After nine rounds of American Le Mans Series competition a single podium finish was enough for Chevrolet to capture its third consecutive manufacturers' championship for the production-based GTS class.

The factory-backed team secured the championship crown after Oliver Gavin, Kelly Collins and Andy Pilgrim took third place behind the two Prodrive Ferraris in Saturday's 1000-mile Petit Le Mans. Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell, co-drivers of the #3 Compuware Corvette C5-R along with Franck Freon, won the drivers' championship and Corvette Racing the team championship.

"This might very well be the best third place finish in the history of the Corvette C5-R," said GM programme manager Doug Fehan, "With our third consecutive manufacturers' title, we've once again proved that wherever there's a winners' circle, we'll be there."

After leading the GTS class briefly during the beginning of the race, the drivers on the #4 Corvette C5-R caught a bit of bad luck after a full-course caution period effectively put them a lap down. However, the team ran smoothly throughout the afternoon, and gained time on the sister #3 car, eventually taking third place near the six-hour mark.

Pilgrim, who captured the first-ever Corvette C5-R victory with Fellows in 2000, drove splendidly into the evening hours, allowing Gavin and Collins to cap their first season together as team-mates with a championship honour to follow numerous victories, podiums and record-setting pole positions.

"This was a great season and we did what we set out to do," Gavin said, "I had a great year driving with Kelly and we were fortunate enough to have Andy as our team-mate today as he has great experience over these arduous long-distance events. We have already begun work on next year's car and we hope to be back with even more victories in 2004."

Fellows and O'Connell, who were joined at Petit Le Mans by regular long-distance co-driver Freon, had already wrapped up the drivers' championship in what many observed as one of the most hotly-contested class fights in recent sportscar history. While the result for the #3 Corvette team did not end up as planned in Saturday's contest, the team did overcome great adversity in capturing its fifth place finish, including a full gearbox exchange after identifying a faulty ring gear.

"The crew did an amazing job to get us back on track after changing our gearbox," Fellows admitted, "First and foremost today was winning the manufacturers' title and, beyond that, we have to be pleased to win the drivers' crown. It means a great deal that I am able to share this championship with Johnny, as it's really our second in a row if not for the different rules last season. We found new ways to win in order to get podiums and get points, and that's what you have to do to be a champion. It was a challenging season and I'm proud of what we accomplished."

The third-placed team overcame not only any hardships it faced at Road Atlanta, but also had to deal with a new chassis after Collins wrote off its regular machine in a warm-up shunt in Miami two weeks ago.

"It means a great deal to us to win the manufacturers' championship," said Harry Turner, GM's group manager for road racing, "When I think about how little time we had to prepare after an on-track accident in Miami, it is a testament to the absolutely top-notch team effort we have had this entire year."

The success also allowed Turner to confirm that Corvette would return to defend its title hat-trick in 2004, when it again expects to take on the best that Ferrari can throw at it.

"Looking to 2004, we are excited for another great season of endurance racing and we expect great challenges from other manufacturers," Turner said, "The engineers at GM Racing are developing every single area of the Corvette C5-R for next year, and we'll be back ready to fight."

 

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