Oliver Gavin became a five-time class winner in the 83rd 24 Heures du Mans, the Yardley Hastings driver and his Corvette Racing teammates, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor, seeing off strong opposition from Aston Martin and Ferrari and emerging from some of the best GT racing ever witnessed at Circuit de la Sarthe to top the super-competitive GTE Pro category (13-14 June).
Gavin completed two stints during the first half of the French endurance classic, when Corvette Racing and Aston Martin were locked in a seemingly relentless battle for top honours in the GTE Pro class, only for the latter to fade away during the early hours of Sunday morning.
But while the Aston Martin challenge dwindled, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander happily picked up the baton as Corvette’s chief challenger.
Taylor was in the midst of another lengthy spell behind the wheel as dawn broke over central France and an untroubled third stint followed for Gavin.
Milner then jumped aboard the sole factory Corvette and emerged directly ahead of the AF Corse Ferrari; unbelievably, the pair were nose-to-tail after 18 hours of racing, but Milner soaked up the unrelenting pressure and eventually made a break for it at the head of GTE Pro.
The race continued to ebb and flow when Taylor stepped back in for his final outing of the race, and localised sprinkles of rain temporarily increased the risk but ultimately never impacted the lap times.
Young American, Taylor, circulated solidly for the duration of his two hours behind the wheel, but Gavin was left to take a run at the class-leading AF Corse team en route to the chequered flag.
Sadly, fans were denied a grandstand finish when Vilander pulled the #51 Ferrari 458 Italia into the pits with unconfirmed technical problems during the 22nd of 24 hours.
As a result, Gavin and Corvette Racing were given a free run at the GTE Pro victory, although AF Corse’s demise was a pure demonstration of the brutality of Le Mans and a stark reminder that there’s no place for complacency in the twice-around-the-clock enduro.
The tension and anticipation within the Corvette Racing camp was profound and there was an unwillingness to believe that a victory was possible during the final throes of the race.
The threat of rain only served to heighten the anxiety felt by all involved with the Corvette Racing programme and, while a wet race was declared with less than 20 minutes on the clock, Gavin deployed all of the lessons learned during 14 years of competition at Le Mans to protect his position.
The British ace tentatively nursed the #64 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R to the finish and, after 337 laps of the 8.46mile Circuit de la Sarthe, achieved his fifth class victory at Le Mans and the first win for Corvette Racing since 2011.
The success was made all the more poignant by the fact that the sister #63 Corvette was withdrawn from the race after a heavy practice-qualifying shunt.
Following unrestrained podium celebrations, a delighted Gavin said: “Winning Le Mans is always a fairy tale story. The way everything turned out over the week, with the #63 Corvette having its issues and not being able to start the race… the way the team all came together and led us into the race and enabled us to have this fantastic result today, it’s just amazing. It’s just been one of those days where you’re waiting for something to spring up, like another hurdle to come in your way to stop you from taking a victory. It was a spectacular race for Tommy (Milner) and Jordan (Taylor) and myself – one of those events where you’re having great races with Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche but in the end we were the strongest car and we ended up coming away with victory. This is my fifth victory here at Le Mans, and I’m absolutely thrilled to come back here with Corvette Racing. I’m a very happy man.”
“The battle has been very close and the ebb and flow of the race in GTE Pro was extraordinary. There wasn’t much between Corvette, Aston Martin and Ferrari, but Le Mans is brutal and it doesn’t pull any punches when choosing who’s going to win. The victor can be someone who has performed brilliantly, or somebody that did a good job, but has had a nice slice of luck. We have needed to catch a break after a few tough years at Le Mans and I’m delighted that we took our chance here today.”