system we have developed is fairly technical, fairly unique, and has had a lot of testing on it from the standpoint of strength and driver protection. We’re pretty proud of that, we’re pretty excited about it, and in the end it helps make a much better race car as well.
“In addition, we’re not going to be running carbon brakes. According to the GT2 rules, for cost consideration, we’ll be running steel brakes, which by the way, we ran back in 1999 when we debuted at the 24 Hours of Daytona. So we’re back to steel brakes on the cars.
“The other significant change is that race engines are now going to be built in-house. The GM Powertrain Performance Center, which is literally across the street from the race shop, is where all the production ZR1 engines are hand built, and the same folks are going to be building our race engines. We’re going to start this year with a 6-liter version of our 7-liter motor, essentially the same engine but just with a little different crankshaft. It will be same bore, the same bore centers, just a different stroke to get it to the 6-liter limit that’s required by the rules. Next year the rules change to 5.5 liters, and that will be a brand-new engine based on a new-generation family of V8 engines that are utilized throughout the GM line of production cars. So that’s going to be an exciting time for us when we bring that out.
“We had some great racing in GT1, and I think it’s been a tremendous chapter in Corvette Racing’s history. I know we’ve been proud to be part of it, and we’ve worked very hard to make Corvette be recognized as one of the world’s greatest sports cars. That heritage has been honed by the racing and Le Mans victories we have achieved. I think we’re going to find some amazing competition in GT2. When you look at what’s coming, you have BMW there, you have Porsche there, Ferrari there, Aston Martin there, Panoz there, and Jaguar coming along. Those of you who followed Spa last weekend saw that Audi snuck their GT3 car into the GT2 category, so I think we might be seeing some movement from them to enter this fray. You get seven or eight global manufacturers competing in a GT series and the quality of the American Le Mans Series and Le Mans is going to make for some exciting racing. We’re excited to be part of it.
” I’ll close now and turn it over to Tadge, and he’s going to elaborate on some of the real relevance that racing has brought to the production Corvette.”
Tadge Juechter, Corvette chief engineer: “Thanks, Doug. Sitting in my seat on the production side, I’d say the move to GT2 is an extension of the trajectory we’ve been on. I’ve been with Corvette since the early ’90s, and when we were doing the C5, we were worrying about getting the car on the street and then decided to go racing. So the race team kind of followed the production car. Over the last 10 years, the production and race teams have gotten closer and closer together, learning to capitalize on each other’s strengths, learning to leverage the synergies that can come from racing. On the weekend, not just getting the glory and spreading it to the street car, but the actual technology sharing. So midway through that 10-year span we brought out the C6 and that point we made a big deal out of doing the Z06 and C6.R in parallel, to the point that the race car debuted at Sebring at the same time the very first production cars were running down the line in Bowling Green. Those cars were really developed in parallel, and really maximized the sharing that can occur.
“We talked extensively about prior development that is shared between the cars. The race car, of course, provides lots of aero understanding and the technology behind that, the computational fluid dynamics enables you to predict what’s going to happen ahead of time without expensive wind tunnel time. It’s been a real windfall, so to speak, for the production car. We proved the horsepower delivery, engine efficiency, cylinder head design, the lube system. Traditionally large-scale manufacturers like General Motors have not had strengths in understanding the lube system that is required for the incredible environment that racing sees, the incredible stresses on the engine and the demands on the lubrication system. We wouldn’t have the dry sump system that we have today on the Z06 and ZR1 if it wasn’t for our partnership with the race team. And the list goes on and on – composite materials, tire technology, you name it.
“The street car is also looked at as a very important starting point for the race car. Things like the shape of our greenhouse, the windshield, side glass, back window, the teardrop shape that’s been a signature for Corvette for about 50 years has proven to be an extremely efficient aerodynamic shape. Since you need to stay close to the street car, having the street car with that shape is a great enabler. Little things you don’t even notice like having the cool air inlet at the proper height to the ground like it was engineered on the Z06 makes for very efficient cooling on the race car. And then the production car, even when we were in GT1, was a source for relatively low cost and validated components that could help keep the cost of the race program down. I dare to say that virtually none of the other GT1 competitors had any of the production parts in their race cars, but that was not true of us. We had quite a number of parts that were either exactly production or lightly modified or heavily modified versions of the production parts that were on the race cars.
“For me, moving to GT2 only makes us able to leverage those ties even stronger. I’m really excited to bring the race car and the street car closer together and the teams ever closer together. I’m looking forward to the endurance racing crucible that is GT2, and like Doug was saying, the highly capable manufacturers that are going to be engaged in the series are going to drive progress extremely rapidly. I look at racing as the most cost-effective way to improve performance on a four-wheel vehicle, and that’s what Corvette is all about. We’ll probably share more about the additional commonalties between the street car and the race car, but the list will be much, much longer in GT2. My favorite is the production steering column, which means the race drivers will be able to hop in the car, adjust the tilt wheel, be able to adjust the power telescoping wheel to fit their particular driving position. I think it’s going to be a very comfortable, very easy car to drive. I’m looking forward to providing as many of those production components to the race car as absolutely possible. That’s the summary from where I sit, so I’d like to turn it over to Johnny for his comments.”
Johnny O’Connell, driver No 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R: “Thanks, Tadge. I tell you, after months and months of Doug swearing us to being completely top secret and having thousands of Corvette fans asking you about the car, it’s nice finally to have the opportunity to talk about it. Like everything Corvette Racing does, the new car is amazing. Tadge talked about driver comfort, and it is so nice. I’m a little taller than Jan, at least until he hits puberty (laughs), and being able to move the steering wheel up, down, forward and back is a great thing that we have now. It has retained so many of the very cool qualities of the GT1 car. When we’re in Le Mans and here in the States as well, one of the things a lot of the fans are concerned with, they really wanted to make sure it still sounds like a Corvette. It very much does.
“Some people might think we’re not excited because all drivers want to be in the prototype category, but all of us just want to go where the competition is. Corvette Racing had done such an amazing job, proving to the world how great that GT1 car was, that people stopped wanting to race us because more or less they were racing for third. Now we’re once again in the position where we’re the underdog. We’re going to have to prove ourselves. People forget that when Corvette Racing started there were several years of being beaten and learning. The French just told them, ‘Build a better car,’ not giving them any breaks. That is what everybody at Corvette Racing did, spearheaded by Doug, pushing people as hard as they can and getting the best people involved. So we’re very excited about entering a new chapter where all four drivers are going to be tested again, and the team as well, to see if we’re really as good as we think we are.
“The past couple of years, people think that we haven’t been pushing ourselves very hard, but you never race anyone harder than your teammate, especially when you have the exact same stuff. I think that all four of us who are driving the cars are quite confident in our abilities to get out there and learn our strengths versus the other cars. I will say in typical Pratt & Miller style, they have designed an amazing car. Very rarely do you debut a car in testing and not have problems, and from Day 1, when we have gone testing, we were getting in eight hours of running and data collecting.
“The biggest change is with us having less aero now, we’re driving the car, sliding it a little more, but also the switch from carbon rotors to steel rotors has meant an adjustment for us. That in itself shows the strength of Corvette engineers. When we first ran the car, there were some issues, and all of the drivers were having a difficult time with it. Over the months, the engineers were going through data, looking at things and changing bits. When we ran the car a week ago, every single issue we had with regard to braking performance had been resolved. That really is the strength of Corvette Racing. It’s the engineers’ ability, Gary Pratt’s ability, Doug Fehan’s ability to address these issues and make sure we have the tools we need to be competitive.
“Our expectations going into Mid-Ohio this weekend, we expect to look good. We have what we know is a good race car, but what we don’t know is where our strengths and weaknesses are versus the competitors. The Porsche, for example, having its engine in the rear, I’m expecting they might be a little bit stronger coming off the corners. The physics involved in that vehicle design kind of dictate it might have that advantage. As we move forward, we have high expectations. It would be very cool to get a car on the podium – hopefully the No. 3 car. But we’re realistic, knowing we’re kind of the new kids on the block with a ton of experience, but we’re going to have to figure out how these guys race. We’ll come away from this weekend with a lot of experience that hopefully will mean in a couple of races we’ll once again be the guys that everyone is chasing.
“You can probably hear it in my voice that it’s been a while since we’ve done battle, and we are very much looking forward to it.”
Q: Is the budget for this program any less than the budget for the previous GT1 program, and if so, is this a right-place, right-time scenario for what’s going on in the macro economy?
Mark Kent: “As we went through the bankruptcy process at General Motors, it forced us to make some very difficult decisions on a lot of different areas. We looked at every dollar we spent as a company on all of our promotional platforms, whether it was motorsports, football, basketball, or bass fishing. Anywhere we spent money, we took a hard look at it. A lot of our promotions in the past generated a positive return on investment. We’d invest money in these platforms to sell cars, and in the past all of those did that. But as we went through bankruptcy, it was no longer just good enough to generate a return on investment. We needed to stick with the platforms that generated a significant return on investment. Across all our portfolios, we made some significant reductions not only in the portfolios we participated in, but our investment in each. In the motorsports arena, we have reduced the portfolio. We have reduced support in various series, and we have eliminated support in various series.
“When it comes down to Corvette Racing, Corvette Racing is a motorsports platform that generates a significant return on investment for the company just on the number of vehicles we sell just by participating in the sport. That’s not even looking at the ancillary benefits which Tadge talked about, with the benefit of taking what we learn on the street to the race track and vice versa. Corvette Racing is a platform we’re sticking with. It’s very valuable to the company, and we’re looking forward to getting this new GT2 car on the track.”
Q: Are you able to do this more efficiently than the GT1 program?
Mark Kent: “I’d have to say that historically everything we did within motorsports, we did very effectively and very efficiently. General Motors has historically won more championships each year than any other manufacturer. Based on what we believe the industry is spending in motorsports, we believe we’re doing it more efficiently than any other manufacturer. We have some guiding principles here at General Motors, and one of them is ‘We race to win.’ If we can’t win, we won’t race. We believe we have the resources in place that are sufficient for us to win on the track.”
Q: With an opportunity to change things over in the ALMS and NASCAR Nationwide Series, why aren’t you running the Camaro except in the Koni Challenge?
Mark Kent: “We’ve looked at racing the Camaro, and one thing that we do not want to do is to force a car where it shouldn’t be. As we looked at NASCAR, for example, we took a very hard look at running the Camaro in the Nationwide Series. That was a request made of us by NASCAR. We’ve had a tremendous partnership with NASCAR, so we took a very hard look at it. At the end of the day, because of the quest for very close competition and the need to have templated bodies in that series, we just felt that by forcing the Camaro into the Nationwide templates, we were compromising the lines of an iconic car. At the end of the day, we could not get the Camaro in the Nationwide Series to satisfy our requirements.
“We are looking at it in other series. The Koni Challenge Series, for example, where the body is production, that’s a slam dunk. There are some applications for it in drag racing – Stock, Super Stock, we’re looking forward to seeing it on the NHRA circuit. Other than that, we don’t see any need to push the Camaro in the motorsports arena. There are other areas for us to promote the Camaro. The V6 gets tremendous fuel economy, and we need to find ways to take our marketing dollars around the Camaro and expand the customer base beyond the pure motorsports enthusiast.”
Q: Johnny, could you address the competition aspect of going into a class full of Porsches, Ferraris, and BMWs? Does that put more of the focus on the team aspect of a two-car effort?
Johnny O’Connell: “Very much so. The cars’ lap times might be a little slower, but if you look at the resumes of the drivers (in GT2), they are every bit as strong as those in the prototypes. You have some brilliant drivers competing there and some very strong teams with a ton of experience. When I look at our effort, it’s the personnel who make the difference. This is an American team, built by American engineers and America’s best. We’re still going to be running E85, so we are approaching things intelligently and with concern for everything that’s going on. The Green Challenge is one of the things that attracts manufacturers to the American Le Mans Series, forcing that technology forward to benefit production cars.
“Getting back to your question, we’re totally excited about it. I challenge anybody to beat us in a pit stop competition. When we were doing the Klein Tools Pit Stop Challenge, every year it was Corvette Racing, either the 3 car or the 4 car. Again, our team is so prepared in all aspects. Strategy-wise, we now find ourselves in a situation where we might not have in the past changed strategies, one car versus another. Now we can do that in this category to try to jump ahead, and pull a Penske-type win that he was always so brilliant at doing. So I think that we’re pretty comfortable with our driver lineups and where we all stand relative to the other competitors, but you look at GT2 and see how close everybody runs. The four of us regular guys are very excited about it, and the crew guys are totally excited about it. I don’t think they’ll probably mind if a car comes back every now and then with a tire mark on it. We’re going to have to push hard and drive aggressively to be successful. All of us are very excited about doing that.”
Q: What do you feel is the main difference between the GT1 and GT2 cars, and where do you feel the advantages of the Corvette will be compared to the other cars?
Johnny O’Connell: “Based on what we’ve seen GT1 versus GT2 so far, I have to tell you that top end is not a lot different. Some of that has to do with the fact that we’re going to be running less aero. I think the strength of the Corvette is our mid-corner speed, our ability to carry speed into the corners. I think that will show well for us. It’s real hard until we get out there. Even with the GT1 car, there are times on street circuits where it’s point and squirt, and the Porsche having that engine back there really allows it to get out of the corners really well. Even with the GT1 car, there were times when it was bloody difficult getting by a GT2 car. We’ll be learning a little about that.
“As far as braking points, the GT2 cars have become so strong and so developed that the braking points got to the point where we weren’t a whole lot deeper in the GT1 car than the GT2 cars were. We kind of know where braking points should be. In the GT1 car, with the amount of aero that it had working for, if you got close in Turn 12 at Road Atlanta to a GT2 car, you’d lose your front end. You’d lose all your aero – it was relying so much on those front louvers, the front splitter, all that stuff. At the same time, if you’re going through Turn 12 and a prototype came up and tucked himself underneath you, you’d lose the back end of the car. With us being less reliant now on aero, I don’t’ think we’re going to be noticing that as much. We’re going to find out in a few days!”
Q: How about rim width and tires?
Doug Fehan: “We’ll be running the same size wheels and tires. There is a little weight differential in the rules that allows you to go that way, and as in most aspects of life, bigger is better. Michelin has done some extensive GT2 stuff, and the tires they have provided for us in testing have been really, really good. They provide a lot of the same characteristics as in GT1, so that’s been pretty seamless, and it hasn’t been an issue.”
Q: Johnny, with more competition, how is your race weekend going to change?
Johnny O’Connell: “I don’t know how much different it’s going to be. If my e-mail is any indication, it’s going to be a crazy weekend. Corvette owners across the country and in Europe and everywhere else are gaga for this car. They’re waiting for this story. When we were testing and I’d take a picture of the car with my cell phone, Fehan would say, ‘You’re not sending that to anybody!’ We are so excited, and the interest in this car has been so amazing.
“As far as how the team meetings go, I’m sure it’s going to be like it always is. Before the race, Doug, Gary and the engineers will get us drivers together and tell us what to expect and what to do. Doug took the reins off us this year and let us race as hard as we can, just don’t hit each other. I think there is going to be hard competition, and it’s going to be neat. To get out there against the guys in the Flying Lizard cars, those guys are awesome, very strong factory drivers. In our mind, there is going to be a sense of being patient, wanting to learn and figure things out. You need to remember that we might not have been racing Aston Martins or Ferraris, but we’ve been racing each other bloody hard. Whether it was Long Beach or Sebring or Le Mans, each lap is like qualifying. That’s really the state that racing has come to. We’re going to be pushing as hard as we can, but also listening to the advice we get from Doug and Gary, and following the directions.
“Doug has been running the program as long as I’ve been doing this. The very first race that I did was the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2001. He gave me three simple rules. He said if I follow these rules, good things are going to happen. I’m pretty confident we’ll get a talk from him, reminding us what is important, then it’s our job just to execute.”
Q: Is there an allowance for fuel cell capacity with E85, and will you be able to run E85 at Le Mans?
Johnny O’Connell: “Going to E85 was in line with GM’s policy of trying to be green. Carrying that over to racing and promoting that as much as we can is a good thing. It’s appropriate that in racing General Motors and Corvette lead the way.”
Doug Fehan: “The performance level of E85 compared to gasoline, when we look at a gallon-to-gallon comparison, there is about 20 percent less energy in a gallon of ethanol than in a gallon of gasoline. Consequently, to answer your question, it becomes a simple math equation. The sanctioning body has different fuel capacities for cars depending on which fuel they’re running. We’ll be carrying 110 liters of ethanol, and I think the gas cars carry about 90 liters of gasoline. The other thing that would be next logical extension is in fueling times. If both cars run to empty, it’s going to be faster to put in 90 liters than 110. The restrictor sizes on the fuel rigs have been modified to allow for that accommodation so everything across the board is even.
“At this point in time, we won’t be running E85 at Le Mans, although Le Mans is taking a serious look. They had their hands full with the diesel deal, with Audi first and then Peugeot and looking at the various energy levels and the engines that employ those fuels. They were focusing on that. They recognize that E85 is important and it’s used extensively throughout the European continent and Scandinavian countries. I don’t have a prediction for you, they haven’t answered the question. I highly doubt it will be this year, but in the future I think it may be. We haven’t been able to run it so far, and I don’t think it will be different in 2010.”
Q: Will the 2010 5.5-liter engine be a brand-new architecture and will it be maximized for E85 fuel?
Doug Fehan: “It will be brand-new architecture, it will be a brand-new engine, and it will be running on E85 as well. We’re in a great partnership with the series. It was a confluence of concepts. We had already looked at E85 when the series decided they wanted to go to it. Then we got involved with the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and Michelin, and this whole Green Challenge thing birthed itself in a very compressed timeframe because all of the parties had been doing work on it anyway.”
Tadge Juechter: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe next year’s engine will be back to being based on the production LS3 block as opposed to being based on a racing block, another example of bringing the cars closer together.”
Doug Fehan: “Yes, that is correct. To clarify what Tadge has indicated, the block we use now is a production-based block but it doesn’t come off the assembly line. Without getting into the minutia, there are some casting issues that caused us to have a huge amount of waste, we were getting about one block out of 25 to ensure the quality we had to have. We used the same tools, the same dies, the same materials, but those all had to be hand cast because the tolerances had to be so much closer. That was an expensive way to do business. The 5.5-liter, by virtue of the brand-new architecture GM has developed, we’ll be able to pull blocks right off the assembly line. That becomes a great cost savings for the team.”
Q: Has there been any thoughts of pursuing a hybrid drivetrain system in the Corvette?
Doug Fehan: “From a production powertrain standpoint, I don’t think any manufacturer can come close to having the library and extensive knowledge that GM has, from hydrogen power to E85 to KERS to everything else. All that exists in house. You don’t hear about it, you don’t see it, they’re very secretive about it, but it’s there. There are some wild things that GM has already completed. From a racing perspective, we have looked at it. We’ve done research on it, we’ve investigated it, and we continue to look at it. If the dynamics of the sport move in that direction, we’ll be prepared to move in that direction.”
Q: Do you think other series might consider switching to E85 based on the success you’ve had?
Doug Fehan: “It’s amazing to me that others haven’t gone there just for the sake of going there because they know it’s the right thing to do. It sends a great message. Ethanol is not the answer, but it’s part of a solution in so many different ways. It’s part of a solution to what spews out of the exhaust pipe. The American public needs to begin to be tutored on the fact that cars will not always be driven on gasoline. It’s what we’ve become accustomed to it, it’s the only thing we’ve known in this country for the most part. Now when you see the advent of biodiesel, of electric power, the advent of the Volt and Prius, there are new things coming. There is no better way to demonstrate that new things need not be feared than to use something as high performance as a Corvette race car and use cellulosic E85 and look at the performance and reliability you can get from it. If it’s good enough to win races, Mom can put in the SUV to take the kids to school and Dad can put it in the pickup to go to work. It’s an educational process as much as it’s a scientific endeavor. We wanted to be a leader in that, and that’s why we were first.
Q: How much time did you spend testing E85 for race conditions?
Doug Fehan: “The transition is not difficult. I talked to the guys on the engine side of it as a program preservation move. I knew where we were going, and any time I can make the program more relevant to production, I want to move forward. I knew GM was a leader in flex-fuel vehicles, I think we have more than 3.5-million of them out there right now. If that was the direction the company was going to go, which was the right direction, why couldn’t we follow it in racing? So on the side, I got together with the engine guys and asked what would happen if we ran E85. Oddly enough, the engine guys had worked on the Indy motors back when Oldsmobile was racing Indy cars, and they thought they could do that. In a couple of months they had an engine up and running, making power runs and looking at reliability, durability, and lubrication. In the course of six months of casual running we had something working. The biggest challenge we had was with the fuel cell manufacturers trying to find something that would hold the fuel.”
Q: What do you think about just one GT class in ALMS?
Doug Fehan: “This is my personal perspective, I want to make sure we couch that properly. I think it makes all the sense in the world. It’s what we need to have. At the end of the day, we have a manufacturers’ series, if you look at how we’re positioned. As Mark has made perfectly clear, the object for us and for them is to sell cars. If you can create proper relevance, you can enthuse people to spend money. GT racing needs to have a single GT class in the American Le Mans Series. I think that’s where we’re headed, and I’m all for it. It makes a huge amount of sense. It’s a lot more fun for the spectators, a lot easier to watch the races, it makes for a better television broadcast. It’s where we need to be, and I’ve pushed for it for the last two years.”