Corvette Fever races at Le Mans
Thursday night at Le Mans found us qualified near the back of the grid with the JRG special, after a fraught evening practice session. As I recounted last month, our gold '60 Racer had a persistent misfire from 4,000 rpm-and-up, and most of our qualifying session had been spent in front of the Corvette C6R team pits trying to trace this problem. To run competitively in the Le Mans Legends vintage race without becoming a mobile chicane down the long Mulsanne straights, we had to recover those lost 3,000 rpm.
I suspected we had a deeper problem than just the ignition, and after a discussion over Friday morning breakfast at the NCRS-UK farmhouse in Parcay-Les-Pins, we decided to borrow a compression tester and check the cylinder pressures.
While our team returned to the circuit, I led some NCRS Le Mans newbies on a familiarization route that included the villages of Arnage and Mulsanne-each host their own corners on the circuit-and a drive over the few miles of the track, which, as public roads, are open to all on the Friday before the race. Fortunately, this was the one hot and sunny day of the weekend, allowing the red loop carpet of my white '64 to dry out a little after the Florida-in-August rain of the previous night. My soft top was now a perfect fit, but the windshield gasket would need to be tackled next; it was leaking on both sides when parked. Before returning to the track, we spent a pleasant half hour parked on the Mulsanne straight watching the endless parade of classic cars and supercars. this year there were more Corvettes than ever from all across Europe.
Curve Coming Up ::: The gold...
Curve Coming Up ::: The gold and red '60 Corvette racer at the Dunlop Curve in the Le Mans Legends race on the morning of the Le Mans 24-Hour. JeffBloxham.com
Race Me ::: Race-suited drivers...
Race Me ::: Race-suited drivers Bernie Chodosh and John Young help the rest of the team push the JRG Special to the start line.
Gettin' Ready ::: Ready for...
Gettin' Ready ::: Ready for the start, the Gulf blue number 14 '65 Ford GT40 (in the foreground) eventually won the race.
In the Le Mans Legends paddock, the righthand cylinder head was off our '60 JRG Special because the test had revealed low compressions on 4 and 6, and sure enough, the head gasket had failed between these two cylinders. Luckily, we had a spare gasket in the van because there would be no chance of finding one at a parts shop in France. Just to make sure, we also renewed the wiring to the mechanical points and coil-ignition system, required by the regulations. This was finally finished in the dark with borrowed flashlights; a late-night test on an access road where we repeatedly accelerated to 7,000 revs proved we had all our power back.
It can be a galling experience owning a race car. No racing driver myself, on the track I trust my expensive jewel of a car to my co-builder, Bernie Chodosh, and ultra-fast vintage racer John Young. All those lovely chassis details, the flawless paint, and the correct period features in the interior were to be tested for 60 minutes on a very fast circuit.
As we left at 6:30 a.m. in my '64 convertible, the rain was cascading down again, and by 7:30 we were parked in the deep puddles of Camp Corvette. I was lucky to still be driving my own Vette because since Wednesday the team had asked to borrow my distributor, ignition coil, ballast resistor, valve covers, and cylinder heads; I had resisted them all. In the Le Mans Legends paddock, the British were brewing tea, and our car, proudly displaying the Corvette Fever logo on each rear fender, had the biggest crowd of admirers around it. Even as I asked Bernie and John to please drive around carefully for an hour and stay away from trouble on the very wet track, I knew they would ignore me. From the back of the main grandstand we watched the multi-million dollar parade of Le Mans Legends entries, most with genuine history from this track, rolling down the slope to take up their positions for the famous echelon start. The field included Le Mans winning Jaguar D-Types and Aston Martin DBR-1s, one driven by the legendary Stirling Moss. I'm proud that after thirty-five years in the Corvette hobby, I had reached this high point, but after all the worries of the previous days, I was fearful that our car may not even start.