CORVETTE RACING AT ROAD ATLANTA: Reliving the Pilgrim Pass
One of the greatest moments in team history at the end of 2000 Petit Le Mans
DETROIT (Oct. 4, 2018) – In the course of 20 years, Corvette Racing has produced reels and reels of highlight material. One of the biggest moments also was one of the first… dating all the way back to the 2000 racing season.
The final race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – the Oct. 13 Petit Le Mans – is as good a time as any to catch up with Andy Pilgrim and revisit the “Pilgrim Pass”. It was an audacious move that gave Corvette Racing only its second victory and first in one of the sport’s top endurance races.
“It was a turning point. Texas was the first win, but just like in golf we have four majors in racing: Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans and Petit Le Mans,” recalled Pilgrim, who drove the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C5-R with Kelly Collins and Franck Freon that day at Road Atlanta. “In those days, the Viper guys were dominant and we had to work really hard.”
Here’s how it played out: Pilgrim ran second with 20 minutes to go after closing down on the lead Dodge Viper in the final hour. After staying in the leader’s wheel tracks for several laps to go, Pilgrim made his move with two laps to go. Just after crossing start/finish, Pilgrim feigned a run on the outside of the front stretch, then made a hard move right under braking to catch the Viper off guard.
The Corvette made the first corner first with only centimeters between the rear of the C5-R and the front of the Viper. With no front downforce, the Viper went off track and Pilgrim drove away to victory.
“The leaders were coming, and I knew I had to make it work,” Pilgrim said. “I had to get the chicane perfect and Turn 12. I kept myself in his left-hand mirror so he could see me clearly on that side. I had a good run, positioned myself to the left and when he got on the brakes, I went right and stuffed it on the inside. I went down on the inside before he could react. And we never touched. The only reason he went off was I had taken all the downforce off the front of his car. I didn’t know he had gone off track!
“I flew up to Turn Two, and there’s always a light up there at the top of the hill. I saw the light in my side mirrors and thought, ‘Jeez he’s right on me!’ So I drove like a complete lunatic down through Four and Five. When I was out of that corner, I looked behind me and realized there were no lights behind me. That light at Turn Three is kind of off the track but shines on it and comes in your mirror. But I thought that was Tommy; I thought he was right on me! I came out of Turn Five and was massively four wheels off… and there was nobody there! It would have been hysterical – crashing the car being chased by a ghost car!”
The victory set Corvette Racing on a course that saw it win overall the following season in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and take the first of its eight class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“Chrysler was very proud of that program, and what I heard was that if the Viper guys won all four races, they were going to get some kind of massive bonus,” Pilgrim said. “They had won the three previous races coming to Petit Le Mans. But the race was our coming out party because we beat the multiple-time world champions at Petit Le Mans in that manner with that finish. Suddenly, Corvette Racing was on the scene. It was just huge, and I suppose we stopped that bonus from happening!
“Coming out of the pressroom after the race that night was amazing. There were hundreds of fans still there and yelling as we came out. It was remarkable how many people were there and how emotional they were. We were in the moment and probably didn’t really appreciate everything immediately. But now it’s 20 years later and we have thousands and thousands of Corvette Racing supporters. I’m just thrilled to be part of that history.”
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