With 13 GT class victories in the last 27 races, and a record that includes seven GT victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and ten series manufacturer and team titles and nine driver titles, Corvette Racing is the team to beat in American GT sports car racing.
But, if you think you are fast and want to be a Corvette Racing team driver, you better bring much more than lap times to the table.
That is the message delivered by everyone involved at Corvette Racing, from program manager Doug Fehan, to team boss Gary Pratt, Chevrolet motorsports manager Mark Kent, and technical director Doug Louth.
And, surprisingly, it is also the clear message from the current team drivers, 2012 champions Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner and 2013 champions and current 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship point leaders Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia.
“We look far deeper than just driving talent,” said Fehan. “Drivers need a personality and they need to be prepared to check their egos at the door. They need to understand the responsibility to Corvette Nation, the company and our team, and they need to be prepared to make that commitment to be part of Corvette Racing,” said Fehan, the undisputed paddock maestro of driver pairings.
That approach to new drivers is not a recent development. Current drivers Oliver Gavin of the U.K., Jan Magnussen of Denmark, American Tommy Milner and Antonio Garcia of Spain have all cleared the Corvette team high bar.
“When I first joined the team I was the young, new boy,” said Gavin, now in his 13th season with the Corvette Racing factory team. “Ron (Fellows) and Johnny (O’Connell) were here and they had huge success. I learned a lot just watching them and by the next year, I was a full-time driver on the team and racing against them.”
“Eventually, Olivier (Beretta) and I had a lot of success and then Jan Magnussen and I did well,” said Gavin. “Then a couple years ago Doug, Gary and Mark said ‘we want you to help develop Tommy Milner.”
“We knew that he (Milner) was quick and could see he was a good fit with the team,” said Gavin, “but now he was a young American driver working for a big American manufacturer.”
One year later, the move paid off as Gavin and Milner combined for four wins and the 2012 American Le Mans Series GT championship. And, while obviously pleased by the success of the pairing with Milner, there is another reward for Gavin.
“It has been great to see Tommy really grow with experience into a driver with incredible depth, who can handle all kind of situations and withstand incredible pressure and represent the company and the team,” said Gavin.
It was Magnussen and Garcia taking the title roles in 2013 and they have continued their momentum, posting four wins to lead the TUDOR Championship GT battle in 2014.
While fast and reliable cars and stout crew work are obviously integral to the team’s success, former driver Ron Fellows credits some of the success to the Corvette Racing team culture and creating a healthy, collaborative environment for drivers.
Part of that culture, which Fellows helped to establish in the early days of the program, is tied to the chemistry drivers have with their co-drivers and their teammates.
“In some teams and some series the heat is on the driver not just race to race, but even session to session,” said Fellows.
“Not here. The pressure isn’t to try to be the fastest every session or even to be faster than your teammates,” said Fellows.
“The goal is to help to see the big picture.”
Pratt agrees. “You can tear up a lot of equipment and burn out the crew before you even get to the race,” said Pratt. “The goal is to win the race.”
And unlike many factory teams, Corvette Racing gives the current drivers a say when it comes to evaluating prospective newcomers.
“We’ve tested a lot of drivers through the years,” said Fellows. “A lot of them are quick, but Corvette Racing wants drivers who are quick and work well with the other drivers, with the engineers and with the whole team.”
“We have tested a lot of people through the years. It’s hard to find the right fit for the team,” said Gavin “but Doug and Corvette Racing have found Antonio and Tommy and (third co-drivers) Jordan (Taylor) and Richard (Westbrook). Our current group works together really well.”
For drivers who have all won races, championships and Le Mans with Corvette Racing that would be a typical understatement.
This feature appears in Michelin’s The Alley for Road America (www.michelinalley.com)