Oliver Gavin took the #4 Corvette Racing C7.R to third in GT Le Mans (GTLM) and eighth overall in the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona at the history-rich Daytona International Speedway in Florida (22-25 January).
A stellar collaborative effort and some determined driving saw the Briton and his teammates, Tommy Milner and Simon Pagenaud, to the conclusion of the race, which brimmed with all the incident and intrigue that has come to typify the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic.
Gavin sealed an unexpected, but welcome GTLM class pole position in a closely-fought qualifying session on Thursday.
The British sportscar ace dominated the top of the timing screens and never loosened his grip on pole, turning in a best time of 1m43.488s on his fourth flyer to have more than three tenths in hand over his nearest rival, AF Corse’s Gianmaria Bruni, and the #3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R driven by Jan Magnussen in fifth.
“We didn’t think we had the overall pace to get pole,” said Gavin. “I think it was just a perfect qualifying session. I went out just behind Jan (Magnussen), and everything seemed to sync into place. I think our car was a little bit better than my teammates’ and I just chipped away at it. But without the tow from Jan, I don’t think we would have had pole. It was a great bit of teamwork.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gavin was buoyant during the build-up to the race, particularly as, contrary to predictions, conditions were pleasant for the start of the 53rd running of the Rolex 24 on Saturday.
The green light signalled the beginning of a fierce sprint race-style battle at the head of GTLM, Gavin initially withstanding immense pressure from Bruni’s Ferrari 458 Italia.
Battle intensified as others entered the fray and, while Gavin temporarily relinquished first position, he pitted during the 47th minute and could be found back at the head of a Corvette Racing one-two after the first round of stops.
Gavin struggled for grip thereafter due to low tyre pressures and, not wanting to impede his teammate, surrendered the lead, only to be tipped into a spin by an LMPC car as it recovered from an incident.
Fourth in class after a time loss of 15 seconds, Gavin handed the reins of the #4 C7.R to Milner as the third hour commenced and recapped on an eventful double stint by saying: “The car was pretty good but the circuit was treacherous. The first couple of laps, I don’t know how I kept it out of the wall. It was fun racing with Gimmi (Bruni), Jan, the Aston Martin and Porsche… we were really mixing it up. Things started to settle down a little more and I was able to retake the lead and get away. At the second restart, my front-right tyre pressure never came up, I started to struggle and let Jan go by, but a PC car went off and hit me as he re-joined, spinning me around. That was a shame.”
Gavin, from Northamptonshire, England, returned to the cockpit of the #4 car during the hours of darkness and completed a more straightforward second stint in 11th overall and fourth in class.
The race was going to plan for Corvette Racing and the experienced and highly skilled New Hudson-based team was back at the sharp end in GTLM as the sun rose over The Sunshine State, with Gavin back in the saddle and extending his advantage all the while.
A flawless and gritty run through the night preceded contact, which forced Gavin to make an unscheduled stop for repairs to front-left bodywork damage.
A thorough job by the Corvette Racing mechanics saw the Englishman re-emerge in third, one lap down on the #3 C7.R and BMW Team RLL’s Bruno Spengler, although successive full-course yellows and plenty of committed driving enabled Gavin to get back onto the lead lap.
Having vowed to fight tooth and nail to stand in victory lane on Sunday afternoon, a fired up Gavin clawed his way back into second and set about reducing the ten-second deficit to the sister Corvette.
There were four hours on the clock when Milner stepped into the breach for a double stint, followed by an appearance from Pagenaud, and the team was on course for victory.
Sadly, the #4 C7.R required a new front end after an unfortunate collision, and the lengthy repairs left Milner and Pagenaud with it all to do, some four laps adrift of the leaders.
However, it was up to Gavin to carry the #4 machine to the finish during the final 90 minutes and there was little that could be done to salvage anything more than a third place result in the super-competitive GTLM division and eighth overall.
Reflecting on a trying race, Gavin said: “These 24-hour races can be brutal, both physically and mentally, and pretty much from the outset of this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, we had to win from the back foot. Corvette Racing did such a fantastic job to recover from disappointments and setbacks and get back into a winning position, only to face another obstacle. It’s great for the team that Jan (Magnussen), Ryan (Briscoe) and Antonio (Garcia) in the #3 car won the GTLM class and I’m delighted for them. It’s difficult to have put so much effort in, overcome so many hurdles and not to reap the rewards, but the team performed remarkably well to find solutions. There was so much wheel-to-wheel battles throughout – it was an amazing 24-hour sprint race – and I’m proud of my teammates Simon (Pagenaud) and Tommy (Milner), for doing a wonderful job behind the wheel. It’s been a tough day, but very rewarding.”