Going in to the 20th contention in the arena known as Le Mans, team Corvette Racing had high hopes of bringing home the win. Their hopes were dashed throughout the day by various contacts, safety car bottlenecks and a hefty helping of bad luck.
Over the past two decades, Corvette Racing has placed in almost half of their attempts at the famed race through the french countryside. This year, they hoped to bring the Mobil 1/SiriusXM Corvette C7.Rs career home on a high note. The problem with the 24-Hours of Le Mans, is that a lot can happen in a day’s time, and regrettably, a lot DID happen for Corvette Racing this day.
The No. 64 Corvette, driven by Oliver Gavin, climbed from 11th at the start to fourth in class during his opening two stints. Debris-riddled tires made it challenging to maintain his early pace but Gavin and his teammate, Tommy Milner had relatively calm stints before handing over to Marcel Fässler, who was matching the pace of his teammates before in incident.
We had two fast, reliable Corvettes – all ingredients that you need for a good race. Unfortunately, what ends up being the most important piece – the luck – …we didn’t have that today. – Tommy Milner, Corvette Racing driver
Non-typical for the Corvette Racing team, the No. 64 retired early-on, following a heavy crash near the six-hour mark in the lightning-quick Porsche Curves. Marcel was hit from behind after making a pass on a slower car. The impact sent the Corvette hard into the wall on the driver’s right. Damage was too extensive to repair and Fässler was evaluated at the track medical center and was sent to a local hospital for a CT scan, which came back normal.
The No. 63 Corvette driver, Antonio Garcia began the race from the third position, but needed less than 20 minutes to move to the point in a frantic start. All three drivers – Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller – took turns in the lead. Any attempts at gaining the lead were dashed when the first safety car period of the race brought the top nine GTE Pro entries back to within 15 seconds of each other at the six-hour mark. Another safety car near the 10-hour mark split the two lead cars from the rest of the GTE Pro field, effectively taking what had been a nine-car battle down to two. The Corvettes, regrettably, were part of the second group.
In the early morning hours, the remaining Corvette, which had chipped away on the lead pack for a number of hours, moved back into contention when the lead GTE Pro entry had issues. By the 16-hour mark, the C7.R had moved back into the lead. With three-and-a-half hours to go, Rockenfeller pitted for fuel, tires and a driver change to Magnussen during a safety car period. The pit stop was excellent, but the pit exit was closed. This prevented the No. 63 Corvette from catching the safety car queue including the GTE Pro leader.
Here, from top to bottom, they all work together and they consider it a sport. It’s racing, you try hard, and you win and you lose together. – Mike Rockenfeller, Corvette Racing driver
Once he exited pit lane and on cold tires, Magnussen spun late in the lap at the Porsche Curves and contacted the outside wall with the front-left of the Corvette. The crew repaired the suspension, losing just six minutes but two costly laps. A final late-race visit to the garage thwarted any hopes of gaining additional positions.
Even though the No. 64 C7.R was retired early on, near the six-hour mark, the No. 63 Corvette finished ninth in the GTE Pro category. Had luck not wagered so strongly against Corvette Racing, their efforts could well have brought home another win. Despite the valiant effort put forth by each team member of Corvette Racing, a lot did happen, and it wasn’t in favor of America’s Sports Car.
The team returns stateside for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition in two weeks at Watkins Glen International for the Sahlen’s Six Hours at The Glen. We’ll be cheering them on as they continue to show the world the true meaning of “Never give up!” Antonio Garcia put it best, “Most of the teams at Le Mans probably feel that we had the car to beat, and I think that’s right. But Ferrari did a perfect run and they won. All we can do is congratulate them. Then we will come back and win it.”