As the minutes clicked away in the final hour of the Rolex 24, the stakes rose with every second of the clock that ticked away. Every decision, every move became more crucial than the last.
Oliver Gavin worked feverishly to get around the No. 912 Porsche in the final hour, but to no avail. Knowing his teammate was coming fast and he couldn't afford to wait, the Corvette factory driver opted to put the bumper to Earl Bamber, tagging him in the right-rear.
Controversial contact with Bamber
Bamber slipped up the track at the International Horseshoe and involuntarily conceded the position.
"Earl and I were racing hard. There were a couple times were I slammed on the brakes and I just managed to miss him," Gavin said of the contact, which was reviewed by race officials. "I knew that we were quicker, our car was better, and it was getting towards the end of the race. The gloves are off. I just left my braking a little too late and he opened the door a tiny bit and so I stuck my nose in there."
Antonio Garcia overtook the Porsche as well, putting the sister Corvette in his crosshairs. The question on everyone's mind wasn't whether or not Garcia could catch his teammate, but would the team let them race when he does.
"As soon as (Antonio) passed the Porsche, I asked my engineer 'how this is going to work?' He tells me that Doug (Fehen) says we're clear to race, as long as we race clean and fair," explained Gavin.
The two fought each other very hard, but stayed off of one another, racing with a remarkable amount of respect.
"I knew if we had an incident, we’d be in really hot water. But racing Antonio is so much fun, he’s hard, he’s tough, but he’s fair. He’s a really good friend, so it’s really fun racing against him. It got really close a few times, but it was so much fun. A great race.”
Garcia followed in Gavin's tire tracks for several laps, but was unable to get a real edge until he made a bold move on the outside as they raced down the front stretch. Garcia cleared him, but overcooked the entry and Gavin slipped right back by.
As focus shifted towards the newly crowned Rolex 24 champions at Extreme Speed Motorsports, Garcia prepared for one last shot and bolted to the outside. The cars, nearly touching, drag-raced to the stripe and by a mere 34 thousandths of a second, Gavin held on in an enthralling finish for the ages.
"I was watching the rear view camera really closely," explained the newly crowned Rolex 24 GTLM champion.
"On the last lap, I was thinking I had just enough on him but it was like the line kept going away from me. I couldn't get to the line fast enough."
Garcia was hoping to go back-to-back at Daytona, but it just wasn't meant to be. "I thought I had him. I was pushing with everything I had. We had some issues with fuel pickup so we had to do an extra stop against them. We knew I had to go like hell. We gained a lot of momentum catching up, and catching the lead Porsche and then catching Gavin."
Gavin wasn't really surprised about the intensity of their on-track duel either, saying "It was always going to be intense because we're teammates and in cars that are very equal. I know Antonio really well and we run together all the time; we're good friends.
"I know how smart he is in the car and I knew he would be looking for a weak spot and he would just try to pounce at the right point. That one lap going down into Turn 1, he got a really good toe and he was by me, but he hit his brake just a little too late and just lost the rear of the car. All I could think about was my boss Doug Fehan and what he would have said if we did touch.
"I knew I would have my work cut out to beat Antonio."