GM Media Press Release
FOR RELEASE: February 3, 2001
Chevrolet Corvette C5-R Scores Historic Overall Win In 39th Rolex 24 At Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH - Having finished third in the GTS class on their debut in 1999 and second overall in last yearís running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Corvette Racing team did one better this year and scored a historic overall victory. Canadian Ron Fellows, Frenchman Franck Freon and Americans Chris Kneifel and Johnny OíConnell took the checkered flag first in the wettest ever Daytona 24 Hours. Teammates Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins, together with sportscar rookies Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the Corvette success story by finishing 4th overall and second in class.
The race started in the dry but under low clouds. Three hours into the 39th running of the Rolex 24, rain started pouring and the weather never really improved after that. By that time the #2 Corvette C5-R of Fellows, Kneifel, Freon and OíConnell had already made its way up to 6th overall and a comfortable lead in GTS.
In the other car, Dale Earnhardt drove the second stint and found that the Rolex 24 are quite different from the Daytona 500. "It was like New York, New York out there," he said referring to the traffic, which, unlike in NASCAR, also consists of cars running in slower classes. "But itís a lot of fun. The biggest thing was being consistent, not doing something wrong like missing a shift or hurting the car. I was a little nervous getting in the first time. But once I got in it was just like practice. Iím really enjoying myself and so is Dale Jr. Iím used to running 3 Ĺ to five hours. I was just getting my rhythm down and going good. My next stint will be better, and the next after thatÖ" Dale Earnhardtís stints would be impressive indeed and from the speed and consistency he showed in the treacherous conditions, nobody could tell heíd never driven in the rain before.
The #2 car kept climbing up the order, with Frack Freon taking it to 5th overall after 6 hours of racing; Ron Fellows moving up to fourth two hours later and Chris Kneifel making it to the podium at the half-race mark, reaching that position several hours earlier than last year.
While one car kept creeping up the order, the other had to deal with all sorts of problems. Around midnight Andy Pilgrim reported toxic fumes in the cockpit, which were quickly dealt welt. Then Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost drive and the team decided to change the gearbox (in a record 17 minutes), only to find that the problem came from a broken half-shaft, which subsequently needed changing as well.
Both cars made it through the 13-hour long Florida night without any other problems, except for a precautionary change of the ECU on the #2 car after the heavy rain started to affect the electronics.
Other than that, the drivers just had to cruise. "Iím trying to be the smartest guy out there," Chris Kneifel said after his Sunday morning stint. "The racingís great and the rain just adds another element to make this a great event. Iím all for it."
Three and a half hours from the end, the #2 Corvette moved into the lead and firmly stayed there. Such was the carís lead that 35 minutes from the finish flag, the GrandAm officials told the team they had won the 2001 edition of the Rolex 24 Hours. Under GrandAm rules all cars are classified, even if they donít finish. With a big enough lead over the second placed car and not wanting to risk any last minute dramas, Ron fellows brought the car in the pits and waited until five minutes before the end to go out again and put Corvetteís first overall Daytona win in the books. "It makes up for last year," the Canadian driver said. Last year the team missed out on the overall victory by a mere 32 seconds.
Teammate Johnny OíConnell added another important win to his tally. "Iíve won Sebring outright and won my class in Le Mans, so this makes it three wins in the three most important endurance races in the world. This is my best win ever. I canít say enough about Pratt & Miller and about General Motors. Itís unbelievable! We had a very good car, four very smart drivers and thatís what it takes to win a 24-hour race."
Chris Kneifel, who like Ron fellows has been involved with the Corvette C5-R project since the beginning, agreed with OíConnell: "This win is a tribute to the great racing effort of GM, Pratt & Miller and the great car that is the Corvette. We think of it as Americaís greatest sportscar, but today it became the worldís greatest sportscar. Thereís nothing like winning this event in a Corvette!"
Franck Frťon, the European in the North American team, won the GTS class in Le Mans last year, as well as in Petit Le Mans: "Winning your class is great, but winning overall is fantastic. Itís a tribute to the quality of the work by the whole team."
Corvette Program Manager Doug Fehan summed up the weekend: "Itís a great day for Corvette, an even greater day for General Motors and an outstanding day for Pratt & Miller. My thanks go to the marketing people and executives at GM who made this project possible."
Corvette Racingís next race will be the opening round of the American Le Mans Series in Texas on March 4th.
Related Forum: Corvette Racing