The quintessential Le Mans

Le Mans

By Oliver Gavin

I’ll be living on adrenaline for the rest of the week, unable to process the roller coaster of the past seven days, which culminated with me becoming a five-time winner in the 24 Heures du Mans!

I’ve been yearning for some good fortune after feeling trapped in a seemingly endless spiral of bad luck in the United SportsCar Championship and at Le Mans, and I think we’ve finally got that monkey off our backs.

And what a way to do it. Le Mans is the most special of all the races we contest and victory there is like winning a championship title, but, following the heartbreak and anguish we all felt when the #63 car was withdrawn following a hefty free practice-qualifying shunt, it’s even more wonderful than it ordinarily would be to end on such a massive high.

It might be a cliché, but Le Mans week was a bit of a fairy tale. In fact, given the extraordinary way the story evolved, I should probably contact Hollywood. I think we have the sequel to Steve McQueen’s 1971 epic, Le Mans

The fact is, Corvette Racing ran a perfect race with no mistakes; there was no contact, no unscheduled stops and the team simply did what was needed to maximise the performance of the C7.R and its drivers, Tommy Milner, Jordan Taylor and me.

Absolutely everybody was fully focused on winning the race and executed their roles perfectly, completely dedicated to the job at hand.

I took the start once again and I knew it was imperative to get in among the main protagonists early, so I had a big push during the first few hours, which are typically spent jockeying for position and analysing the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, and engaged in a hugely enjoyable battle with Aston Martin.

Problems with my right foot interfered with the middle phase of the race, as a triple stint during the hours of darkness placed it under a lot of strain and it was only made worse when I went out for what I thought was my last spell behind the wheel on Sunday morning.

The team and I agreed that Tommy [Milner] was the guy to take the car to the finish, as he had been in the zone all week. However, having already run for more than two hours during the final quarter of the race, putting him in would have resulted in a disqualification for breaching the regulations, which state that a driver must not exceed four hours of seat time during any six-hour period.

So, after visiting the physio and dosing up on painkillers, it was up to me to complete the crucial final stint and I took to the circuit knowing it was going to be very close between us and the AF Corse Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander.

I was in full-attack mode as soon as I exited the pits, determined to take the fight to Ferrari and, ultimately, we applied so much pressure, they broke.

I was initially unaware of AF Corse’s demise and it was only when crew chief Brian Hoye came over the radio and, in a very unusual tone, reported that our 30-second deficit had been cut in half that I suspected something out of the ordinary was happening.

I then stumbled across an ailing Ferrari on the Mulsanne Straight. It was definitely a GTE Pro car – I was unsure if it was the #51 – but the fact it was running at a constant speed suggested a gearbox issue and that a lot of time would be spent in the pits fixing it.

Learning it was our chief rival immediately altered my mind-set and I was all of a sudden concerned with conservation; the race was completely under our control and my focus was on conserving fuel, managing tyre and brake-wear and being extra vigilant in traffic to ensure I got the car to the finish, aware that there would be a few tired and stressed drivers on the circuit.

The threat of rain only served to increase the anxiety felt by all involved with the Corvette Racing programme and it was with 20 minutes to run that the marshals hung out their slippery surface flags and the first few drops appeared on my windscreen.

I was in the cockpit just praying for the race to finish. Your senses are super-sensitive and your first indication that it’s going to get a bit slippery is the distinctive, unmistakeable scent of the rain hitting the hot tarmac. It’s just another twist in the tale to keep you on the edge of your seat.

I found myself debating whether I’d prefer to be in or out of the car at the point and I concluded that I’d rather be behind the wheel and in control of the situation; as a driver, I like to be in command and it’s always hugely satisfying to bring the car home safely.

After the heartbreak of losing the #63 car, Corvette Racing had to rally and really pull together to see off fierce opposition from Aston Martin and Ferrari and win the 83rd running of Le Mans.

It’s an amazing, extraordinary story and the scale of our achievement is yet to sink in. Journalists who are supposed to be neutral told me they had been willing us on, hoping Corvette Racing would be rewarded for showing so much resolve and determination.

And the attention and support I’ve received from fans and the media since returning to UK shores has been unbelievable. Most of my time has been filled by television, radio and newspaper interviews, but, on Tuesday afternoon I had a cuppa with my old buddy, Nick Tandy, who is now a Le Mans winner, having deservedly taken the overall victory with Porsche at the weekend!

It’s a little known fact that Nick and I grew up in the Bedfordshire village of Felmersham and went to the same primary, middle and upper schools too. Now that charming little village can claim to have produced two Le Mans winners!

As you know, I have quite a lot of experience with the French endurance classic and I feel, looking back at previous years, this is one of the strongest ever team efforts from Corvette Racing.

It was a textbook race and, if somebody was to ask how you win Le Mans, this would be the model.

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