Chasing his fifth 24 Hours of Le Mans title, and coming into the world’s most famous endurance race on the back of two consecutive wins in the American Le Mans Series, Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin had every reason to be hopeful of a positive result in this past weekend’s 80th running of the French classic..
Unfortunately the twice-round-the-clock race went on for approximately 14 hours too long for Olly and his team mates Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook in the No.74 Corvette C6.R. The trio held a commanding lead of the GTE Pro category for much of the first ten hours of the race, in the face of strong opposition from Ferrari, Aston Martin and Porsche. They looked to be in a strong position to maintain that position through to the chequered flag, but the race began to unravel badly after the ten hour mark and ultimately ended in disappointment and frustration. Although running at the end of the race, the No.74 was unclassified as it didn’t complete the minimum race distance.
Starting third on the GTE grid, Olly quickly moved to challenge the class-leading Aston Martin on the first lap. He took the lead shortly after the first hour and there followed some of the entertaining and hard-but-fair racing with the Prodrive-run Aston Martin car which was reminiscent of the GT1 glory days.
But it all started to go wrong in the 11th hour, as Olly explains: “Richard took over from Tommy and had just left the pits when he lost the left rear wheel at the Dunlop Esses. He then had to travel an entire lap of the circuit on three wheels to return to the pits. A rapid repair job was carried out by the guys but he later returned to the pits with a gearbox problem and, then, a bad vibration which took ages to get to the bottom of. By that time we were already about 20 laps behind.
“Tommy was really unlucky in the Porsche Curves in the 18th hour and hit the barriers pretty hard, although he nursed the car back to the garage, it was pretty battered. Our crew virtually rebuilt the back half of the chassis but we lost hours in the pits and it was game over. With no possibility of a decent result, the car was held in the garage until the final 40 minutes of the race when I drove it to the finish as it was important for Corvette Racing to have both cars finish the race.
“I can’t find the words to describe how I feel about the outcome to be honest. “After the wheel came off it was like someone has pushed a button for everything to go wrong. The real shame is that we were all driving really well, all quick and the car was perfect. In 11 years of coming here with Corvette I’ve never seen both our cars in the pits at the same time during the night. It wasn’t a great day for sure but we’ll come back stronger, more organised and even more determined to get another win. Planning starts now.”