The ten-hour Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta traditionally brings down the curtain on the International Motor Sports Association’s (IMSA) prestigious WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. Corvette number 4 drivers Tommy Milner and Ollie Gavin headed into the final event needing to finish seventh or better in their Grand Touring Le Mans class to guarantee finishing the season ahead of the second-place number 67 Ford GT. Milner, Gavin, and the entire Corvette Racing crew kept their eyes on the prize and finished third – taking home the driver’s championship, the team championship for Corvette Racing, and the manufacturer’s championship for Chevrolet.
WeatherTech Sportscar Championship
IMSA’s WeatherTech Sportscar Championship is an eleven-race series hotly contested by some of the world’s best cars and drivers, at the best road racing tracks across the U.S. Four classes of cars compete on the track at the same time, including two classes of prototypes (cars that are specifically designed for racing) and two classes of Grand Touring cars, which are based on regular production cars. Corvette Racing competes in the Grand Touring Le Mans class, the faster of the two production classes. Points are awarded according to the order of finish for each class.
Most of the races are considered to be sprint races, usually lasting two hours and forty minutes. All cars are required to have at least two drivers, even for the sprint races. Four of the traditional races are endurance races, including the Rolex 24 at Daytona (24 hours), the Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Six Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen, and the Petit Le Mans (10 hours). Most teams use additional drivers for the endurance races. For Corvette racing, Mike Rockenfeller joins Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the number 3 Corvette, while Marcel Fassler races with Tommy Milner and Ollie Gavin in the number 4 car.
Petit Le Mans 2016
The race strategists for the number 4 Corvette had to walk a fine line between playing it too safe by lagging back, or being too aggressive, since all they really needed to do to win the driver’s championship was finish seventh or better. By being too passive, they could possibly miss their seventh-place finish, but with 38 cars on the track at the start, being overly aggressive could mean collisions and damage to the car. At the end of the day, the experience and professionalism of drivers Milner, Gavin, and Fassler kept the car near the front of the pack, even taking the lead a time or two, yet managed to bring it home in third place while avoiding any damage to the C7.R.
Things did not go quite as smoothly for the number 3 Corvette. Starting in P2 on the front row, Antonio Garcia kept the number 3 in the hunt, battling with Ferrari number 62 and Ford GT number 66 until the first round of scheduled pit stops for fuel, tires, and a driver change. Jan Magnussen took over the pilot’s seat and shortly after he returned to the track, the number 3 suffered a mechanical problem with the throttle and limped back into the pits.
After a quick inspection, the crew took the car behind the pit wall back to the garage to diagnose and fix the problem. Correcting the problem did not take long, but in the intensely fast world of endurance racing, no one waits for you. By the time Magnussen got back in the competition, he was four laps behind the leaders. In true Corvette Racing tradition, the drivers and crew of number 3 kept their heads down and pushed as hard as they could.
With great strategy, a little good fortune on the timing of full-course caution flags and some fantastic pit stops, number 3 recovered three of the lost laps. With a couple more caution flags, it might have been possible to get back on the same lap as the leaders, but it was not to be. No further caution flags flew and in the end, Corvette number 3 had to settle for a fourth-place finish.
Lady Luck ignores the Ford GT Championship contender
Although Richard Westbrook put his Ford GT number 67 on the GTLM pole, turning a qualifying lap of the 2.54 mile Road Atlanta circuit in one minute and 18.131 seconds at an average speed of 117 mph, Ford’s championship hopes were dashed by mechanical issues and contact with a competitor. In the early going, the Ford GT encountered a turbocharger issue, and a pit stop dropped them out of the lead. Later, contact with a competitor damaged one of the Ford’s doors, resulting in several pit stops before the problem was finally resolved. Drivers Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe, and Scott Dixon stayed on the attack and finished in seventh place.
The cars finishing ahead of the #4 Corvette were too far back in the championship standings to pose a threat to Corvette’s championships, but deserve a hearty congratulations for their great runs. The winning Ferrari number 62 driven by Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander, and James Calado had a flawless race. They qualified in third position and were rarely out of the top three for the entire ten hours. The Ford GT number 66 piloted by Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, and Sébastien Bourdais moved up from the sixth starting spot to finish in second place. Both teams deserve a big thumbs-up for their great efforts!
Congratulations to Corvette Racing
Our biggest thumbs-up, however, is reserved for Corvette Racing. In a year when Ford reentered the endurance racing scene with high-tech mid-engine cars, multiple top-notch drivers, endless publicity, and a seemingly unlimited budget, Corvette Racing and their faithful C7.Rs responded with four wins, two seconds, and a third – seven podium finishes – in eleven races to sweep the championship awards. This year’s Corvette Racing Team exhibited the dedication, focus, and tenacity that have been hallmarks of the team since it was formed in 1999. After a season of great competition and even greater results, we can’t wait for next year!
IMSA 2016 Media Guide – http://multimedia.netstorage.imsa.com/2016Website/IMSA_2016MediaGuide_WT.pdf
Corvsport Blogspot – https://corvsportblogger.com/2016/09/28/corvette-racing-at-road-atlanta-racing-toward-gtlm-championships/
Corvette Racing Team History – http://www.corvetteracing.com/results/
IMSA Timing Results – http://results.imsa.com/
All photos by: Photos by Richard Prince for Chevy Racing