Oliver Gavin's Year of Highs and Lows
At times during 2010, Olly Gavin and Corvette Racing's season couldn't have been at a lower ebb -- not a position familiar to either driver or team. The season had its high points, however, and ended with a much needed fillip -- GT2 victory at Petit Le Mans -- and post season testing is now done and dusted.
With a season of intense GT2 competition under his belt, and the chance for a bit of time at home in Northamptonshire, UK with his wife Helen and three children, the three-time ALMS GT1 Drivers Champion looks back now on some of the highs and lows of the past year.
Q What was the highlight of the year?
A This would undoubtedly have to be winning Petit Le Mans. It was such an amazing race for so many reasons and came at the end of a very long and hard season for Corvette. For all of us in the team, it always seemed that in so many of our races this year, right at the death, luck would go against us and we couldn't get the result we were all craving. Then at Petit Le Mans it all fell into place.
The pressure was on and it all came down to the last five laps. The team did an amazing job with the pit stop; it was quick, slick and straightforward and it managed to get me back onto the track to keep the pressure on the Ferrari. And the pressure told. Risi made a mistake and that enabled us to overhaul them when they ran out of fuel on the last lap. It was very hard for them but fantastic for us. It was an amazing way to finish the season and definitely my highlight of the year.
Q And where there's a high, there's often a low...what was yours in 2010?
A I think the lowest point was Le Mans. After being in the (GT2) lead for 18 or 19 hours, by a good distance, about a lap and a half, and really controlling the race, to be honest we were just going through the motions to get to the end.
We were aware that the other car had a problem with its engine but to have the incident with the Peugeot, that huge crash for Manu [Collard] was so demoralising. The team did an unbelievable job to get it fixed in only 30 minutes and got us back out, and it felt pretty good to me after a lap or two. I started banging in our fastest laps of the race; it was a bit frustrating as we were then out of contention for a win but could still get a podium finish. Strangely enough, 9 laps into that run, the Engine Engineer got onto the radio and asked me if everything was okay. I thought "you've never spoken to me before, ever, on the radio. Why now?" He was obviously seeing something on the data and two minutes later it expired. It wasn't a nice way for it all to end, after being so competitive and having such a great race with so many different people.
Q What do you consider the best race move of 2010?
A I think the two best moves came in one race -- at Mid Ohio. My best move of the year was when I overtook Bill Auberlen just before the end of the race. I tried to pass him going into Turn 2 then had to drag race him all the way out of the turn and all the way down the back straight, then outbrake him round the outside going into T4. That was very satisfying and it was great to pull it off.
But I think the best move I saw in the whole ALMS season was Jaime Melo's move on the BMWs in that same race, just after the second round of pit stops. I'm still not entirely sure how he managed to pull it off! He drove round the inside of one going into Turn 2 and then muscled his way past the other -- half on the kerb, half on the grass -- and he managed to make it stick. He had such belief in the Ferrari, and the tyre -- that the grip would be there straight away -- and it caught everyone napping. He was willing to risk the car, all in that one move, while I think everyone else was still thinking about the rest of the race. He pulled it off and it won them the race -- great racing.
Q What was the hardest moment of the year?
A Watching our two cars drive into one another in the pit lane at Sebring! It was one of those moments where you really can't believe it's happening...no one in the team or, as we found out later, the whole paddock, could believe their eyes. It took both cars out of contention right there and was utterly gut-wrenching as we were running second at the time. I think it had a really big effect on everyone in the team and it took a while to come back from it. After all the pit stop challenges we'd done, in fact everything that such a professional team as Corvette Racing had done and been successful at in the past, to have this perfect storm where everything went so wrong was such a slap in the face.
Q What was your greatest personal achievement in 2010?
A To get under the 3-hour mark in the [London] marathon was something I'd been chasing for a long time. I was delighted to achieve that -- not just by a tad at 2:59 but with a 2:54 which is well under what I'd hoped to do. Running for the BRDC [British Racing Drivers Club] team was a big thing and I was really pleased with how my training went and that all the effort put in resulted in so much. I'm really proud of the fact that I managed to convince the Club Secretary, Stuart Pringle, to go out and get a team together from within the membership. I talked to drivers and got them to sign up to it, trained with some of them, chivvied them and tried to lead everybody along; for us to raise £100,000 for CLIC Sargent was just amazing. Everyone's generosity blew us away and there was a really good feel factor; from the charity lunch we did in London with Jake Humphrey, which raised a staggering amount of money, to people's generosity on the Just Giving website. We raised £96K and then Silverstone Circuits kindly bumped it up to the £100K mark. It was amazing to be able to hand that amount of money over to such a worthwhile charity.
I'd also been chasing a pole position at Le Mans and finally got it, although somewhat 'luckily' in some people's view! The long and short of it was that our car was legal and the Ferrari wasn't and our time was only a smidge/two tenths behind them. I came away with pole position for GT2 and was delighted to get that trophy. I'd got a GTS pole with Saleen in 2001 but there was no trophy then and now I've got one in pride of place at home.
Q It wasn't all doom and gloom was it? What were the fun moments during the year?
A Racing Jaime at Le Mans in that magical hour or so where we were backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, racing really hard and close with nothing in it. I had a massive grin on my face the whole time and he told me later in the season that he'd been the same. Both of us felt fully in control of what we were doing and we were both racing at the top of our game in two cars prepared by two really good teams at the best race track in the world, fighting like it was a 10-lap sprint race. A huge amount of fun.
There were some funny moments which had probably best remain unrepeated, but I'd have to class the performance of my crew chief, Brian Hoy, crashing a jet ski at Johnny O'Connell's house in front of the whole team as quite funny. Once, of course, we'd realised that he hadn't gone through the boat house but had 'merely' bounced off the side of it, it was very amusing. Cruel, but funny. Actually that kind of sums up our season...cruel but also fun, with some amusing moments thrown in for good measure.
Q What do you consider to have been 'motorsport magic' this year?
A If we'd finished at Le Mans that would have definitely been up there as magic but it wasn't to be this year. I think in Formula One Mark Webber's performance this year, despite being perceived as the underdog, was impressive. He pushed Sebastian Vettel the whole way and has driven brilliantly. Having said that, Vettel was incredible - especially in the last four races. He had all those failures, crashes and problems during the year and was under immense pressure but he never flinched and had supreme belief in himself, and was always able to pull out the big laps when need in qualifying.
What has really been magic this year is the competition. I thoroughly and wholeheartedly enjoyed racing against so many good drivers in the ALMS this year and I think the GT class is so much fun to race in. In one weekend you'll be up against Melo, Bruni, Long, Bergmeister or Auberlen, for example, so many talented drivers in different cars. Everyone has got their strengths at different places on different tracks and you were never really sure who you'd be up against but you knew that it would be someone who was really good. That's been the magic thing about this year -- knowing that you'd never be able to take your foot off the gas at any time. It's been flat out the whole time, a real battle. Fantastic.