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Corvette Scores Crushing Victory;
New Cadillac Northstar LMP Delayed by Technical Problems

SEBRING, March 16, 2002 - Reigning ALMS GTS Champions, Corvette Racing, finally broke their Sebring jinx by scoring a crushing victory in the Sebring 12 Hours, the opening round of the 2002 American Le Mans Series. Both Corvettes dominated the proceedings from the start and it wasn’t until the seventh hour of the race that a stuck throttle on Andy Pilgrim’s car broke up the Millennium Yellow tandem.

In just 18 months, America’s legendary sportscar has now scored victories in all major endurance races around the world. The Corvette won Petit Le Mans in 2000 and again in 2001, the 24-hour races of Daytona and Le Mans in 2001 and now the Sebring 12 Hours.

The new Cadillac Northstar LMP 02 paid the price for being the only brand-new car on the 60-car grid. Persistent starter problems on both entries stopped the cars for longer periods, thus throwing a shadow over an otherwise fine performance.

From the start of the race, the No. 7 Cadillac driven by Emmanuel Collard had no problems following the blistering pace of the leaders and quickly climbed up the leaderboard. By the time of his second pitstop, one and a half hours into the race, Collard had moved up to third overall. But then the car refused to start again. “The extreme heat caused us problems,” Cadillac LMP Program Manager Jeff Kettman explained. Indeed, the temperature rose to 38°C and in the second part of the race the pace car had to neutralize the race for almost an hour because the asphalt had started to melt and needed repairing. “Because of the heat, the starter ring gear got too hot and started to expand. As a result of that the bendix couldn’t travel far enough to turn the starter over. Eventually a wire lead started to melt, necessitating the long repairs. Then the same problem happened again on both cars later in the race.” In total both cars spent over two hours “behind the wall” for repairs.

When the cars didn’t have problems they easily ran as fast as the top runners, JJ Lehto being the fastest driver on the track during the night hours. “From the moment the starter problem occurred we decided to consider the rest of the race as a life-size test and see how far we could push it,” the Finnish ace said. His efforts were stopped one hour from the end when the oil pressure dropped to zero, leaving the car stranded on the track. “You can test all you want, but until you race you learn nothing,” Kettman cloncluded. “We’ve had problems on both cars and now we know the starter is an issue which we have to find a solution for. I’m confident the guys will come up with a solution before Le Mans. We’ll stay in Sebring to test for another three days and run as long as we can to see if we have any other issues that need addressing.”

Over at Corvette Racing everybody was happy to have finally scored that missing win. The Corvettes led the whole race in GTS, never separated by more than a few seconds until Andy Pilgrim had his scary moment. “The throttle stuck just as I was going into the corner. I lifted, but the car kept going. I was just a passenger until I hit the tire wall and damaged the front end in the process,” Pilgrim said. Repairs cost the team 12 laps, exactly distance that separated the car from the other Corvette at the finish.

“We have been working so hard towards this race,” said co-winner Johnny O’Connell, who has recorded three previous wins at Sebring, “and it was a team effort all the way. Last year we had problems with the starter and that cost us the win. This year we had two starters on the car and two batteries on the car. Really the Corvette is almost becoming like an aircraft with redundant systems.”

Oliver Gavin was the winning driver in the GTS class last year competing against Corvette. This was his first drive with Corvette Racing and he will drive three additional races this year at Le Mans, Road America and Petit Le Mans. “I am delighted to be with this team and to have a win the first time out is just amazing” said Gavin. “The car was very well prepared and ran perfectly. It was so hot today that I was wondering how we were going to cope with the heat. Ron and Johnny and myself all had tried to prepare for it. My first stint was between 12 to 1 PM and when I got out of the car the medical team told me that my temperature was 39°C degrees. With proper cooling down techniques and fluids I quickly recovered and didn’t have any problems.”

The next stop on the schedule of both teams is the free practice day in Le Mans on May 5.

The 50th Annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring - 2002 ALMS, Round 1 - Final results

1. Capello/Herbert/Pescatori Audi R8 346 laps
2. Wallace/Lammers/Johansson Audi R8 + 1 lap
3. Goossens/Smith/Mathews R&S-Elan Mk.IIIC + 9 laps
4. Weaver/Leitzinger/Forbes-Robinson R&S-Lincoln Mk.IIIA + 16 laps
5. Pirro/Kristensen/Biela Audi R8 + 19 laps
6. Wilson/Collins/Vann Ascari-Judd KZR-1 + 23 laps
7. Field/Dayton/Durand MG Lola EX257 (1st LMP675) + 23 laps
8. Herta/Auberlen/Donohue Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S + 27 laps
9. Fellows/O’Connell/Gavin Chevrolet Corvette C5-R (1st GTS) + 29 laps
10. Borcheller/Konrad/Seiler Saleen S7-R (2nd GTS) + 37 laps

13. Pilgrim/Collins/Freon Chevrolet Corvette C5-R (4th GTS) + 40 laps
30. Angelelli/Taylor/Tinseau Cadillac Northstar LMP 02 + 110 laps


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