Did GM illegally block a competitor to its Corvette race team?

A Texas race team has sued General Motors for antitrust violations, saying it conspired with tire maker Michelin to hobble a private competitor to GM's factory-owned Corvettes in American and international road racing.

The lawsuit from LG Motorsports, filed in a Texas state court, claims GM's racing executives "sought to accomplish through closed-door deals what they could not do on the track — stopping LG Motorsports and its C6 Corvette." And while anyone can run to a courthouse, the source of this complaint isn't someone who's used to leaving the track with an outcome in doubt.

Did GM illegally block a competitor to its Corvette race team?

Lou Gigliotti, a Texas racer, founded LG Motorsports in 1998 after more than two decades as a successful driver. The business pays for his racing and sells custom-built race cars and performance parts, from body panels to suspension kits. After beating a GM factory team in SCCA competition in 2006, Gigliotti announced he'd compete in the GT2 class for modified production sports cars of the American Le Mans race series. He bought a Corvette C6 racing chassis built by Riley Technologies, GM's official supplier, but only did so after being told GM had no interest in racing GT2 cars.

Did GM illegally block a competitor to its Corvette race team?

But after a season of Gigliotti racing his Corvette in the 2008 American Le Mans GT2 class, GM changed it mind. The factory-backed team Corvette Racing, whose American Le Mans success has given the aging production Corvettes a fresh dose of marketing appeal, had been running in the GT1 class, but had no direct competitors. In late 2008, Corvette Racing announced it was switching to GT2, saying it wanted to compete against Porsche, BMW and other makers head-to-head.

In addition to American Le Mans, Gigliotti had planned to win FIA approval to race his GT2 Corvette in events around the world, such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But the FIA requires a manufacturer to OK such approvals. Gigliotti contends after telling him it would back his FIA application when he bought his car, GM reversed course and blocked it — keeping Gigliotti from not just racing the Corvette, but selling it to other private owners.

LG could still run its Corvette in American Le Mans, which doesn't require manufacturers' approval for private cars. But Gigliotti says GM found a new chokepoint: Michelin.

The French tiremaker dominates Le Mans racing, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans 12 years running. Yet Michelin will not sell tires to LG Motorsports, despite providing tires to several other manufacturers and private race teams. Without them, "racing in Le Mans is a lost cause," the suit says.

Gigliotti says after putting off his requests for more than a year, Michelin told him directly in August 2009 that GM did not want LG Motorsports to have Michelin tires. Michelin even barred LG from using over-the-counter race tires bought by other private teams by labeling them "non-approved."

A spokesman for GM and Corvette Racing declined to comment to Jalopnik on the lawsuit, and GM has yet to file a reply in court.

In addition to damages from GM, Michelin and Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan, Gigliotti wants the Texas court to force Michelin to provide tires for future races. The first American Le Mans race at the 12 Hours of Sebring is less than a month away; we'd be surprised if this contest was even a few laps old by then.

Thanks to Derek!

Did GM illegally block a competitor to its Corvette race team?
Got tips for our editors? Want to anonymously dish some dirt on a competitor? Know something about a secret car? Email us at tips@jalopnik.com.
Did GM illegally block a competitor to its Corvette race team?
Click here for the Opposite Lock or Tips forums.
Did GM illegally block a competitor to its Corvette race team?
Want even more Jalopnik? Want to know which of your friends read us? "Like" us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.