Sebring 12 Hours
Corvette Racing Finishes Third and Fourth in Season-Opening Sebring Race
Corvettes Overcome Incidents and Accidents in 12-Hour Endurance Test
SEBRING, Fla., March 19, 2011 – Corvette Racing raced around the clock to finish third and fourth in the GT class in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the season-opening round of the 2011 American Le Mans Series. The No. 03 Compuware Corvette C6.R driven by Tommy Milner, Olivier Beretta, and Antonio Garcia completed 312 laps and finished third, 49.294 seconds behind the class-winning BMW. The No. 04 Compuware Corvette C6.R of Oliver Gavin, Jan Magnussen, and Richard Westbrook was fourth across the finish line with 311 laps.
The Sebring 12-hour was a test of determination for the Chevrolet team. The No 3 Corvette C6.R started ninth on the grid and finished on the podium; the No. 4 Corvette C6.R overcame a three-lap deficit after an accident at the two-hour mark.
"Today's result was absolutely a team effort," said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President for Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. "In endurance racing you have to work as a team every minute, and Corvette Racing did that. We have more work to do, but this team never gives up."
The No. 04 Corvette C6.R made a fast start as Oliver Gavin started second on the GT grid and passed the pole-winning Ferrari 430GT on the first lap.
"The Ferrari went wide and I got by him," Gavin said. "Once the Ferrari's tires came in, he started to catch me – any amount of dust on the track and our performance started to suffer. Then with new Michelins after the first pit stop, we were back in the hunt and could race anybody."
Gavin handed off to Jan Magnussen at 1:48 under a full-course caution, but the Dane encountered misfortune as soon as racing resumed. Running third at the restart, contact in Turn 17 with Patrick Long's Porsche caused both cars to spin. The following Ferrari F458 of Johannes van Overbeek then spun, colliding with the Corvette and damaging its right rear suspension. The Ferrari subsequently retired, while Magnussen manhandled the Corvette to the pits for repairs. Six minutes later, the Corvette crew had him back on track, albeit two laps down to the GT leader.
"I got a better run going onto the straight, and Long moved to the right to block me," Magnussen said. "No big deal, I went around him on the outside. I think he was bouncing over the bumps, and bounced into the side of my car. I can't be upset with him, but I was upset at the situation."
Long was subsequently penalized for avoidable contact, and the Corvette was penalized for crewmembers working on the car while the pits were closed, losing yet another lap.
Meanwhile the No. 03 Corvette methodically moved up from its ninth starting spot. Olivier Beretta handed off to Tommy Milner, who showed his stuff in his first stint as a Corvette Racing driver. The 25-year-old raced former Formula 1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella hard, and took the yellow Corvette from seventh to third in GT.
"Most of my teammates have driven Formula 1 cars, and it makes the race that much more fun when you have the best drivers in the world," said Milner. "I was able to settle into a rhythm, find the balance, and push from there. Maybe I was a little too racy for my first stint, but I wanted to settle in and get the nerves out."
Richard Westbrook also showed his mettle in his first start with Corvette Racing in the No. 04 Corvette C6.R. "Everyone at Corvette Racing wants to do so well – it's Chevrolet's 100th anniversary, and we really want to put in a great performance," Westbrook said. "Unfortunately Jan had contact in the second stint, but we kept pushing – there was nothing else we could do."
The race settled down in the middle stages as the six Corvette drivers cycled through their rotations. The No. 03 Corvette maintained its pace with the frontrunners on the lead lap, while savvy pit stop strategy and speed brought the No. 04 Corvette to within a lap of the leaders.
Shortly after seven hours, Milner pitted the 03 Corvette for a new windshield after the tearoffs had blown off, leaving a layer of sticky adhesive. After falling back to sixth, he charged back through the GT field to third at the end of his stint.
"That was probably the hardest I've had to work in a race car to see out of the windshield," Milner reported. "The crew changed the entire window in nothing flat, and that was great because the car was really, really good. When the sun went down, it definitely picked up grip."
As the sun set at Sebring, the race pace quickened. Antonio Garcia turned in a strong performance to pull the No. 03 Corvette as high as third on the cooling track.
"The car was getting better and better throughout the race," said the Spaniard. "I was racing with a Porsche in the first half of my stint and worked the tires hard getting by him, but at the end I ran decent lap times with worn tires. We were in the fight, running as close as we could to the front, and we had to be able to fight for a good position at the finish."
After 10 hours of racing, Beretta had the No. 03 Corvette in second, and Gavin was back on the lead lap in the No. 04 Corvette when the class leader pitted.
"The traffic was very bad sometimes," said Beretta. "If you were in a good spot you could go quick, if not you just tried to survive, not make a mistake, and use your brain."
Gavin drove a double stint in the late hours before handing the No. 04 Corvette off to Magnussen for the final run to the checkered flag.
"Today was a real uphill battle after the accident took us out of contention for the victory," Gavin said. "After we changed tire compounds I thought we'd have a shot at the podium, but it was perhaps a bit too early. This was one of the wildest 12 hours I've ever raced. I'm proud to be part of the Chevy team, and proud to bring the car back to within a lap of the leader. Jan and Richard drove brilliantly today, with a bit more luck we might have won."
"We didn't have the ultimate speed to match the BMWs and Ferraris today, but we did have execution and we did have strategy," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "When you combine those in an endurance race, it's going to show, and that's what this team did. This is a solid foundation for the season, and a result we can be proud of."
Corvette Racing’s next event is the American Le Mans at Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., on Saturday, April 16.
-source: corvette racing