Oliver Gavin and teammate Tommy Milner broke a protracted run of misfortune in the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (1-3 May), taking the #4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R to sixth place and the strongest finish since the podium achieved in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Milner had the honour of vying for pole position for Round 4 of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and would lead the Corvette Racing charge by setting the fifth fastest time in Saturday’s (2 May) hotly contested qualifying session.
The American racer squeezed every ounce of performance from his Corvette C7.R while negotiating the 2.23mile Laguna Seca circuit, aware from free practice form that taking pole position would be a tall order on this occasion.
Nevertheless, the seven-tenths deficit Gavin and Milner had to the pacesetters in practice had been significantly reduced thanks to a spectacular joint effort from team and driver, four tenths of a second the difference between fifth and the GTLM pole.
But while the Corvette Racing squad had been effective at ironing out mechanical and setup issues prior to qualifying, there was still work to be done to optimise the #4 car’s race configuration for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix itself on Sunday (3 May).
There was an air of confidence within the Corvette camp that it had taken the right direction with setup and so the focus switched to race strategy and ensuring it was primed and prepped for the driver changes, which could prove critical in determining the outcome of the race, with overtaking opportunities at such a premium.
Milner took the start of the race and was baulked by a hesitant Ferrari and lost track position as the green flag was waved.
There was a noticeable deficiency in the performance of the Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs relative to the BMW, Porsche and Ferrari contingent, but Milner ran his own race and fought a valiant fight against the Falken and factory Porsche entries while ensuring he bequeathed an clean car to Gavin, who took the reins with 57 minutes remaining.
Gavin ran a relatively uneventful stint and engaged in an entertaining tussle with Jan Magnussen in the #3 Corvette, passing and pulling away from his teammate.
The Briton had to employ some “creative” driving to avoid incidents with relatively inexperienced drivers from other classes and preserve a respectable and much-needed sixth-place result that hopefully concludes a long, drawn-out run of bad luck.
“It was a tough day in the office,” said Gavin. “Tommy got baulked at the start by a Ferrari. It seemed that we could get up to the back of our competitors, but trying to pass people was very hard. The way the pit stops turned out, it was me getting in for the last hour of the race. We had a glitch getting me in the car. I had a bit of a race with Jan (Magnussen) coming into the Corkscrew – we’ve raced each other for years and know each other very well – I thought our car was quicker at the time, so I was able to get by and pull out a gap.
“It was then a case of reeling off the laps and staying out of trouble. Some of the driving by some of the other drivers in other classes was very creative – clearly some people haven’t got very much experience in the cars they’re driving at this track. With our competition seemingly having a performance advantage over us, it felt like we were driving with one arm tied behind our backs. Hopefully, by the time we come back to the US after Le Mans, there will be a tighter rules package that will make for good, strong competition.”
Corvette Racing now switches its focus to the 2015 25 Hours of Le Mans, with a critical test in Bowling Green, Kentucky (6-7 May).