Triple crown endurance race winners aiming to go one better with championship honors.
Doug Fehan, program manager for Corvette Racing, says he’s proud of the Corvette C7.R winning all three of sports car racing’s classic endurance races in 2015. However, he told Motorsport.com capturing the IMSA WeatherTech United SportsCar Championship next season is high on the priority list.
“I think it’s fair to say we’ve been frustrated,” said Fehan, who saw Chevrolet, Corvette Racing and lead drivers Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia finish third in the manufacturers’, teams’ and drivers’ championships respectively in 2015. “We do think the Balance of Performance has been counting against us. I think we’ve been penalized for our car being good, basically.”
“I mean, when was the last time we scored a pole position?”
Despite winning the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Sebring 12 Hours and 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015, Corvette Racing last won the IMSA championship [American Le Mans Series ] in 2013, in the final year of the C6.R model.
“In terms of improving the Corvette, yes the C7.R was a very big step. The drivers really like the way the car handles, it’s far more responsive to change and we have a much wider range of changes we can apply to the car which directly affect how it performs on the race track. It’s a much more nimble car, it’s stiffer, it’s just much better.
“But the last two years the performance rules have definitely not done us any favors.”
Changes to the C7.Rs over the off-season have been extensive, according to Fehan.
“They’re brand new cars because there have been significant changes in the rule base,” he said, “not least of which required a reconfigured roll cage to allow for an emergency safety hatch in the roof. That allows safety crews to get in to the driver and get a backboard down behind them before extraction. So that’s a huge safety improvement.
“However, because the rollcage is intrinsic to the stiffness of the car, it was a massive undertaking to analyze how to create a cage that offered the same amount of stiffness and driver protection but without a huge increase in weight.
“There were also seat changes, with higher and wider head restraints and different stiffness requirements. We develop our own seats, so that was a very rigorous program, as you can imagine.”
Beyond the safety improvements, all GTLM class cars have had performance-enhancing technical alterations.
“Yeah, this is to try and build a reasonable performance differential between the GT3 cars they’ll have in the GT Daytona class next year, and our GTLM cars,” said Fehan. “It’s been mainly to do with the aero package. IMSA has increased the length of the front splitter, altered the width of the side splitters by the rocker panels, and we’ve moved the rear wing up and back a little.
“That had knock-on effects for truly optimizing the car’s performance, but the C7.R is a good enough platform that the same basic set-up will remain on the car. And it will run the same [5.5-liter] powerplant and same gearbox.”
Preparations for Le Mans
The three endurance wins of 2015 were highlighted by the performance at Le Mans, where Corvette Racing were reduced to one car even before the race started. The No. 63 car of Magnussen/Garcia/Ryan Briscoe was crashed beyond repair during qualifying, due to a mechanical failure, but the #64 sister car of Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Jordan Taylor defeated the Ferraris, Porsches and Aston Martins after a torrid fight right up until the final couple of hours.
That was the eighth win for the Pratt & Miller-engineered Corvettes over the past 15 years at Le Mans, and Fehan admits he was thrilled that it came after a hard fight.
“The reality is that you’d love to go somewhere and dominate,” said Fehan, “but that hasn’t happened very often. And at Le Mans in particular we’ve had a couple of races where we actually were quite dominant performance-wise and then had a couple things go south.
“The mechanical side of it we’ve pretty much got down, especially as you acquire experience down the years. I don’t even worry about whether the engine will make it, will the gearbox make it, and so on. What you’re worried about is the crazy misfortune on the racetrack, often not of your doing. For example, the crazy Prototype driver coming up behind you in the Porsche Curves who doesn’t care you have a race to run too.
“But I think one of the keys for us at Le Mans is that it’s somewhere you have to be mentally and physically prepared from a manpower standpoint as well as technical standpoint. That sometimes gets overlooked, I think.
“We pay special attention to the physical preparation of the crew guys. You’re there on Wednesday night until 2am, then you’re back the next day at 7am, then the same thing that night and Friday. So if you’re then up at 6am on raceday, Saturday, you’ve had cumulatively maybe eight hours sleep over the previous couple of days. Then from that Saturday morning to when the race ends on Sunday afternoon, that’s another 34 hours straight…
“That’s tough and that’s when mistakes can be made. So paying attention to your guys is essential, absolute priority. Making sure they have a place to lay down stretch out, nap when they can even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes, it helps. Obviously also essential is to keep very good care of them nutritionally, too. And I think that care and detail has played a part in the successes we’ve enjoyed.”