Corvette’s finest hour
Corvette’s finest hour
Winning yesterday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with a 1-2 finish will go down in sportscar history as Corvette Racing’s finest hour – and when you consider what an amazing history the GM brand has on the race track, that is a big statement.
But Corvette went out and beat two brand new cars from rival manufacturers from BMW and Ferrari, a feisty newcomer in Ford’s brand new GTLM challenger plus toppled the might of Porsche who dominated the class in the second half of 2015 and took the IMSA championship.
Going back-to-back in any sport is always tough – especially to ride your fortunes through a 24 hour enduro where the failure of even a 10 cent o-ring could bring down a multi-million dollar challenger.
It was tight at the finish – 0.034 seconds – the closest finish in Daytona 24 Hour history.
Corvette Racing of course took a triple crown last year, winning at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans – they know how to win these big events and have the engineering and driving talent to make it happen.
But surpassing even these achievements is the fact that the Doug Fehan-led team was prepared to let their drivers – British ace Oliver Gavin and Spaniard Antonio Garcia fight it out to the finish.
With everything on the line in the heat of the battle, drivers have been known to overstep the mark in these pressure cooker situations – even when it comes to their teammate.
It’s happened at Corvette Racing before – Johnny O’Connell and Olivier Beretta famously clashed at Mid-Ohio exiting the pit lane in 2008. They broke Fehan’s number one rule – “don’t hit your teammate”. Watching that video is probably part of any new Corvette Racing driver indoctrination process.
The No.4 Corvette had battled back after Marcel Fassler incurred a penalty for going through a red light at the end of the pit lane. The Audi-ace on loan had done an incredible job with Tommy Milner and in the dying stages of the race Oliver Gavin was the man tasked to bring it home.
Not only did he have to find a way past the Porsche of Earl Bamber, he had the “King of Spain” looming large in his mirror.
“It was going to always be intense because we’re teammates. The cars are very equal. I know Antonio really well. We run all the time together and we’re good friends, and I’ve raced with him for many, many years,” Gavin said.
“I know how smart he is in the car, and I knew he was going to be looking for a weak spot and he would just try and pounce at the right point.
“Just that one lap coming down into turn one and coming off the tri?oval, and he got really good tow by me and he was by me, and he left his brake just a tiny bit too late as he went into turn one. He was almost on the lock stop sideways and he just lost the rear of the car. I managed to sneak back the inside, and he was really close as we came off the corner.
“But we didn’t touch. All I could think about was my boss, Doug Fehan and what he would say if we did touch.”
Garcia, teammate Jan Magnussen and Audi’s other “loaner” Mike Rockenfeller looked like they had run almost the perfect race. A pit lane speeding penalty for Magnussen and an Olivier Beretta Ferrari-induced spin for Garcia had been their only dramas throughout the race.
But the way the cards fell, the No.3 car need a splash of fuel to make the finish – putting the defending champion car back behind it’s teammate.
“On the last lap I was thinking I had just enough on him, but then he towed up behind me. It was like the line was just going away from me. I couldn’t get to the line fast enough,” Gavin said.
“I’m obviously thrilled to get the victory. My first one here. Great to share it with these two guys, Tommy and Marcel drove brilliantly throughout the race. And it was an amazing effort by everybody at Corvette Racing, and I’m thrilled to be able to stand on the top step there and get an amazing victory here.”
In the dying stages of the race Gavin probably had voices in his head – voices which sounded a lot like team boss Fehan reminding him of the team golden rule.
“As soon as Antonio had passed the Porsche, I asked my engineer, I said how’s this going to work? And my engineer then said, okay, Doug Fehan has said that you can race and you’re clear to race clean and fair, but don’t touch one another and certainly don’t take one another out,” Gavin said.
“We’ve raced like this many years now, and I’ve already said that to race against Antonio is a pleasure. He’s an amazing teammate. I knew I was going to have my work cut out to beat him, and I suppose that does make it a little bit sweeter for me that we’ve come away with the win.”
To fight it out for lap after lap after 24 hours inches from your teammate in a high speed draft battle takes incredible bravery – letting your drivers do it while risking everything for your brand – that is even braver.
And that is why Corvette Racing is so loved by fans around the world.