The hours are counting down towards the opening round of the 2011 American Le Mans Series and, for Britain’s Oliver Gavin and the GM Corvette Racing team, the moment the green flag drops on Saturday morning can’t come soon enough.
Preparing for the race...
With another intensely competitive GT race in prospect, Olly is glad of the additional cockpit time he’s had this year with the Chevrolet Camaro in the Grand-Am series. The two rounds to date, in addition to the concentrated fitness campaign the former sports car champion is undergoing in preparation for a marathon run in April, will give him a race-ready edge over and above many of his rivals.
After his last race two weekends ago in Homestead, Florida, Olly headed north to Pratt & Miller’s base in Detroit to be fitted into a new seat in the Camaro. He explains why this was necessary. “Our cockpit surroundings at Homestead were very hot and difficult to operate in for any length of time so the P & M guys have fitted a new seat and air conditioning system in the car. It took a couple of days to get housed properly as it’s a bespoke item and various parts had to be custom made.
“While I was there I also spent lot of time with the Corvette crew getting prepared for the 12 Hours of Sebring. It’s one of the biggest races of the season for us so there was a lot to get prepared and planned for. Everyone’s really excited about the coming season, and we can’t wait to get going.”
New car, new parts...
Oliver continued, “I’ve never seen Pratt & Miller so busy but the guys have managed to achieve a huge amount over the winter. We’ve got some development pieces here this week we’ve been testing over the winter including a new rear fascia and some other bits and pieces like the paddle shift gear change. That’s new for everyone in the GT class with the 2011 regulations. We are also running a new Bosch ECU system and it’s taken a while to get it all integrated and working properly and everyone understanding it.
“There’s a new dashboard in the car and a new steering wheel so it’s quite different inside the car for us. It’s great, and a big step away from what we’ve had for the last 8 or 9 years. It will be interesting and intriguing to see how every driver deals with it and works with it. It took me about half a day to stop taking my hand off the wheel and going for the gear stick as I was driving around. You’ve got to train your brain to stop doing it.”
And new faces...
As well as a new car and new technical developments, Olly also has a new team mate in the No. 04 Compuware Corvette C6.R alongside him and Jan Magnussen. “Richard [Westbrook] has been great, and from the moment he turned up and starting running with us he fitted right in. He’s pretty relaxed to work with, is a good character and understands sportscars very well. He’s got a very good pedigree and been with other manufacturers before, so knows exactly how to be in and around them.”
A huge field and a great race ahead...
“56 cars is the biggest field ever for me,” acknowledges Olly. “It’s going to be exceptionally busy – judging by the test days so far as an example. There’s been lots of red flags and stoppages and inevitably there’s going to be problems with traffic. One of the big issues, I think, is going to be that every class seems to run a similar speed on the straight. Gone are the days when the Peugeot or Audi came whistling past you with some 25 or 30 mhp more on the straight than you. Now they are maybe 10 mph faster which is fine but the LMP2 and LMPC cars are virtually the same speed on the straights as us and the GTC cars are exactly the same. You have to get past them in the brake zones or into the corners so it adds another element of challenge to it.
“The race is going to be exceptionally competitive, just as last year’s GT races were. It looks like the BMW is very fast – they seem to have done a ton of testing and the Dunlop tyres are working well in the weather conditions we have here now. We feel we’re reasonably close but whether it’s close enough, or we’ve done enough, we just don’t know but we definitely only have one aim in mind and that’s victory. The Porsche looks good, as always, while the Ferrari is a new car so difficult to tell yet how it will measure up. I don’t think they’ll be far away from us time wise and we’ll see how fast everyone really is on Friday afternoon in qualifying.”