Down, but not out

Le Mans

By Oliver Gavin

A lot of people at Corvette Racing would look at winning Le Mans as winning the season – that’s the level and prestige of the 24 Hours.

You base your whole year around it and while there are many big races before and after it in the United States, nothing else comes close to Le Mans in terms of stature. That’s why it’s so soul-destroying when your plans are derailed by unfortunate and highly unlikely incidents, like the crash that claimed the #63 car in Thursday’s night practice.

Daytona and Sebring are great races in their own right, and it’s great that the team has already won those this year, but for Corvette Racing to achieve the endurance racing ‘Triple Crown’ by taking victory at Le Mans would make the perfect season.

For you to achieve victory there, everybody has to deliver and execute throughout that weekend. There can be so many turning points in the race, you have to account for all variables and, while you also need a slice of luck, preparation in testing, free practice and qualifying is critical for a successful Le Mans.

In the first qualifying session on Wednesday night, the #64 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R that I’m sharing with Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor could be found in sixth on the provisional grid.

Tommy went second fastest in the day’s four-hour free practice session with a best lap of 3min 57.539sec, but a fragmented qualifying due to bad weather, crashes and a bent guardrail sucked up a lot of time and made it difficult to extract the most from the session.

Aston Martin drew first blood, but we weren’t in a bad spot, as things were very close between our competitors in the GTE Pro category and we knew we had a pretty good car underneath us that’s capable in all conditions.

It was good and important to maximise Tommy and Jordan’s time in the car. I felt pretty comfortable during practice, knowing I’d get more seat time and the car would continue coming to us.

But with the prevailing forecast for Thursday showing showers, thunderstorms and even hail, we suspected that Wednesday’s times would determine the starting order for the 83rd running of the race.

Second practice was abbreviated by two red flags, the second occurring with approximately 45 minutes to run when Jan [Magnussen] in the #63 car had a massive shunt, striking the Armco at the Porsche Curves with no time to scrub off any speed before the impact.

Medical staff were quickly on the scene and, thankfully, Jan was given the all-clear once he had been extricated from the wreckage.

However, the harshness of the impact would have knocked the wind out of his sails and, while Jan didn’t require any fixing, the #63 machine definitely did and it was later withdrawn from the race, to the sheer dismay of everybody within the team.

The issue was traced back to debris that interfered with the throttle pedal return and, following the crash and diagnosis, the Corvette Racing team closely inspected the pedal box on the #64 car, modifying the pedal mechanism to eliminate the possibility of what already was a highly unlikely scenario.

Red flags and hefty crashes aren’t unusual as drivers push the boundaries in practice, but withdrawing a car is completely unprecedented for Corvette Racing.

As team manager Gary Pratt has said previously, “This place will jump up and bite you in a hurry”. He’s not wrong.

Returning to 2015, the forecasted storms never materialised and the hot and sultry conditions remained as the ambient light faded during the extended Q3 session.

There was a highly charged atmosphere within the Corvette Racing garages for the remainder of the evening, but I was eventually sent out to complete my five mandatory night laps in the dying embers of the session.

Sadly, we never had a proper run at qualifying and couldn’t evaluate and refine a pretty big change to the car’s setup, so we’re not as prepared as we’d like to be with the #64 C7.R.

It’s still all to play for from eighth in GTE Pro. Sure, everything is a little subdued and the build-up to the start has been disrupted as a result of Jan’s crash, but anything can happen over the course of 24 hours and we know how to win this race.

Tommy, Jordan and I are more determined than ever to pull a result out of the bag that will lift morale within the Corvette Racing camp, well aware that there is now a focused effort on the sole remaining #64 car.

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