Corvette Racing’s Finest Hour
Corvette Racing’s Finest Hour
The 2015 Le Mans 24 Hour race did not start well for Corvette Racing. Following a heavy crash in Thursday evening qualifying and unable to make the necessary repairs on site, Corvette Racing was forced to withdraw the No. 63 Corvette C7.R of pre-race favorites Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ryan Briscoe.
Magnussen, who was uninjured, is a four-time Le Mans winner and co-driver Garcia has three Le Mans wins. Together, they had posted six GTLM class wins in the previous thirteen TUDOR United SportsCar Championship races, including the 2015 Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and lead the 2015 series driver’s championship.
What happened next, to paraphrase Apollo 13 mission commander, Gene Kranz, would become Corvette Racing’s finest (24) hour. The three withdrawn drivers and their entire crew united to encourage and support the sole remaining No. 64 Corvette, driven by teammates Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor.
After winning four races and the 2012 American Le Mans Series GT Championships and taking a pair of wins early in 2013, Gavin, a four time Le Mans winner and 2011 winner Milner, were inexplicably blanked in their last 21 starts and were ravenous. So was former Grand-Am Rolex Series champion Jordan Taylor, making his fourth Le Mans start with Corvette Racing.
Still, with seven Le Mans wins to its credit, the talented and highly experienced Corvette Racing team, led by Gary Pratt was not to be written off.
Now, in its second full season of competition, the Corvette C7.R had proven both fast and reliable taking the two big endurance races at Daytona and Sebring to open the season.
So, as Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan, technical director Doug Louth, Pratt and the entire team headed to the starting grid, Fehan thought not of the tension or pageantry, race simulations and strategies or the 12 months of planning and preparation for the world’s biggest race. Instead, he recalled John Belushi’s line from Animal House. “It ain’t over ‘til we say it’s over!”
Gavin started seventh in the GTE Pro class field and brilliantly carved his way to fourth in his opening stints. Milner picked up the torch and carried the Corvette to the lead in a furious dice with a pair of Aston Martins. Taylor continued the momentum with a strong triple-stint.
Without a sister car to share data, open tactical options or provide support in traffic, Corvette strategists Louth and Fehan and the drivers were at a distinct disadvantage as they matched tactical moves, driver stints and rotations and tire strategies against factory competitor teams who could pursue multiple options.
Hour after hour the tightly bunched GT field stormed the 8.47 mile circuit at qualifying lap pace. Aston Martin, Corvette and Ferrari each led as the battle see-sawed back and forth through the night as Porsche lurked within striking distance for a late charge.
Corvette and Ferrari were on overlapped strategies heading into the final two hours when the Ferrari encountered a mechanical issue and dropped five laps, leaving Gavin a clear run to the finish.
Indeed, with the odds heavily stacked against them, Corvette Racing had delivered a virtually perfect race to claim its eighth victory at Le Mans in what may have well have been Corvette Racing’s finest (24) Hour.
Heading to the podium to claim their prize, Fehan texted a friend. “Now, it’s over because we say it’s over.”