One Final Full-Time Bow for Gavin, Corvette
One Final Full-Time Bow for Gavin, Corvette
Oliver Gavin’s illustrious full-time career driving for Corvette Racing concludes today at the 2020 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
In some respects, it is fitting it will end here, in a year when Sebring shifts to November following a March postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gavin has been a regular visitor to victory lane at the legendary airfield.
The lanky Englishman stands high above many of his peers in both the Corvette and IMSA record books. Racing together with Michelin for 17 of his 19 years with the team, Gavin made plenty of waves and stories along the way.
THE EARLY DAYS
Gavin won his debut Sebring 12-hour appearance in a Saleen in 2001. A year later, he’d joined Corvette Racing as an endurance driver for his first of what would be 19 seasons. He won both that year’s Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans, as the third driver alongside Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell.
In 2004, Corvette Racing switched to MICHELIN® tires after offseason testing, including at Sebring, revealed some significant performance gains and laid the groundwork for a fruitful track-to-street relationship between the two brands.
“When we first came here and tested the MICHELIN® tire, this was back in 2004, it was the biggest single step forward in performance for our program,” Gavin said during Thursday’s appearance on The Torque Show, presented by Michelin.
“That was the biggest step forward, in performance, durability and so forth. The tires you guys you will be driving on in C6, C7 & C8. You’re still seeing that trickle down. And it’s a lot of the same guys still working with Corvette Racing here, now, as on the road car stuff.”
There wasn’t a Sebring win out of the box in 2004 as there had been in 2001 and 2002, but plenty of success followed later in the year.
Each of his first five seasons racing with Michelin, from 2004 to 2008, Gavin won multiple races with Corvette. Those years also included a run of three consecutive class championships from 2005 to 2007, the first three years with the C6.R GT1 spec car. He also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2004, 2005 and 2006, bringing his Le Mans total up to four class wins.
SWITCH FROM GT1 TO GT2 / GT / GTLM
Eventually Corvette Racing changed its platform, as the GT1 class wound to its conclusion and Corvette built a brand-new GT2-specification C6.R, which debuted late in 2009.
Wins in the hotbed of this intense, factory-supported class of competition were harder earned and not as frequent. The class name shifted from GT2 to GT, and since the 2014 merger, GT Le Mans.
Perhaps though that made them more special, and Gavin had a few that genuinely stuck out over the next decade and through three generations of Corvette that progressively improved.
The 2010 Petit Le Mans, for instance, was one of them. Corvette Racing stood on the precipice of its first winless season in program history, and in the dying moments of the race it appeared that stat would become reality. Then Toni Vilander slowed, leading in his Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT, and Gavin swept through to claim a memorable triumph and the new C6.R GT2 car’s first victory.
Four more wins in 2012 delivered Gavin and new co-driver Tommy Milner their first championship together. Gavin’s stature in the team grew as first Fellows, then O’Connell, reached the end of their tenures and others such as Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia entered the lineup.
ICONIC WINS COME LATER
Gavin fought through a couple lean IMSA years after the merger between ALMS and the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, but a few more memorable races occurred in 2015 and 2016.
Corvette Racing fell down to one car at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans after an accident in practice knocked the Magnussen, Garcia and Ryan Briscoe out of the race. That trio had won Daytona and Sebring earlier in the year and sought to add a third endurance race victory in a row. The pressure was fully on Gavin, Milner and Jordan Taylor to deliver a result.
In an intense battle with Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin, Corvette’s lone car prevailed for its eighth, and most recent, Le Mans triumph.
The 2016 season saw Gavin and Milner at their peak. In the year when Ford brought its new GT to the party, Corvette showed the newcomers how to run at their best in a thrilling, epic and dynamic battle between the pair of venerable C7.R cars at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. With team orders out of the window, Gavin and Garcia engaged in some of the best and cleanest racing for the win. Gavin prevailed by a microscopic margin after 24 hours.
Come Sebring, and the No. 4 car had done it again. Gavin claimed his sixth 12-hour class victory, his fifth with Corvette and fourth with both Corvette and Michelin.
Further highlight reel, historic moments came when Gavin and Milner won Corvette Racing’s 100th race as a team at Lime Rock in 2016, then Milner delivered one of the finishes of the decade with a fifth-to-first run in two laps at Road America.
A SPECIAL FINAL FEW
Gavin’s last win with the C7.R, and as it turned out the car’s last, came on the streets of Long Beach in 2018. That marked his 50th win with the Corvette Racing program.
Gavin also gathered a pair of unique stats at Sebring earlier this year, when he and Milner won the two-hour, 40-minute race in July. It’s his seventh Sebring win but first outside of the 12-hour, and meant he’s now won with five different specification Corvettes.
The Englishman has been honored with several tributes this week at Sebring. The Corvette Racing team gathered around to celebrate his time, and a later photoshoot conducted Friday evening with wife Helen – who was able to make the trip over – was an emotional one.
He’ll share his final start – for now – with Milner and Marcel Fassler. It promises to be a special race.
And here’s one from the Michelin Alley archives in 2015: Oliver Gavin uses an “old school hack” for success