It was close, agonisingly close to being a fairytale Daytona for Oliver Gavin and his team mates in the No.4 Corvette C7.R but a gearbox problem in the final few hours put paid to their challenge for GTLM victory. The British sportscar champion, Tommy Milner and Robin Liddell eventually finished a disappointing 5th in class – a nevertheless extremely encouraging debut for the all-new Corvette racing car in the opening round of the 2014 Tudor United Sportscar Championship.
Olly had qualified 4th in class for the season’s opening twice-round-the-clock classic and had an eventful first stint after taking the start at 2:11 pm on Saturday afternoon. “Right at Turn 1 at the start there was a lot of jostling for position and I had to take evasive action to avoid some spinning cars. I think we all did a good job to stay out of the wall and not hit one another and we knew that we’d be able to pick up any positions we lost. Fortunately a caution bunched us up together and I had a great race with Nick Tandy in the Porsche and Gimmi Bruni (in one of the Ferraris). The story of the first stint was the traffic. It was pretty crazy and lots of unusual lines being driven; people going off and not thinking when they come back on to the track.”
The No.4 Corvette survived a short delay in the pits early on and, thanks to some hard work, safe driving and the new wave by rules which allow cars to make up laps under a yellow caution period, Olly found himself back at the front of the manufacturer-led GTLM class and within the top ten overall. With five hours of the race to go, there was pressure on the most experienced of Corvette’s drivers, Olly, to drive as long and hard as possible in the final hours.
“We got caught right up and we were going to be able to challenge for the win. My right foot was very sore from the brake pedal by this stage and I didn’t want to see what would happen if I got to the last hour and couldn’t brake! So the plan was to put Tommy in for an hour and then me for the last 1.5 hours. Unfortunately, while Tommy was in the car, a transmission bearing failed. It came completely out of the blue with no indication that anything would go wrong. It was similar to the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours when we’d just got the lead and were pulling away and two hours to go and the just all went wrong. Tommy got a high gearbox oil temperature alarm and then he started hearing lots of noises and couldn’t get any gears. It went from being fine to a huge meltdown in one lap.
“Where we’d got to before that was down to a lot of hard work and we were all set up for a great grandstand finish. It would have been a three-way battle with Porsche and BMW and we’d have been all going for it on the last lap. We had the car to fight for the win this weekend and we were really up for the battle. If they had beaten us it would have been because they’d done the better job fair and square, and vice versa. I think that’s what really got to me today; we fought hard for it but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”
Olly recognises that there are many positives to take from the weekend despite the disappointing result. The all-new C7.R car ran very well for 22.5 hours and paid testament to all the work put in by everyone at Corvette Racing for working flat out to get the gearbox changed so it could finish the race. There’s definitely more to come from Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and the No.4 this season!