Known as being one of Britain’s most successful international sports car drivers, Olly is gearing up for an 11th consecutive season with the hugely successful Corvette Racing team. The three-time American Le Mans Series GT1 champion is chasing his first GT class title, after finishing runner up in 2011, and will this year be teamed in the No. 4 Corvette C6.R with American driver Tommy Milner.
Here he looks ahead to the start of the 2012 American Le Mans Series season and highlights the goals and challenges facing him and his team mates.
Practice Makes Perfect:
Following time spent at the Californian Infineon track in January and the official Sebring Winter Test, the Northamptonshire (UK)-based driver reflects on progress to date: “Sebring was very successful and gave us a chance to run for the first time against some of our 2012 opposition with our brand new C6.R cars. We’d had a couple of (very cold) days at Sonoma in January so this was a chance to build on what we learnt there. I have to say it was nice to go back there and experience that track again as we haven’t been there for quite some time.
“Right out of the box the car felt very good. We’ve got a wider track car for 2012 and there are various different mechanical upgrades, plus a slightly different tyre from Michelin, so we’ve changed our tack slightly in how we’ve gone about setting up the car. So far it’s all been very positive and good but the Sebring track always manages to be completely different from one visit to the next. Ask me how it is after qualifying on Friday afternoon in race week!”
Welcome to the Tall Club:
“Sebring was my first time working with Tommy,” notes Oliver. “And I have to say it was really good to be able to stretch my legs out in the car for the first time in many years! I’ve always had to compromise on comfort somewhat, being with a shorter team mate but now there’s someone more my size and it’s good to be stretched out. Tommy has fitted in very quickly with the #4 car guys, plus Richard [Westbrook] is back with us for another season so there’s valuable continuity there. We’re all very positive going in to Sebring and for the year ahead.”
With 63 cars entered for the once-round-the-clock Florida classic, due to the twinning of the opening round of the ALMS with the opening round of the new World Endurance Championship, it’s going to be an action-packed race from flag to flag. Of those entries, there are 22 GT cars in both the ALMS/WEC GT, GTE-Pro and GTE-Am categories. So who will be the strongest opposition for Corvette Racing?
“Last year a couple of the Ferrari teams which came over from Europe looked very strong. It’s sad to see that Risi won’t be able to make it,” reflects Olly, “as they’d be up there and battling with the rest of us, but we all hope they’ll be back soon. AF Corse and Luxury Racing will be fast, after the Ferraris showed good form at the test, and you can never overlook the Porsches. They didn’t seem to be quite there on pace at the test, but you never know the full story at those sessions, and Flying Lizards can never be discounted. BMW is another strong factor; RLR came off a fantastic season last year, winning so many races, and I’m sure they’ll be strong again.
“On paper, any one of about 12 cars could win Sebring and it’s fantastic to be involved in a race like that, battling with the best in the world. I’m relishing the challenge; we’ve got two cars in the Corvette Racing team with great driver line ups that can go out there and battle anyone wheel-to-wheel and one thing is certain…there’ll be plenty of that.”
Oliver and 2011 team mate Jan Magnussen ended the season in second place behind GT class winners Dirk Müller and Joey Hand, and that leaves only one aim for 2012. “The championship is the main goal for all of us at Corvette Racing,” says Olly. “It’ll come down to who has the best run throughout the year, who’s smart, fast and makes the right decisions at the right times, plus who has a lot of luck. I’ve been in many championships in the ALMS – in GTS, GT1, GT2 and now GTE – and what it comes down to, as we saw last year with BMW, is that they had a flying start winning the first few races of the year and that set them up for the season. They could then pick and choose when to take the risks, when to play it safe and, more often or not, the results would come to them whereas other people were a little desperate and took risks. Baltimore was a classic example of that. Dirk and Joey were fourth in class with about 45 minutes to go and suddenly they finish second; that’s sometimes the way it goes.
“It looked at the Sebring test to be very, very close between us, Porsche, BMW and Ferrari. I think it’s shaping up to be another classic GT season in the ALMS.”
Oliver will be on track in Sebring for the 12-hour race on Saturday, 17th March, practice for which begins on Monday, 12th March. The race begins at 10:30am (EST) and will be broadcast in the USA at noon on Sunday, 18th March on ABC and shown live on ESPN3. Motors TV in Europe will show the race from 2.15pm, break for 2.5 hours at 7pm then run through to the flag from 9.30pm.