Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Never Give Up"

LE MANS, FRANCE – For Louis Chevrolet, the founder of Chevrolet, “Never Give Up” was more than a motto, it was a testimony to his faith in God. His testimony was evident this past weekend as the men and women of Corvette Racing pushed hard to win the GT-E class victory at the 24 Heures du Mans. In the sixteenth hour of the race, the dominant #74 C6R piloted by Magnussen/Gavin/Westbrook was retired due to an accident while running in first place. The mood was gloomy in the garage following the news of the retirement of their best chance for a win. But the effort of the team was quickly focused on the #73 Corvette driven by Beretta/Garcia/Milner. By hour 21, the Corvette was solidly in the lead. "That was the hardest drive of my life," Milner said. "It would have been a lot easier if it wasn't sprinkling, raining, not raining, and then wet - all that plus the pressure of the situation. I'd been super comfortable in the car all day long, but I was not comfortable right then. I was just trying to drive the car to what the track would allow. Every lap it changed, every corner it changed."

The motto was also evident in the effort of the mighty Audi R18TDIs as they battled against the 4 Peugeot diesel 908s. Though the Audis have won ten of the last 12 Le Mans races (and one of those they missed was to the Bentley 8 in 2003 with Team Joest’s assistance), the past few years have been tough as the Peugeot diesels have brought a formidable challenge. With three works entries and a fourth by Oreca/Matmut, Peugeot came intending to win the race on the native soil of France.

Within the first hour of the race, the lights seemed to dim on Team Joest. As Alan McNish tried weaving the #3 Audi through some slower traffic, he made contact with a Ferrari and was thrust uncontrollably into a tire barrier. The resultant accident (video) was terrifying as the Audi flipped several times causing debris to rain upon the photographers and corner workers behind the barrier, landing upside down on the grass. By the grace of God, McNish was pulled from the car unhurt and the debris missed the hitting the bystanders.

Five hours later, the #1 defending race winning Audi piloted by Rockenfeller slammed into a wall at the Mulsanne kink while overtaking a Ferrari. Again, by God’s grace, Rockenfeller avoided serious injury in the spectacular crash. With 2 of the 3 Audis on the sidelines, it appeared that the Peugeots would certainly out survive the lone #2 Audi of Treluyer/Lotterer/Fassier.

To win, Audi needed to execute a clean, error free race, yet to take chances when necessary. The strategy paid-off as the Audi completed the race 13-seconds ahead of the #9 Peugeot. "We did five stints on one set of tires," said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport. “The strength was in our strategy, and it helped us go against Peugeot. The tires were strong but we questioned how they could do the stints. At the end, the drivers did five stints and it was not too difficult to drive the car... We had to take every risk, we did so, and we won. We have a big team that worked the strategy and made the right choices." Peugeot finished strong claiming 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th (Oreca) place finishes.

To cap off the celebration of Chevrolet’s 100th and the 10th anniversary of Corvette Racing’s first win at Le Mans, the C6R Corvette Larbre Competition claimed the GTE-Am class win ahead of the team’s GT3 RSR. And another honorable mention goes to Burns customers David and Andrea Robertson who celebrated their wedding anniversary on the podium piloting their Robertson Racing Ford GT to a well-deserved third-place result in class. It marked the first ever husband-and-wife duo to finish on the podium at Le Mans.

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