There’s an old adage that says: “A ‘learning experience’ is what you get when you expected something else.” That about sums up Callaway Competition USA’s Pirelli World Challenge Sprint X debut at the Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas – instead of running near the front of the GT field, as they could have realistically expected, they learned how to track down a discontinued Corvette engine block, make a round trip between Austin and Dallas to retrieve it, and spend all Friday night into Saturday afternoon rebuilding their Callaway Corvette engine. Having missed Saturday’s qualifying and Race One, the Callaway Corvette was allowed to start from the back of the field in Sunday’s Race Two.
Gremlins strike Callaway Corvette’s engine
The telemetry data after Friday’s opening practice raised a few eyebrows on Callaway’s team and called for a meeting of the brain trust to make an important decision. As Reeves Callaway said later, “Our data worked as it should and predicted a potential failure before it happened.” The desired course of action was to rebuild the engine, which would require finding another engine block on which to install the internals and accessories of the current engine. It was then early Friday afternoon, so the rebuild would cause the team to miss qualifying and Race One on Saturday, but they might be able to garner some points in Sunday’s Race Two.
In his announcement, Reeves did his best to put a positive spin on this turn of events. “Our team will be working long hours to repair the engine in time for Race 2, where Daniel Keilwitz and Eric Curran will have the opportunity to race through the field and earn valuable championship points.” A major fly in the ointment was the fact that the team did not have a spare engine with them – they are in the process of re-homologating the engine around a new, more readily available engine block. What they needed to find in a hurry was a Corvette LS9 block, which is no longer in production.
Finding the needle in the haystack
Desperate times call for desperate measures and the team, with some help from Chevrolet, actually found a new LS9 engine block! Says Reeves, “We found the block at a distribution center in the middle of Texas that was closed, on Friday night. We found the guy to open [the center] and he carried it, in the dead of night, to a drop-off point where we picked it up.” Now, all that was necessary was to turn this bare engine block into a racing engine.
Reeves’ engine-building son Pete and Callaway Cars managing director Mike Zoner worked around the clock from Friday night through Saturday afternoon on the rebuild. The rebuilt engine arrived back at the race track about 6:00 p.m. Saturday evening, at which time it was reinstalled in the GT3-R. Daniel Keilwitz took the number 26 Corvette out for a hardship practice lap on Sunday morning and, since all seemed to be well, was allowed to start from the rear of the GT field in fifteenth place on the starting grid for Sunday’s Sprint X Race Two.
Sprint X Race Two
The race weekend at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) was the first Sprint X race weekend of 2018. All Sprint X races have an allotted time of 60 minutes, and all competitors have a ten-minute window after the 35-minute mark of the race to make their mandatory pit stop. During the stop, GT pro cars are required to change drivers and to change all four tires. Daniel Keilwitz drew the starting assignment and new driver Eric Curran had the opportunity to finish the race. Curran will be joining Callaway Competition USA for the Sprint X races this season. He has experience racing the GT3-R in Europe with Callaway Competition and is also familiar with the tracks that will be hosting Pirelli World Challenge Sprint X events this season. “We have a great history with Eric, and we’re very excited to have him on board,” said Reeves. “Combined with his knowledge of the tracks across North America, he’s the perfect addition to our team for the SprintX championship.”
Once the green flag flew, Keilwitz moved up four places to P11 after the first lap, and got as high as P10 on lap four, but then settled back to P11 until the mandatory pit stop. After its fine performance in St. Petersburg, the Callaway Corvette was saddled with additional minimum weight of 25 kg which had an effect on the car’s performance. The pit stop went off without a hitch and Eric Curran rejoined the race in P15 before moving up to P13 on lap 17. But that was the best the GT3-R could do under the circumstances. Running on an untested engine is always a gamble, and the racing gods had one last trick up their sleeves to throw at the indomitable Callaway team – the GT3-R rolled to a stop out on the course with a mere 1 minute and 23 seconds left in the allotted race time. We believe it was the great Dan Gurney who once defined racing as a “cruel sport” – and being unable to finish the Sprint X race at COTA was certainly a cruel blow to the perseverance and spirit of the Callaway Competition USA team.
Next stop is Long Beach California
The Pirelli World Challenge next heads out west for the Long Beach Grand Prix, a Sprint race held the weekend of April 13-15. The Long Beach Grand Prix will be run on an 11-turn, 1.968 mile temporary street circuit in downtown Long Beach. For race details and times of the weekend’s events, please see the Pirelli World Challenge website.
All Photos Credited to the Callaway Competition USA
PWC Race 2 grid – http://tsl-timing.com/file/?f=PWC/2018/181206gr2pwx.pdf
PWC Race 2 results – http://tsl-timing.com/file/?f=PWC/2018/181206rc2pwx.pdf