While having been one of the most successful manufacturers at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with seven class victories over the last 15 years, Corvette Racing hasn’t taken on the likes of AF Corse, Aston Martin or Porsche Team Manthey in a regular-distance FIA World Endurance Championship event until this weekend.
In addition to its TUDOR United SportsCar Championship commitments, the factory Pratt & Miller squad is fielding a Corvette C7.R in Saturday’s Six Hours of Circuit of The Americas, which sees brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor team up with Tommy Milner in the only all-American driver lineup in the race.
According to Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan, the entry in the FIA WEC race has helped fulfill a number of short and long-term objectives for the Detroit automaker.
“I think [the WEC] race fills a lot of voids,” Fehan told Sportscar365. “I think it’s important that we’ve maintained, since our beginning, that we continuously look at what opportunities are around the world.
“By racing here, we see how the WEC operates, we look at their Balance of Performance is and see how good their racing is.
“That helps us determine what we’re going to do personally and first and foremost, it gives us a much better insight into what our potential customers are facing as well.”
The expanded effort, with both TUDOR Championship and FIA WEC races occurring on the same day, has resulted in the team drafting in some new and familiar faces.
Mike West, the former crew chief for the No. 4 car, returns to the same role on the No. 65 Corvette after a season with Cadillac Racing in Pirelli World Challenge, while Alex Roberge, who assists the team at Le Mans as a liaison with the ACO and FIA, is acting as team manager.
Ben Johnson, who works on the Corvette DP and Camaro programs for Pratt & Miller, meanwhile, is engineer, with a mix of Cadillac and Corvette Racing crew completing the roster in the WEC car this weekend.
Changes have also been made to the C7.R, originally used as a test car, which includes a swap from E85 to E10 fuel and the addition of the FIA’s on-board marshaling system, which is mandatory for all WEC entries.
“This is unique in that it involves two different series, two different sets of rules, different drivers, and a totally segregated crew that needs to be responsible for that third car,” Fehan said.
“So we sat down and did our internal planning, assigned some people, we’re pretty deep. We have ex-Corvette guys, either A. working on Cadillac, or building Cadillac/Corvette race cars.
“We’re now bringing them out of mothballs, or reassigning them, wasn’t that big a deal. We’re bringing in separate crew that has Corvette experience. The powertrain guys have two separate there.
“For the race itself, we’ll implement one or two additional guys from our standard program to round out the pit crew.”
Fehan expects a hard-fought race on Saturday and knows the team will be up for the task of taking the fight to the fellow factory squads in GTE-Pro, despite having no prior experience in six-hour FIA WEC races.
“It’s very difficult at this point,” he said. “We’ve not raced anywhere but Le Mans. Cars behave differently at different race tracks. [The competition] have been developing themselves around the WEC regulations. It should be a pretty good race.
“I think we’ll be competitive, and that’s really what our objective is to go out there, do what we do best and apply ourselves. We’ll look at proper race strategy and proper implementation and we’ll then take what the race gives us.”
While Fehan said there are no plans for the factory squad to enter the FIA WEC on a full-time basis next year, he’s still hopeful of seeing customer Corvettes, potentially for GTE-Pro and/or GTE-Am, although there have not yet been any firm commitments.
Pratt & Miller has built a total of three of the C7.Rs to date, although that could change depending on the market conditions.
“This was the first C7.R built, it is our test car, so it will return to fulfill its test car duties as we go forward,” Fehan said. “It has the ability to wear many hats. It can be a spare car, test car, a show car. It can also serve this purpose, which is us getting a looksee and see how WEC operates and how much fun we can have there.”