For Oliver Gavin, the 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship concluded with a big result in Petit Le Mans at a rain-lashed Road Atlanta circuit (2-3 October).
The final round of the TUDOR Championship and the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup (NAEC) encompassed many twists and turns and enthralling on-track fights, but the ten-hour enduro was dominated by a battle of titanic proportions with the elements.
Simply surviving was a challenge in itself, but Gavin and his Corvette Racing teammate Tommy Milner stayed afloat and rounded-out the season on the third step of the winners’ rostrum.
Gavin arrived in Georgia in the knowledge that he has been re-signed to race for the factory Corvette Racing team for a 15th consecutive season in 2016 and the five-time Petit Le Mans winner qualified at the front of the GTLM grid with a time of 1m31.685s.
The British ace fom Yardley Hastings, Northamptonshire also took the start of the ten-hour endurance race on Saturday (3 October)and spent the early laps trading places with the #24 Team RLL BMW Z4 of Lucas Luhr when, with almost zero visibility due to failing windscreen wipers, he overcooked it into Turn 1 during the second hour.
While he suffered a significant time-loss, he was fortunate to emerge from a brush with the barriers with only a damaged wing mirror, and he made use of the TUDOR Championship’s wave-by system to recover his deficit while behind the Safety Car.
Lap after lap, Gavin relied on all of his circuit knowledge, accumulated over 15 years of racing at Road Atlanta, to navigate his way through the disorientating spray.
The race was eventually red-flagged due to the ever-deteriorating conditions. Rivers flowed across the track and rainwater pooled in the hollow between Turns 4 and 5 and other low-lying sectors and, while the race was resumed after a relatively brief interval, there was no let-up in the rain and standing water remained an issue.
Minor cosmetic repairs were required in the pits and Gavin and Milner led the way on occasion as fuel and tyre strategies played out in the continuously fluctuating conditions, until a decision was taken to cut the race short as the #4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R held third position in the ultra-competitive GTLM division.
Having bookended the 2015 season with podiums in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Petit Le Mans, Gavin said: “It’s certainly nice to be back on the podium, although I would have liked to have stood on the top step of the rostrum and, if the race had been halted 25 minutes earlier, we would have been up there!
“There were so many twists and turns in the race, but the #4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R performed in all conditions. The weather fluctuated massively throughout and there were many times when it was impossible to drive and you had to question whether or not the race should be abandoned.”
Gavin added: “The waves of rain kept sweeping through and it was a huge challenge for everybody, including the officials, who had to manage a race that was so critical in determining the outcome of championships. In my eyes the race should never have been restarted after the red flag, as the conditions were as bad or worse than when it was halted. It made no sense and I think IMSA has to look at the decisions made in this instance, with the view of improving their procedures for 2016.
“The right decision to end the race early was taken and the look of relief on many of the drivers’ faces was very telling. It felt like you had survived something and you saw many very experienced racers coming unstuck. I’m delighted to have achieved pole and come away with a third – it’s well deserved. However, all eyes are forward and Tommy (Milner) and I will take this result into the off-season and focus on 2016.”
Gavin now heads across the Pacific Ocean for the second instalment of the 2015 Australian V8 Supercars PIRTEK Enduro Cup – the Supercheap Autos Bathurst 1000 (10-11 October) on the legendary Mount Panorama circuit.