Doug Fehan – Prior To The Start of The 2006 Season
”I don’t quite think I would do that”
© Gary Horrocks

“It’s important that we provide fans with good racing. If some teams are unable to compete, either due to lack of proper funding or technical capability, then it is necessary to give them some adjustments to allow them to compete.” These are the words of Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing Program Manager for GM.

Does this mean he is happy with the way the GT1 regulations are in the ALMS? I would have to say not, but Corvette Racing has never been one to whine. It may be a cliché, but Corvette Racing is the ultimate example of when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

But the reality of the above statement by Doug Fehan is that the American Le Mans Series has come up with regulations for the 2006 season that give further weight and restrictor concessions to the Corvette adversaries. And when compared to its chief rival, Aston Martin, now running on Pirelli tires, the Corvette will be at a significant disadvantage.

“It may not sound like much, but 110 pounds and 20-25 additional horsepower are significant,” says Fehan.

“At no place that we raced the Aston last year were we able to out accelerate them or have an advantage over them in top speed. And if you look at the last two to three races of last season, this class was a fight. If all you did was look at the results on paper, I guess you could say we dominated, but the reality is that we had our hands full with the Maserati, Saleen and later the Astons. At the finale at Laguna, our detailed analysis indicated that the ACEMCO Saleen was by far the fastest car on track. It was in the pits and in strategy that we beat them. But then again, as a privateer, they don’t have the means to collect that data, and because of that, they could never see how well they actually did.”

So while the final results indicate that 2005 was yet another Corvette dominated season, the results do not show the full story.

“We as a team worked our asses off to stay on top. We did not mail it in at all. But it has been that way through the entire existence of Corvette Racing. When we started in 1999, the Viper, with its V10 that produced a gang of torque and would live forever, was our nemesis. It was our mountain to climb. When I discussed this with the ACO, the comment from Alain Bertaut was ‘I can give you what you need. And what you need is to go home and work harder’. And that we did. For two years, until we got to the point where we could compete.”

Things in racing are different now. Call it a new generation, or what, but it appears that regulation changes have replaced hard work. Think back to the days in racing when restrictors were unheard of. Back when the only way a team fought back for success was through hard work.

“I guess it’s instant gratification now. We’re here for the long term and because of that, it puts our competitors in a good bargaining position. I would suggest we are the victims of our own success.”

Trying to strike a balance between competition and technology can be a difficult thing, but it is something that the American Le Mans Series appeared to achieve last year. But working with the series to try to help them achieve that balance is something that is extremely difficult for Doug Fehan. While he realizes that it is not healthy for the series to see his team dominate, he is also a driven competitor who truly wants to win every race. He might not admit it easily, but you get the impression that having either the ACEMCO Saleen or the Maserati break through for a win might not have been that bad a thing to occur.

“I would have to say that they (the ALMS) have done a good job balancing the class. I know what they want and I know it is something that we gotta do. But the fans are smart. They don’t want to see contrived competition. If you go overboard on regulation changes, the fans will figure it out. Relying on regulations to make teams competitive is a slippery slope to be on. It’s like a tube of toothpaste. Once you’ve squeezed the paste out, it’s tough to get it back into the tube. Decisions like this can affect much more than appears on the surface.”

Part of the difficulty of striking a balance in the class is the factory vs. privateer situation. There are not many privateers who feel they can take on the might of a well run factory program such as Corvette Racing without assistance. On paper, a car of the design and configuration of the Saleen S7 should be a world beater, but so far, it really hasn’t been developed to its full potential, something that is not lost on Doug Fehan or his team.

In comparing the cars that are running in the GT1 class, he makes the interesting observation that from below the green house, all of the cars are similar, at least as far as dimensions go.

“As they are all based upon similar dimensions and tire sizes, the lower body and front profile are all just about the same. It is in the greenhouse area that the cars differ, and that is where the rules dictating the rear wing width come into play. It is a way of leveling the aero effects of a sleeker greenhouse.”

What could prove to be the most interesting observation concerning the class is “while the focus is on the breaks that the Aston got, the Konrad Saleen, also on Pirelli tires could very well be the sleeper of the field. They’ve got a bigger wing, a weight break and a larger diameter fueling pipe.” The potential is there, still there… and we'll see this battle re-joined at Le Mans (on strictly ACO terms).

So, what about the C6.R, the dailysportscar Car of the Year in North America? How will it be with the added weight this year and specifically at Sebring?

“First of all, I was absolutely blown away by that award. I’m surprised that the Brits would let it happen! (Patriotism doesn't come into it, Doug. Our contributors just looked at what the C6.Rs achieved during 2005. Ed.) As far as this year, I’m not sure. We built new cars for this season as we sold last year’s cars to teams in Europe. The cars are not really any different than last year’s, just new. We did test them, but we haven’t really run them at the 1180kg weight as of yet. Over the length of a sprint race, the added weight shouldn’t be a big deal, but over the course of a longer race it could be significant. The added weight consumes more fuel and eats up the brakes and tires faster. I would have to say that multiplied over 12 hours, it will have an effect.

“But, in the end, it all comes down to durability, reliability and driver consistency. Those are areas where I believe we are very strong. As I have said before, we don’t give up. Look at last year at Sebring. O’Connell had that crash when the brake disc exploded. The team got the car back into the race when many expected the car to be retired. I’m not saying we are going to be beat, but when someone does beat us, it won’t be because we let up. It will be because they were incredibly lucky or they did an outstanding job. Competition? Bring it on. I hope we see even more as the year goes on.”

OK, Doug. Bottom line. Should I change my prediction of a Corvette 1-2 in GT1 at Sebring? “I don’t quite think I would do that.” While truly not a villain in real life, you get the impression that Doug would relish the opportunity to play the villain, to the cars that are the choice of James Bond. In reality though, he is the man who won the 2004 ALMS "From the Fans Award" for his contributions to sportscar racing - definitely a good guy.

 

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