AWA scales the learning curve with new Corvette Z06 GT3.R

New race cars are trouble. No matter how much testing has been done before the racing debut, there will be problems. Testing is not racing. And if a manufacturer hasn’t built that type of car before, there are likely to be even more problems. Now, take a team without experience running that type of car, and you create a perfect conditions for one heck of a Murphy’s Law storm.

That’s the situation that AWA finds itself in as it transitions from LMP3 to the new Chevrolet Corvette Z06 GT3.R in the GTD category. AWA has run GT cars before, but not GT3. And Chevrolet, with partner Pratt Miller, has built a lot of Corvette race cars, but this is its first GT3 car and first customer racing program. There’s a whole lot of new going on.

“It’s a new car to the world, so nobody has much experience,” explained AWA competition director Jeff Braun. “AWA certainly had no experience with this car. But even Pratt and Miller don’t have much experience with a customer team. They’ve done customer racing before for sure, but probably not at this level, not at the GT3 levels. So they’re learning how to support a customer team. We’re learning what we can get and what those processes are to get things, and updates and things like that. So I would say the hardest thing is just getting all those procedures in place, quickly. And it’s come along, I think, pretty quick. Really, I’m encouraged.”


If the name Jeff Braun doesn’t mean anything to you, he’s got a long history in motorsports engineering and working with a variety of teams in sports car and IndyCar racing. In recent years that has included Mazda’s DPi effort with SpeedSource, CORE Autosport, and CrowdStrike Racing by APR. And if his history doesn’t ring a bell, that of his son, longtime sports car racer Colin, might be familiar. As competition director, Jeff. Braun oversees pretty much everything to do with performance.

AWA has been running a pair of Ligier LMP3s in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for a number of years, and has prior experience with GT4 cars in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. But for Andrew Wojteczko’s outfit, the Z06 GT3.R is its first GT effort at this level. But not only is it a new car to him, it’s a new car, period, and the first true GT3 car from GM.

Even with a lot of testing, new GT3 cars have issues that crop up when they’re raced. Ask Ford, with its new Mustang that required updates to keep the rear decklid from launching itself from the car, or even vastly experienced GT3 manufacturer Porsche about the issues with its 992-generation 911 GT3 R that wasn’t great at its introduction last year. AWA suffered issues with its Corvettes at Daytona, and again with the No. 17 at Sebring. Driver and car owner Anthony Mantella was so disillusioned that he pulled the plug and put the car up for sale, leaving AWA with the No. 13 for full-time driver Orey Fidani and Matt Bell.

That car has come along. Bell topped a practice session at Long Beach, where the team finished sixth. At WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Fidani was the highest finishing Bronze driver, and Fidani leads the Bob Akin Award points over Brendan Iribe and Sheena Monk after four rounds. Problems have cropped up, but they’re being tackled.

The Corvette Z06 GT3.R had its share of typical new-car gremlins, but they’re being ironed out quickly. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

“That was probably new race car problems [at Daytona],” said Braun. “But that’s not the answer I ever want, like, ‘Oh, that just happens.’ My job is, OK, it happened, but how can we as a team prevent that from happening ever again? It could be simple as preparation or spare parts that we needed that we never thought we would need. Did we think we were going to need three power steering pumps? Probably not. But we did. And we didn’t have three, so how do we prevent that from ever happening to us again?

“It was those kinds of things that I think we — Pratt Miller, AWA — all got better at. We understood when we went testing — we did a lot of testing on some of the things — some of the drivability issues that we had. Nobody said, ‘Well, that’s just the way it is.’ It  bugged everybody.”

The Z06 GT3.R has some things that are still new in the world of GT3, like an electronic clutch that doesn’t require a pedal or switch on the steering wheel — it’s all controlled by computer. That took some getting used to, and some understanding. Aiding that understanding of all the systems is weekly calls between Pratt Miller and all the Corvette customer teams, such as TF Sport in WEC and now DXDT in Fanatec GT World Challenge America.

Figuring out all the electronic controls was part of the learning curve for Fidani, but as he’s gaining an understanding of that aspect, he can concentrate on what he calls greater and closer competition in GTD compared to LMP3.

“I’m finding the Corvette relatively easy to drive,” Fidani said. “Honestly, for me, the hardest part was all the buttons and getting acclimated with all the systems in the car and how the car drives with those systems. And I’m not not finding it too tough to do, to tell you the honest truth. Now it’s just finding the limit of all that stuff and trying to push forward.”

Fidani, and the team, are both trying to progress as they learn the new car and the new style of racing in GTD. For Braun, watching the team trying to succeed in the face of big hurdles brings great satisfaction.

“It’s fun for me to be on a team where everybody works towards the goal,” he said. “Everybody wants to get better. Nobody thinks that they have it figured out here and it’s just a constant evolution of getting better. And it’s the small stuff — we’re looking at pit stop videos and I’m analyzing them and the crew is like, ‘Well, yeah, I could take probably three steps instead of four steps and get there sooner.’ We don’t have it figured out by any means, but it’s just the culture. We talk about businesses that have culture, and the culture in this team is fantastic. It’s just fun to come here and look at everybody trying to make improvements.”

Story originally appeared on Racer