CORVETTE RACING AT LE MANS: Eight Winning Retrospectives

Aug 17 2021 Randall Shinn 2021, Le Mans, Le Mans, News Comments Off on CORVETTE RACING AT LE MANS: Eight Winning Retrospectives

CORVETTE RACING AT LE MANS: Eight Winning Retrospectives

LE MANS, France (Aug. 17, 2021) – Corvette Racing is back at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this week with its eye toward a ninth class victory in one of the world’s greatest endurance races. Debuting at Le Mans in 2000, the program quickly established itself as an annual contender in the production-based GT categories. This year should be no different with the mid-engine Corvette C8.R.

Ahead of this week’s track action, let’s visit with current and past Corvette Racing drivers to recap each victory from 2001 to 2015:

2001
Following an overall victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona earlier in the year, hopes were high for Corvette Racing as it headed to Le Mans for the second time in 2001. The program finished third and fourth in GTS the previous year during its Le Mans debut, but the lessons and experiences from that initial run set the table for what happened in a chaotic 2001 race, thanks to Mother Nature.

Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell and Scott Pruett claimed the GTS victory in the No. 63 Corvette C5-R during a rain-soaked 24 Hours to lead a Corvette Racing 1-2 result.

Ron Fellows: “The 2001 season was really a breakout one for Corvette Racing. We won our first race in Texas the year before, we won Petit Le Mans and then won the Rolex 24 overall in 2001. Things were really, really coming together. As a team, we felt like we were more prepared than we ever had been. We had been to Le Mans for the first time in 2000 and learned a lot. The only obstacle we had in 2001 was the weather. My recollection is that I think I did a total of three laps in the race on slick tires. Everything else was in the rain or an intermediate track. It was a race of survival, which we did and then some. I think we ran fourth overall at some point. It was just an outstanding effort and complete relief at the end that we had accomplished – to that point – more than expected. Winning the Rolex 24 was on the list, but getting it overall was above and beyond. Achieving a class win at Le Mans was huge for all of us. I can’t say enough positives about the whole Corvette Racing effort.
“We kept plugging away, making adjustments each race and each year to get better – whether it was pit stops, the chassis, the engine guys. They all plugged away at it to get better. We weren’t getting any breaks. We were up against a dominant Viper team. You throw in Ferrari, Porsche and others… it was an incredible moment to be up there on that podium. The event is so amazing and I feel fortunate to be part of such a great team.”

2002
Fellows and O’Connell repeated as GTS winners, aided by a debuting Oliver Gavin in the No. 63 Corvette C5-R. It was another 1-2 finish as the winning Corvette triumphed by four laps over its sister Corvette entry. It was a little more straight-forward than the year before as the biggest threat to victory – a Prodrive Ferrari – retired just past the halfway point.

Still, the victory laid down the marker of excellence that continues to define Corvette Racing, according to one of its most successful drivers…

Johnny O’Connell: “The 2002 race was important. The reason is that there was a little bit of an aspect of luck in 2001. In that race at the start, you didn’t know if you needed to go out on rain tires because it was a wet track or slicks. Ron chose to do rain tires and there was a big shunt at the beginning… a lot of guys falling off on entry into the Porsche Curves. So we got a break there and lost a couple of guys who might challenge us. 2002 was legit. It was important because we were trying to set ourselves up as the standard. There was still a question mark on if we were that good and was the car that good. We executed everything we needed to do. The team gave us a bullet-proof car. I don’t think we had any moments where we had an issue that had to overcome. It was Oliver’s first Le Mans with us and had a lot to prove. Now through his history, he has more wins for Corvette Racing than anyone. But when I look at Corvette’s involvement at Le Mans, it’s really the strength of the cars. In my time driving 10 times at Le Mans with Corvette, I got on the podium eight times with only one DNF. The challenge that Corvette Racing brings to everyone else is the understanding that the car is wicked strong, it can do 24 hours, and the team is so strong that rare are the mistakes. For anyone to beat Corvette Racing, they have to get to a whole other level. You just don’t see that at all.”

2004
Corvette Racing put a dismal 2003 appearance behind itself with a resounding victory for Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen in the No. 64 Corvette C5-R. It was the fifth-generation Corvette’s final race at Le Mans with the factory squad as Corvette Racing celebrated another 1-2 finish.

Survival was the name of the game in this edition as numerous pieces of bodywork and other parts needed to be replaced on the winning Corvette. The team event raided the Corvette showcar in the fan area for enough bodywork to finish the race!

Oliver Gavin: “From what I remember from 2004, it was our first race at Le Mans with the Michelin tire. We were really making some big strides forward in performance. Fundamentally, the race was a big of crashfest! There were many incidents and accidents. Our car seemed to get caught up in numerous things – some of them out of our control but also some it was driver-induced. I remember the car being fixed in the middle of the night and we were searching for bodywork a little bit. I was told no more mistakes or no more screw-ups; I think I had just done a nose in on the car! We were battling hard to catch the Ferrari. At some point after that when the sun came up, we were in a pretty good spot but there was a huge pile of bodywork in the tent behind the garages. It was the biggest I’d ever seen, and we had no more left to use at all. We ended up finishing and winning the race with the showcar rear deck and rear bodywork, which was extraordinary! It was the first win for us there with Michelin and the first of three in a row with Jan, Oliver and myself.”

2005
The first appearance for the Corvette C6.R resulted in a second straight victory for the Beretta/Gavin/Magnussen trio in the No. 64 Corvette. A fourth win for Corvette Racing also brought a fourth 1-2 finish in the GT1 category. The winning Corvette finished fifth overall, a remarkable result for a production-based entry.

The 2005 edition was the first of many titanic duels with Aston Martin. Things weren’t decided until the 19th hour as the bulletproof Corvettes roared past their challengers, proving reliability – as well as speed – wins at Le Mans.

Jan Magnussen: “This was the first year of GT1 and the C6.R, both significant steps. I don’t remember the race very clearly, but it was another big fight between our team and Aston Martin. They had beaten us at Sebring and we really wanted to get back at them in Le Mans. It was great competition and we had a lot of respect for each other. Things went back and forth quite a lot. We had a couple of punctures in the race, but one of their cars ran out fuel and they had some technical problems, too. I think our reliability was just a little bit better and that made the difference. We won by two laps over the other Corvette, took our second straight win in the 64 and finished fifth overall. It was a great result with a new car in a new category.”

2006
Beretta, Gavin and Magnussen were victorious again in another tough Le Mans fight for Corvette Racing’s fifth Le Mans win and third in a row. The No. 64 Corvette C6.R finished fourth overall and won by five laps over the closest Aston Martin, which again was beset by mechanical problems late.

The two contenders ran within a lap of each other much of the race before Corvette Racing gained the advantage inside the final three hours.

Oliver Gavin: “It was an exceptionally hot year. The car was very quick. It was the second year against the Prodrive Aston Martins, and it was very close for a lot of it. They had three cars that were all very quick and very good. I think it was the Darren Turner car that was giving us the hardest race. It was super-tough. I think it was Jan who eventually got us into the lead with only a few hours to go. I also think that was the race where we were the highest a GT car has ever finished overall at Le Mans when we were fourth in our class. It was a great one and three in a row for the 64 Corvette – Jan, Olivier and myself. It was very special to get that win. Those are very fond memories, great times and brilliant racing. Prodrive was one of the best teams that we ever raced against, and the respect between the two teams was always very high. Those were very special times.”

2009
The end of the GT1 era saw Corvette Racing return to the top step of the Le Mans podium. O’Connell, Magnussen and Antonio Garcia – making his Corvette Le Mans debut – took victory in the No. 63 Corvette C6.R and won the class by six laps.

The race mainly was a fight between the two Corvette Racing entries. The No. 63 ran flawlessly throughout and never made a visit to the garage.

Antonio Garcia: “It was the first time I went to Le Mans as a Corvette driver, so that makes it a year to remember. The GT1 cars were really fun to drive. It was a nice to have a last chance to drive around Le Mans in a GT1 car before we moved on to the GT2. That’s always a good thing going around Le Mans. Everything you have available makes this track nicer and nicer. It was good to run there. From the next year onward, we lost quite a few seconds per lap. Even if now we are probably running faster than what GT1 used to be, it was cool to have that chance to run the GT1 Corvette around Le Mans for the final time.
“The race was pretty straight-forward. It was a classic 63 vs. 64 Corvette battle. I think the 64 ran into some issues with about one-third of the race to go. Up to that point, we were pretty close. Back then, there were no slow zones so at some point we lost one safety car train to the 64 so it was difficult to catch back up; it was pretty easy to fall down a third-of-a-lap. The whole race was a little like that. It was a good challenge to be there in those years… very special.”

2011
Chevrolet’s 100th anniversary year and the 10th anniversary of Corvette Racing’s first Le Mans win ended in fitting style with a drama-filled GTE Pro win for Beretta, Garcia and team newcomer Tommy Milner in the No. 73 Corvette C6.R. A methodical march up the standings culminated with Milner’s race-winning pass inside three hours to go to give Corvette Racing its seventh Le Mans victory.

Changing weather conditions inside the final three hours added to the challenge, but Milner remained unphased in the critical moments.

Tommy Milner: “We weren’t slow but we weren’t as fast as the other Corvette. They had a lap on the field basically and had an unfortunate accident. I think at that point we were sixth and maybe a half-lap behind the leader. As the race continued on, one by one our competitors were having trouble or slower stints and we made up some time. It looked like it was going to be hard to beat the Ferrari. But then suddenly they slowed considerably. The gap started to come down, then it would stabilize and then it would come down more. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. We thought maybe it was traffic at first but as time went, more often than not they were having some slow laps. I think I was finishing my second stint of a triple and slowly seeing the Ferrari down the Mulsanne Straight get closer, and then the next lap significantly closer and finally passing him after going down to Indianapolis. That is a moment I can remember pretty vividly. It was one of the easiest passes I’ve ever had to make in my career! I can remember getting out of the car and being physically and mentally drained from the experience. I was excited, for sure. It seemed like we were in good shape, and Antonio only had to drive for another hour-and-a-half to go to the end.
“That’s a dream come true… to start my career with Corvette Racing with a win like that at Le Mans. I don’t remember much about being on the podium. There was so much emotion of that race, the experience of it all and getting the win, you don’t remember hardly any of it. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it; I certainly did. But you don’t remember the little moments. Fortunately I had the chance to win it again in 2015 with the team and have that same experience again on the podium and to appreciate more the little nuances of being up there versus the first one where everything is a blur. It definitely was a great moment to be in the garage with my dad and to have him there to be a part of that was really, really cool.”

2015
Of all the Le Mans wins for Corvette Racing, the win in 2015 might be the special. Gavin, Milner and Jordan Taylor won in GTE Pro with the No. 64 Corvette C7.R only days after the sister car was withdrawn following a crash in qualifying.

Instead of folding, Corvette Racing marshaled all its effort around the remaining Corvette C7.R. The Gavin/Milner/Taylor trio moved from seventh to the start into the lead at the end during the sixth hour. The No. 64 won by five laps.

Jordan Taylor: “Winning the 2015 race was a super emotional week with our team car going out in qualifying. We entered the race with just one car, which was the first time in history for Corvette Racing at Le Mans. The pressure that everyone felt going into the race – not just the drivers but the crew, the engineers and everyone else on the team – was substantial. To come away with the win in those circumstances made it super emotional. Standing on the podium, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. That’s a huge motivator no matter who you are. The goal in sports car racing and almost any kind of in motorsports in general is to win Le Mans. To win with Chevrolet and Corvette Racing as an American driver doesn’t get any better than that.”

Corvette Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (wins in bold)
2000

No. 63 Corvette C5-R: Ron Fellows/Chris Kneifel/Justin Bell – 4th in GTS
No. 64 Corvette C5-R: Andy Pilgrim/Kelly Collins/Franck Freon – 3rd in GTS

2001
No. 63 Corvette C5-R: Ron Fellows/Johnny O’Connell/Scott Pruett – 1st in GTS
No. 64 Corvette C5-R: Andy Pilgrim/Kelly Collins/Franck Freon – 2nd in GTS

2002
No. 63 Corvette C5-R: Ron Fellows/Johnny O’Connell/Oliver Gavin – 1st in GTS
No. 64 Corvette C5-R: Andy Pilgrim/Kelly Collins/Franck Freon – 2nd in GTS

2003
No. 53 Corvette C5-R: Ron Fellows/Johnny O’Connell/Franck Freon – 3rd in GTS
No. 50 Corvette C5-R: Oliver Gavin/Kelly Collins/Andy Pilgrim – 2nd in GTS

2004
No. 63 Corvette C5-R: Ron Fellows/Johnny O’Connell/Max Papis – 2nd in GTS
No. 64 Corvette C5-R: Olivier Beretta/Oliver Gavin/Jan Magnussen – 1st in GTS

2005
No. 63 Corvette C6.R: Ron Fellows/Johnny O’Connell/Max Papis – 2nd in GT1
No. 64 Corvette C6.R: Olivier Beretta/Oliver Gavin/Jan Magnussen – 1st in GT1

2006
No. 63 Corvette C6.R: Ron Fellows/Johnny O’Connell/Max Papis – 7th in GT1
No. 64 Corvette C6.R: Olivier Beretta/Oliver Gavin/Jan Magnussen – 1st in GT1

2007
No. 63 Corvette C6.R: Ron Fellows/Johnny O’Connell/Jan Magnussen – 2nd in GT1
No. 64 Corvette C6.R: Olivier Beretta/Oliver Gavin/Max Papis – 14th in GT1

2008
No. 63 Corvette C6.R: Ron Fellows/Johnny O’Connell/Jan Magnussen – 2nd in GT1
No. 64 Corvette C6.R: Olivier Beretta/Oliver Gavin/Max Papis – 3rd in GT1

2009
No. 63 Corvette C6.R: Jan Magnussen/Johnny O’Connell/Antonio Garcia – 1st in GT1
No. 64 Corvette C6.R: Olivier Beretta/Oliver Gavin/Marcel Fässler – 4th in GT1

2010
No. 63 Corvette C6.R: Jan Magnussen/Johnny O’Connell/Antonio Garcia – 12th in GT2 (DNF)
No. 64 Corvette C6.R: Olivier Beretta/Oliver Gavin/Emmanuel Collard – 10th in GT2 (DNF)

2011
No. 73 Corvette C6.R: Olivier Beretta/Tommy Milner/Antonio Garcia – 1st in GTE Pro
No. 74 Corvette C6.R: Oliver Gavin/Jan Magnussen/Richard Westbrook – 14th in GTE Pro (DNF)

2012
No. 73 Corvette C6.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Jordan Taylor – 5th in GTE Pro
No. 74 Corvette C6.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Richard Westbrook – 6th in GTE Pro

2013
No. 73 Corvette C6.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Jordan Taylor – 4th in GTE Pro
No. 74 Corvette C6.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Richard Westbrook – 7th in GTE Pro

2014
No. 73 Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Jordan Taylor – 2nd in GTE Pro
No. 74 Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Richard Westbrook – 4th in GTE Pro

2015
No. 63 Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Ryan Briscoe – DNS (Qualifying crash)
No. 64 Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Jordan Taylor – 1st in GTE Pro

2016
No. 63 Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Ricky Taylor – 7th in GTE Pro
No. 64 Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Jordan Taylor – 10th in GTE Pro (DNF)

2017
No. 63 Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Jordan Taylor – 3rd in GTE Pro
No. 64 Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Marcel Fässler – 8th in GTLM

2018
No. 63 Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Mike Rockenfeller – 4th in GTE Pro
No. 64 Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Marcel Fässler – 15th in GTE Pro (DNF)

2019
No. 63 Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Mike Rockenfeller – 8th in GTE Pro
No. 64 Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Marcel Fässler – 16th in GTE Pro (DNF)