2007 CORSA MOTORSPORTS AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES DIARY|
Sebring, Florida – March 18, 2007 – It was a weekend of highs and lows for the #32 EquiWest/Michelin/Corsa Motorsports Ferrari F430GT at the Mobil1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – the 55th running of the most important and historic sports car race in North America and to simply be a part of the spectacle before 160,000 fans was an incredible experience.
From the moment the #32 came of the transport it was quick, posting times on Monday and Tuesday that placed it at the top of the GT2 class with drivers Maurizio Mediani (Italy), Rui Aguas (Portugal), Jose Maria Lopez (Argentina) and Steve Pruitt (Sandy, Utah). In Wednesday afternoon’s session, the car was making it turn it at the infamous Sunset Bend turn 17 when the Andretti LMP2 slipped underneath making contact and sending the #32 into the tire barrier damaging the right rear quarter panel, exhaust system and rear plane of the car.
Plans were immediately put into motion to find a local body shop that first was willing to work on such an exotic repair and could at the same time perform the repairs timely enough so that the car could make the qualifying session the following day. After a Herculean effort, the car made it back to the track but just as the qualifying session was ending and with no qualifying time posted, the #32 was relegated to a starting position of dead last.
Part of the mandatory requirements of the Sebring race is that every driver must complete laps in night conditions given that 1/3 of the race is run at night with no lighting on the track. Just before sunset, a torrential rain hit the track prior to the start of the night session and the #32 would be going back onto the track not only under full wet conditions but having not been able to determine if there had been any other collateral damage beyond the body damage which might affect the performance of the car. As it had been all week, the #32 was up to the task and quickly posted the fastest time of the night session and ended the session with the second quickest time.
Another Herculean effort was put forth by the Dale White managed White Lightning racing crew as they took the #32 completely apart to check for any damage that had not been visible as a result of the night session and did not complete the reassembly of the car until 4:30am. As the warm-up session began at 7:20am, there was little time for much more than a catnap by the crew but it was job well done. As the flag dropped on the 55th running of the race at 10:00am, the stage was now set to see how well the car could work its way through the pack knowing that Sebring is essentially a World War II airfield comprised of connected sections of old concrete runways that is brutal on both driver and machinery. Maurizio Mediani was selected to start the race and through the first stint moved the #32 EquiWest Michelin Ferrari to fourth position at the end of Hour One.
After the first two stints and driver changes, the decision was made to double stint the Michelin tires to save time in the pits resulting in the Corsa Ferrari climbing into second place in class at the end of Hour Five. During Hour Six, the #32 suffered a broken bolt in the left rear suspension as a result of the pounding from the concrete surface requiring a 16 minute pit stop to replace the bolt which was located adjacent to the exhaust system – again a monumental effort by the crew. As the car re-entered the race, it had dropped from second place to tenth place but it was a minor shunt in a pit stop with the Aston Martin which, appearing harmless at first, would prove to be the demise of the car and the race in the end. With Jose Lopez at the wheel at the beginning of Hour Eight, the bump with the Aston Martin had caused the bumper of the Ferrari to be skewed and with the roughness of the track and the bumper not in correct alignment and away from the radiator, it eventually wore through the frontal surface of the radiator which sits just behind the bumper resulting in a loss of coolant which led to the engine overheating and eventually the loss of a cam gasket resulting in a spectacular oil fire which, as spectacular as it appeared on live television and becoming a Sports Center moment, the car was able to make it a flagging station where the fire was extinguished and Jose was out of the car safely.
The retirement was just another of one of the downs that come with racing. An initial inspection indicated that there had been no structural damage from the fire confining it mostly to body damage and engine harness wiring. Plans were immediately made to have the car flown back to Italy for repairs where it now is going through the process of being repaired in hopes of making a return for the Lone Star Grand Prix in Houston on April 28 however until a final assessment is completed, the car may not return until Corsa’s home race on May 19th at the Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, the first CBS televised race of the 2007 ALMS season.
The #31 Petersen White Lightning car, sister car to the #32 Corsa, found itself on the pole for the race but after a first lap incident, fell to the back of the pack only to survive to Hour Twelve and finish 8th in class. As Corsa will be without an entry until the car arrives back from Italy, the #31 will be carrying the team banner having proved the quality of the team by capturing the pole for the St. Petersburg Grand Prix running on March 31.
Please visit Corsa Motorsports at www.430GT.com for more on the EquiWest/Michelin Ferrari F430 GT.
Steve Pruitt Team Principal