Saturday, October 26, 2019

2019 Corvette Racing Weekend: Hershey, Pennsylvania, October 25-26, 2019

There are a number of "official" Corvette events held around the country each year, including a Corvette Corral at the 24 Hours of Daytona each January supported by Chevrolet and a dinner event on the West Coast after one of the races out there but a more recent event is the Corvette Racing Weekend, which seems to have started at the Simeone Museum in Philadelphia in 2016 (my posting about that one is here) and has subsequently become an event organized by the National Corvette Museum and has relocated to the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  We were unable to attend the events there until this year as they were held too late in the season to allow us to drive the Corvette as it goes into hibernation on November 1 each year.  In 2019 the event was moved forward and we were able to participate.

After the initial Meet and Greet at the Troegs Brewery on Thursday, October 24 and then the poker run to the coal mine and Yuengling Brewery on Friday morning and afternoon, we walked over from our hotel across the parking lot to the AACA Museum on Friday night for a buffet dinner and were entertained by Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan and driver Tommy Milner, who always are good for insider insights into racing.  The 2019 season was actually not very good for the team and Friday's talk was about the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  82 laps into the race, the No. 64 car, being driven by Marcel Fässler, a Swiss driver who is a three-time class winner at Le Mans, was struck by a Porsche in the LM GTE Am class, and the Corvette slammed into the crash barriers with considerable force, ending the race.  The story went that the Le Mans organizers have a system in place that detects hard impacts so that emergency vehicles can be sent out immediately but in spite of the impact, which registered like an earthquake, nothing happened.  Marcel, shook up but uninjured, got out of the car and waited around before taking a ride on a marshall's scooter to the medical unit. Marcel was blamed for the incident and was fined by the stewards but it is clear from the video that the Porsche was at fault.

The No. 63 Corvette lasted until late in the race when it was beginning to make the charge to move up in the rankings but instead driver Jan Magnussen lost control on a turn and spun off the road.  The car was repaired but the damage meant that it finished far down in the standings after completing 337 laps.  This was the last time the Corvette C7-R would be at Le Mans so it was a disappointing day out for the team.  The Ford GT was also at its last Le Mans as part of a factory team and also fared poorly, with two cars (one a factory racer, the other the first Ford GT privateer) disqualified.

Lance Miller, of Carlisle Events, talking about the 1960 Briggs Cunningham team Corvette
Getting up early on Saturday, we had breakfast and then enjoyed a pre-event walk-through of the storage building of the AACA Museum, which I wrote about here.  Soon afterwards the Corvette Racing Weekend part continued in the downstairs area of the museum.  We walked in just in time to hear the last part of Lance Miller's talk about the 1960 Corvette that had raced as part of the Briggs Cunningham team effort at Le Mans that year.  It was the first year that Corvettes had participated and in addition to the three Cunningham cars there was an additional Corvette fielded by Camoradi USA.  It had been a dream of Lance Miller's father, Chip, to find the original No. 3 Cunningham Corvette that had been the class winner at Le Mans, and after considerable effort and expense the car was found and restored to its original race configuration.  Lance brought the car to the museum and it was on display for all to admire, along with two other Corvettes.

1960 Cunningham Team Corvette Le Mans Racing Car
One of the most celebrated of all Corvettes, we first had the opportunity to see this car at the Greenwich Concours d'Elegance in Connecticut in June 2018, which featured the cars of Briggs Cunningham, where I spoke to Kevin McKay, the restorer.  Then the car appeared with a exhibition of Corvette racing cars at the 2019 Corvettes at Carlisle event in August--and a week later it was on display at the National Corvette Museum as part of the museum's 25th Anniversary celebrations!

1954 C1 Corvette Roadster

1985 C4 Corvette Coupe
After the presentation by Lance Miller, we heard from a number of other speakers, with Wes Wong, who is a Board Member of the National Corvette Museum, acting as Master of Ceremonies.  Doug Fehan and Tommy Milner were back to talk about the overall 2019 season for Corvette Racing which, alas, saw the team fail to win a single one of the 13 races entered (the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series plus the 24 Hours of Le Mans).  It was clearly Porsche's year as that team won six of the 12 WeatherTech races, or possibly, the Balance of Performance set-up favoured their cars.  BoP is a hot topic in racing but, realistically, there is no way that such divergent cars could be made to race with each other competitively unless there was some way to equalize things.  We also heard comments from Tommy Milner about what it is like to drive the new Corvette, the mid-engined C8-R, that will be present at the 24 Hours of Daytona in January for its first race.  One of the cars will be silver with yellow details, while the other will be the traditional Corvette Racing yellow with some silver.  There seemed to be a difference of opinion as to which colour should have been used!
Driver Tommy Milner (left) and Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan (right) talking about the 2019 racing season
The program continued with a very interesting presentation by Lee Willard, the Chief Michelin Corvette Tire Engineer, who had a slide presentation about the new C8 and how the tires were developed for it, and a talk was also given by Cam Bower, Strategic Alliance Global Manager from Mobil, who spoke about the latest Mobil 1 synthetic oil technology.  Having heard representatives of these two companies at numerous events now, we are always surprised how they come up with something new and memorable to discuss.  Corvette owners are very interested in the technical aspects of their cars today but Michelin and Mobil have been with the program for years and talk about their history with Corvette as well.

The Corvette Racing Weekend then featured an auction to raise money for the National Corvette Museum, as well as some items to benefit the AACA Museum, and the Corvette fans opened their wallets with enthusiasm.  The event ended with an autograph session.  Nigel Dobbie, a super Corvette enthusiast whom we had met at the NCM's "NASCAR in the South" event in North Carolina in 2017, has just published a big book on Corvette Racing's first 20 years and we purchased a copy, which we had signed by Nigel, Doug (who wrote a foreword), Tommy and the others.
With the Corvette Racing Weekend events concluded, we were able to walk around the AACA Museum and look at the cars on display without any rush.  That evening we had attempted to go for dinner in downtown Hershey but the restaurants were packed so we ended up at Troegs Brewery yet again!

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