GAVIN, BERETTA HOPING NO. 64 C6-R HAS WHAT IT TAKES TO REPEAT AT LE MANS Braselton, Ga. - Like the Belmont Stakes in horse racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans presents the ultimate endurance challenge to the thoroughbreds of sports car racing. Speed...
GAVIN, BERETTA HOPING NO. 64 C6-R HAS WHAT IT TAKES TO REPEAT AT LE MANS
Braselton, Ga. - Like the Belmont Stakes in horse racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans presents the ultimate endurance challenge to the thoroughbreds of sports car racing. Speed certainly plays a role while having a stud that can make it to the finish is just as important.
So on sports car racing's biggest stage, which would you rather have? For Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta, there may not be a choice. They think they have the best of both worlds for the 73rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their No. 64 Corvette C6-R.
Speed at the famed La Sarthe layout is a component to finishing well, but it is the ability of the machinery to stay intact that dictates who will cross the finish line first, as Gavin, Beretta and Jan Magnussen did last year en route to a class victory.
The three will defend their 2004 title in the GT1 category this weekend. Both Gavin and Beretta are multiple Le Mans champions (Gavin in 2002 and '04 and Beretta in 1999, 2000 and '04), and they know first-hand the demands placed on the drivers and machines that will go to the post Saturday.
"This is endurance racing at its finest," Gavin said. "Le Mans is the signature event in our sport. The length of the race is such that it is the teams with the most dependable machinery (who) will be left standing at the end."
The Corvette C6-R is Corvette Racing's newest car, and it will make its official Le Mans debut this weekend. The two Corvette entries, along with Aston Martin and Ferrari, are expected to wage a torrid battle within the GT1 ranks. Aston Martin, which won at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in March, has not dueled Corvette Racing since. The Aston Martin entry had the fastest times during testing on the first weekend in June.
"Corvette Racing has never been on the pole at Le Mans. That's not our objective," said Corvette program manager Doug Fehan. "Our objective is to win the race, and we know how to do that." Fehan's optimism is centered in the overall reliability of the Corvette product, coupled with the expertise/experience of the six men who will pilot the craft over the French countryside.
"Winning here last year was a major accomplishment, and if we were to take the C6-R and come away with another victory (here), it would be immense," Gavin said. "We expect a tough fight from both Aston Martin and Ferrari. Le Mans is the one event we at Corvette Racing focus on. Every driver relishes going to Le Mans because it is such a challenge."
Corvette's tangle with Aston Martin ended badly at Sebring, mainly due to an accident involving one entry, plus Gavin's unexpected visit to the gravel trap. The car's extraction cost the team valuable minutes, enabling Aston Martin to claim the victory.
"Our competition seems to be going fast, and we have to see how that plays out on race week," Gavin said. "This race is a lot more than going fast; it's about finishing."
Gavin and Beretta will spend almost every waking hour leading up to Saturday's green flag studying the data accumulated from three ALMS races plus the Le Mans test earlier this month.
"We have a lot of information," Beretta said, "but this (the C6-R) is like the baby that takes its first steps at Le Mans. The testing and simulations never give you the same results as when you put four wheels on the track."
Qualifying at Le Mans is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be broadcast on SPEED Channel starting at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday. The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the New England Grand Prix, set for 3 p.m. July 4 at Lime Rock Park. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED (3 to 6 p.m. EDT) and on MotorsTV in Europe, reaching 40 million viewers in 21 countries as well as at www.americanlemans.com.