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Corvette drivers hope a year in GTD Pro boosts Rolex 24 chances

Corvette’s aces believe the C8.R could shine at Daytona now that the team better understands the demands of GTD Pro and IMSA has a handle on the car’s performance parameters.

#3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD: Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor, Nicky Catsburg

In its first two seasons of IMSA action, the mid-engined C8.Rs scored 14 wins and 17 pole positions in the GT Le Mans category. However, when IMSA replaced GTLM with GTD Pro for 2022, Corvette Racing was forced to downgrade the car to GT3 spec, and the success rate dropped considerably.

Employing a split strategy – one car in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GTD Pro class, one in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s GTE Pro class – Corvette landed just two wins, one on each side of the Atlantic. Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor ultimately finished third in the IMSA championship with 12 Hours of Sebring victory and four other podium finishes.

However, Corvette Racing now possesses a year’s worth of insights in GTD Pro – in particular, the characteristics of the spec Michelin tires used for all GTD machinery in IMSA – and the governing body has more data with which to define the Balance of Performance between the seven manufacturers in the class. These two factors combined have raised hopes within the Corvette Racing camp that the 2023 can prove far more successful and that the C8.R will be fully competitive around Daytona’s 3.56-mile road course.

“Going for the second time in GTD PRO at Daytona will be a little bit different,” said Garcia who has won the Rolex 24 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times apiece, and is a four-time IMSA champion. “We have a year of experience now.

“A year ago, it was hard for us and hard for IMSA to know what to expect from the performance of our car. I hope we are in a better position this time around, especially at Daytona. We were lacking a ton of performance and we were not competitive and couldn’t fight for wins. I hope things change.

“The team has one year of experience in this category. We know our weaknesses and where we are strong. I hope we have a chance to win.”

Taylor, a former Prototype ace now entering his fourth season with Corvette and Garcia, added: “Heading into the season, the motivation is win as much as we can. That starts with the Rolex 24. Last year we had a tough race in our first event in GTD. Getting an understanding about what the car needs and what the drivers need is a lot to learn. Having done the whole season, we can take what we learned into practice and hopefully we can hit the ground running strong at Daytona.

“With the GTD Pro class growing as much as it has, Daytona will be such an important event for us. We’ve got so many manufacturers from around the world, and it’s a big deal to represent Corvette and Chevrolet on our home turf.”

Tommy Milner, a two-time IMSA GTLM champion, last year raced the C8.R in the WEC GTE Pro class with Nick Tandy, but the abolition of that class has prompted Corvette to enter GTE Am and reshuffle its line-up with Nicky Catsburg, Nicolas Varrone and Ben Keating taking over European driving duties. While Tandy has headed back to Porsche, Milner has been retained by Corvette to not only help test and develop a ‘true’ ground-up GT3 version of the C8.R Z/06, but also compete as third driver at Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans.

The 36-year-old retains an open-minded approach to the IMSA enduros and Corvette’s need to find pace.

“The team had a pretty tough year last year,” said Milner. “They won at Sebring and were competitive at some places, but for the most part the first year bringing a GTLM car down to GTD was challenging.

“I would say expectations for Daytona, we go there to win. That’s why we race. Last year was a big challenge for us. We were very slow in a straight line, hopefully that will be better.

“Daytona itself is a huge part of the IMSA championship and endurance racing around the world. The track is not crazy difficult, but the race itself is challenging. You have to have a car that is good in all kinds of conditions. It can get pretty hot in the daytime and also super cold at night. The oval itself poses its own challenges.

“I enjoyed my time last year in WEC… To go around the world and show off this Corvette to a lot of fans who have never seen the car before was special. [But] As an American kid, being at home is quite nice and the chance to race the three major races in the IMSA championship is fantastic.”

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