Well, what a race and where do I start? With Corvette Racing’s No. 73 winning the 24 Hours – and many congratulations to Olivier, Antonio and Tommy – and with our disappointing finish, it was definitely a race of highs and lows and we managed almost three quarters of the event.
The No. 74 Corvette had led the GTE category since the safety car period in the first hour of the race and nearly 16 hours later, contact with a Porsche resulted in extensive damage to the front and rear of the car and a loss of drive. Jan Magnussen, whose turn it was at the wheel, was unharmed but the car could not return to the pit lane and was retired.
Leading up to the clash which caused the retirement, Olly said the race was ‘phenomenal fun’ and that he was really enjoying competing here at Le Mans again. “I had a fantastic battle at the start with Andy Priaulx, Augustus Farfus and Gimmi Bruni,” he explains. “I was a bit unsure of how Farfus would be after I’d had a bit of a coming together with him at Sebring! I managed to put a nice move on a pair of them going down into the first chicane which I was quite surprised about. I think because there were four of us altogether there was this massive tow and I managed to pass the two BMWs and out brake them into the chicane which was nice to do.
“We came in for our first pit stop a lap before everyone else and we got a big break and that was the thing that kept up ahead of the Ferrari for the next 16/17 hours. It was amazing that one bit of luck just got us a step up and we managed to control that gap for all those hours. It fluctuated with different things such as safety car periods and some very, very big accidents this year which has been quite shocking and surprising. I’m just glad that so far everyone seems to have been okay.”
It was the second consecutive year that misfortune befell the team in the early morning hours at Le Mans. Last year a crash in the Porsche Curves while leading took Olly’s car out of contention.
“The situation with Jan’s accident was out of the blue,” Olly recalls. “I was sitting in Corvette’s hospitality having something to eat with Jim Miller and one of the senior GM bosses and Jan came on the radio saying “Had a crash, big damage, trying to make it back to the pits.” Then it came up on the screen and it was stationary; the car looked very badly damaged. I knew then that our chance of winning was gone.
“Then you have all the really hard things to do like going to see the team, the crew, everyone who’s worked so hard for so many months to put this together. Naturally everyone’s upset and disappointed and this year everyone seemed to be pulling for the win. Last year we looked as though we had it all under control and it seems that around about 8-10am is a bad time for us. A bad omen or something and 3 years in a row now it’s happened like tha!. Where we’ve led, we’ve controlled, in complete control of the situation.”
When Jan returned to the pits, he was obviously shocked and shaken and very apologetic. His team mates assured him that it was a racing incident ; they all make a thousand of those decisions on a racetrack every ten laps. Jan was trying to avoid making contact with another car and unfortunately when he did that he went up onto a kerb and across the grass. The car snapped one way and then the other and went across the grass into the Porsche. “It was a really nasty accident,” said Olly when he saw the TV images, and I’m just pleased Jan’s okay. It’s a testament to how strong the Corvette is that he came away with very few aches and pains.”
Summing up his views on the past weekend, Olly couldn’t deny it was devastating blow for the No. 74 car. It was going very well and we’d controlled the race right from the first safety car. The #51 Ferrari was our main challenger and it was very tough. I did two 2-3-hour stints and had some good battles, particularly with Joey Hand towards the end there. It was a hard fight with the AF Corse Ferrari all the way to the end but we had them covered. That’s the thing with Le Mans – it’s hard and cruel, and that’s why winning here is like nothing else in the world. I’m still devastated, really.”