Pratting Around: The Not 'R' Collection
Corvette Racing has been one of the top sportscar racing teams for nearly two decades now, with multiple American Le Mans Series and IMSA titles, in addition to Le Mans class victories. Not only this, but their Pratt & Miller built cars have gained success in multiple series around the world in the hands of privateers. However, in these last two decades, they have not been the only Corvettes to try and gain success in top class sportscar racing, and these are the stories of the other teams that have tried to campaign "America's Sportscar".
Cauley - Spectre Werkes C5 GTR (1997-2004)
In 1997 car dealer and amateur racing driver Jeff Cauley decided to build a race car out of his Silver Z51 C5 Corvette, making it one of the first C5 race cars to be built. He raced it locally in club racing until in 1999, he decided to take his more or less stock car to the 1999 Rolex 24 at Daytona, racing in the GT3 class with the driving duties being handled by Jeff Nowicki, R.K. Smith, Rick Mancuso, Tom Murphy, and Mike Farmer. The car qualified 74th, ten seconds off the pace of the Alex Job 993 RSR on class pole, but survived the race with little issue to take 9th in class and 24th overall, not bad for a car that was more or less a race prepped street car.
After Daytona, the team was able to buy one of the official GM C5-R box cars and build a race car from it. This car was present at the 1999 Petit Le Mans in the GT class, but was rejected due to homoligation reasons. The next month the car made it's racing debut at the Watkins Glen round of the FIA GT Championship, which was open to local GT entrants from the defunct USRRC. The car being driven by Nowicki and Corvette factory driver Andy Pilgrim managed 3rd out of the local entries behind a 993 GT2 and 993 RSR.
The shake up between the the failure of the USRRC and the start of Grand-Am in 2000 meant that the GT classes were purely dependent on engine size, meaning that for the Rolex 24, the Cauley Vette would be competing directly with the factory Corvette Racing C5-Rs, at least in theory. The car being handled by returning drivers R.K. Smith and Jeff Nowicki and newcomers by Bill Lester and John Heinricy would manage to knock 11 seconds off of the old car's time for 46th on the grid, a galaxy away from the class pole setting C5-R, but only three seconds off the more comparable Porsche 996 GT3-R that took the GTU class pole. Unfortunately the car was met with a multitude of problems during the race, with the car finally giving up when the driveline broke around sun-up.
The car returned three more times in 2004, running with a Highlander theme during the Grand Am season. They finished the Daytona 24 in 34th after some reliability issues, crashed out of the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, and finished the Mid Ohio 250 miles 34th, ending the car's career.
Trinkler Racing C5 LMGT (2001-2010)
In 1999 Owen Trinkler commissioned a GT class Corvette to race the American Le Mans Series and possibly Le Mans from Pratt & Miller, the team behind Corvette Racing. The car was finished in 2001 and debuted at the opening round of the ALMS at Texas Motor Speedway, driven by Trinkler and Jeff Altenburg. They managed 7th in class in qualifying, two and a half seconds off the pole sitting Porsche GT3-RS, and finished 9th in class, ten laps down on the same car. The car then went to the 12 Hours of Sebring piloted by Trinkler, Andy Lally, and B. J. Zacharias. They managed put the car 10th on the grid in class, again 2.5 seconds off the pole 996 GT3-RS, but went on to retire on lap 108 with a steering failure.
After Sebring, the car was sold to Atomic Kitten Motorsport who campaigned the car with little success in a variety of series in 2001, including the European Le Mans Series, British GT, and the catastrophic failure that was the Interactive Sportscar Championship.
In 2003 the car reappeared in the hands of Xero Competition, who campaigned the car in British GT up until 2005, with occasional appearances in Belcar and Euro GT in 2006. The car was brought back out in 2008 to compete in Britcar, and was finally retired in 2009.
Aspen Knolls Callaway C12-R (2001)
At the same time that the Trinkler Corvette debuted, Aspen Knolls brought their GT Class Callaway C12-R to the opening round of ALMS at Texas too. While technically not a Corvette, this car was built by Callaway themselves with the sole purpose of competing at Le Mans. Things didn't work out so well at Texas though, with the car qualifying 10th in class with Shane Lewis and Vic Rice at the wheel. Their time was seven tenths down on the Trinkler Vette, and three seconds down on the pole 996. To make things worse, the car would retire on lap 14 with a broken axle, being the first car to retire in the race.
At the 12 Hours of Sebring the car seemed to gain some speed, with Bob Mazzuoccola joining Lewis and Rice the car qualified 9th, right in front of Trinkler's Vette, but as with in Texas the car wouldn't see the finish, going out on lap fifty with suspension issues. With Sebring done, the trio flew to France to take part in the Le Mans Tests, where they set the 8th quickest time out of the GT entrants.
This however would not show the the speed of the car during the race, because at qualifying for the race itself, the car claiming pole with a 4:10:168 in the hands of Rice, Mazzuoccola and Cort Wagner. Sadly, this performance in qualifying didn't lead to any success, as the car went out with overheating issues during the night after running strongly in class earlier.
The car made it's final appearance at Petit Le Mans, qualifying 8th behind the BMW-Porsche battle that was raging at the time only to go out on lap 221 when a rear wheel came off the car on track, completing a perfect 0% finishing streak for the car.
After 2001, the car was entered into Le Mans by Mike Colucci only to be rejected by the ACO and then be sold to Urs Berwert who used the car in historic racing.
Markland Racing Corvette C6 Z06 (2007)
Danish team Markland Racing developed this C6 to challenge the 2007 Le Mans Series. With help from factory Corvette driver Jan Magnussen, the car was built from a road Z06 to contest the GT2 class up against an armada of Ferrari F430s and Porsche 997 GT3 RSRs. At the LMS tests at Paul Ricard the car suffered from overheating issues, to the point that parts were staring to melt, and was 7 seconds off the pace of the fastest GT2 cars at the test.
The car made it's race debut at the opening round of the LMS at Monza, with Veterans Kurt Thiim and Thorkild Thyrring joined by Danish actor Henrik Moller Sorensen. The trio was relegated to last on the grid, eleven seconds down on the the pole sitting Porsche, and went out an hour into the race on lap 29 due to overheating issues, similar to the tests at Paul Ricard. The poor result at Monza meant the car didn't qualify for round 2 at Valencia due to a limited GT2 grid.
For Round 3 at Nurburgring the car had been transformed to try and fix the reliability issues and lack of speed, gaining a new bumper, hood, and side exhausts in the process. These changes helped, as this time the trio qualified 4 places from the back, now only 8 seconds off the pace. But the tweaks only netted an extra hour of reliability when the car gave up the ghost on lap 54. The next round at Spa was the same as Monza, with the car setting the slowest time in qualifying and going out after an hour with a driveshaft failure.
The next round at Silverstone was more of the same, with the car setting the 2nd slowest time beating out an older 996 RSR. However, there was one major difference this time as the car managed to finish the race, 2nd to last in class and 16 laps down on the class winner. The final round at Interlagos saw the car once again set the slowest time in qualifying, and finish unclassified over 100 laps down the class winner, ending the car's career.
L-G Motorsports C6 (2008-2009)
Lou Gigliotti went in 2008 wanting to use his past experience in Trans-Am and SPEED world Challenge to create a car that could challenge for GT2 wins in the ALMS and at Le Mans, with help from Riley Technologies and CRD Engine Development. At the season opener at Sebring the car piloted by Gigliotti, Marc Goossens, and Doug Peterson at the wheel qualified 9th in class, on two seconds off the pole sitting F430. The car wouldn't finish it's first race however, with overheating issues taking the car out four and a half hours into the race.
For the next at the St. Petersburg the car slipped to 11th in qualifying, three and a half seconds off the pole sitting 997. Peterson and Gigliotti would manage to improve this to 8th during the race, 3 laps off the winning Ferrari. The round at Long Beach would see the car slip even further to 13th in qualifying 6 seconds off pace. The car would improve once again during the race, this time taking tenth, 4 laps off the winner. At the 4th round at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, the car once again qualified 9th. just under 2 seconds off the polesitters. The car would manage it's best finish of 2008 with 7th, once again 4 laps off the winner. The car wouldn't appear again until the final round at Petit Le Mans, with it managing 7th in qualifying, only 1.5 seconds off the pole sitters. Unfortunately the car couldn't continue it's track record of improving it's starting position, with Tomy Drissi and Gigliotti having the car fail on them just over an hour in with mechanical faults.
In 2009 the car appeared at Sebring once again, but wouldn't have the strong opening it did last year, qualifying 11th in the hands of Gigliotti, Eric Curran, and Lucas Molo and only making it three and a half hours into the race before mechanical faults took them out. The team would bounce back with Curran and Gigliotti qualifying 9th in class and finishing 4th in class, albeit 3 laps down, at St. Petersburg, giving the car what was to be it's best ever result.
However, things would not continue on this path going into Long Beach, where after qualifying 8th in class with Gigliotti and afroman Boris Said, the car would be destroyed in a fire with ten minutes left in the race. Because of this the car would again sit out most of the middle of the season, and return at Petit Le Mans. Here the car would qualify 2nd, right behind the Doran Racing Ford GT and ironically right ahead of the new official GT2 class Corvette C6.R ZR1. The car would eventually finish it's first endurance race in 8th, thirteen laps down. The car would finish it's career at the final round at Laguna Seca, where it would qualify 9th and finish in 9th, 5 laps down on one of the most infamous battles in modern motorsport.
This story isn't quite over yet, however, because during the time the car was racing, some shady back door dealing was being done by GM. When Gigliotti announced the car, he asked for GM's blessing for a full ACO homoligation, to allow the car to race at Le Mans, which they agreed as they did not have any will to race in GT2 at the time. But, by the time the car hit the track, GM backtracked on it's statement and revoked the homoligation, while also setting a deal with Michelin to have them refuse to sell tires to Gigliotti, leaving him unable to buy the tires with the largest stake in GT2 at the time. Gigliotti eventually took GM to court, stating that the deal with Michelin violated anit-trust laws. While ruling that the deal did not violate anti-trust laws, judge Don Bush did say GM could be liable for damages to Gigliotti's buisness income, and losing Boris Said as a driver, due to him being sponsored by BF Goodrich, which is owned by Michelin. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a verdict for this lawsuit, which leads me to suggest that it was settled out of court, however LG Motorsports would not return to the ALMS for 2010.
And with LG Motorsports out of the ALMS, the story of privately prepared Corvette race cars is more or less over. With the exception of Callaway racing in ADAC GT Masters, private race cars are basically dead in the realm of top tier motorsports, with Emil Frey Racing retiring their Jaguar for next season. It's easy to see why this has happened, as customer race cars have never been more available for privateers in racing, while homoligation production requirements effectively block small manufacturers and teams from building their own cars for a major audience. And while sportscar racing is at it's strongest we've seen for a long time in terms of GT racing, it's sad to not be able to root for the underdog that brings something unique and interesting to the grid.