This weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans brought joy and despair to teams up and down the pit lane in equal measure, and Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin experienced both during the world’s most famous, and toughest, sportscar race.
The British driver, together with team mates Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook brought the No.74 Corvette C7R – making its debut at the French endurance race – home to finish fourth in the LMGTE Pro race which had, up until the 15th hour, promised so much more. The class was won by the AF Corse Ferrari ahead of the No.73 Corvette of team mates Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor.
Olly started the race from fourth after a challenging couple of days of practice and qualifying sessions which were constantly interrupted by accidents and incidents, though fortunately none affecting the Corvettes. It was an action-packed first half of the twice-round-the-clock race, with great battles between Olly, Jan, the AF Corse Ferrari and Aston Martin Racing’s lead car. The No.74 was never out of the top three in class, leading for a several hours, and always a contender for victory.
The decisive moment for the lead in the super-competitive GTE Pro category came when the weather gods intervened in the race and two short but sharp rain storms hit the track. Olly and engineer Chuck Houghton took the bold decision to stay out on slick tyres, giving Corvette the advantage over its rivals.
“Those were tricky conditions and difficult at times,” explains Olly. “I’m pleased we made the call to stay out. Certainly when it first started to rain, coming into the first chicane where the Audi crashed, I was really unsure what was going to happen. There were sheets of rain coming down and you could see it sitting on the surface. The car starts to glide and you just have to let it go and coast. Fortunately I was able to get the car slow enough to get through the chicane and stay out of trouble.”
After superb stints by all three drivers in the No.74, including a triple by Olly as the dateline ticked over from the 14th to 15th June, the Le Mans bad luck gremlins struck again. A lap was lost as dawn broke when an unscheduled stop had to be made to replace a door – due to the car’s number not being illuminated enough to satisfy the officials – and it all went wrong for the Briton who was chasing his fifth Le Mans victory.
“We had been running so well, and had some really great battles out there with our rivals which absolutely sums up why Le Mans is so important to us all,” Olly reflected. “The best sportscar drivers in the world are all on track together and there’s rivalry, respect and nose-to-tail competition hour after hour with no quarter given, but no silliness either. It was mega and we not only led for some time – which is a great reflection on all the hard work put in by Corvette Racing to develop the C7R – but were always in with a chance of a podium.
“It all started to go wrong when I got a low voltage reading and could smell burning inside the car. I came into the pits and the guys pored all over the car trying to find out what it was, eventually diagnosing a gearbox oil leak and slipped alternator belt as a result. We lost eight laps in total but, once it was fixed, we gave it all we had to make up some lost ground and get to the finish. We made up a couple of laps but it wasn’t quite enough for a place on the podium alongside our team mates.”
Olly concluded, “For Chevrolet and everyone within the team to see this new generation of Corvette finish second and fourth is a real testament to their commitment to sportscar racing at the highest level. On a personal level it’s very disappointing to have been in contention for the win for so long and to then see it taken away, but congratulations to the team for a well-deserved result.”
There is now just a short time to recover before attention turns to the Sahlen’s 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, the fifth round of the Tudor United Sportscar Series on 29th June.