Image Credit: Richard Prince Photography
After an incident packed 24 hours, Oliver Gavin and his teammates, Tommy Milner and Simon Pagenaud took the #4 Corvette Racing C7.R to third in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class and eighth overall in the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
On Thursday, Gavin sealed an unexpected, but welcome GTLM class pole position in a closely-fought qualifying session. “We didn’t think we had the overall pace to get pole,” said Gavin. “I think it was just a perfect qualifying session.”
Come Saturday and with Gavin and his teammates on pole the green light signalled the beginning of a fierce sprint race-style battle at the head of GTLM, Gavin initially withstanding immense pressure from Bruni’s Ferrari 458 Italia.
Battle intensified as others entered the fray and, while Gavin temporarily relinquished first position, he pitted during the 47th minute and could be found back at the head of a Corvette Racing one-two after the first round of stops. Styggling for grip thereafter due to low tyre pressures and, not wanting to impede his teammate, he surrendered the lead, only to be tipped into a spin by an LMPC car as it recovered from an incident.
Fourth in class after a time loss of 15 seconds, Gavin handed the reins of the #4 C7.R to Milner as the third hour commenced and recapped on an eventful double stint by saying: “The car was pretty good but the circuit was treacherous. The first couple of laps, I don’t know how I kept it out of the wall. It was fun racing with Gimmi (Bruni), Jan, the Aston Martin and Porsche… we were really mixing it up. Things started to settle down a little more and I was able to retake the lead and get away. At the second restart, my front-right tyre pressure never came up, I started to struggle and let Jan go by, but a PC car went off and hit me as he re-joined, spinning me around. That was a shame.”
The race was going to plan for Corvette Racing and the experienced and highly skilled New Hudson-based team was back at the sharp end in GTLM as the sun rose over The Sunshine State, with Gavin back in the saddle and extending his advantage all the while.
A flawless and gritty run through the night preceded contact, which forced Gavin to make an unscheduled stop for repairs to front-left bodywork damage. A thorough job by the Corvette Racing mechanics saw the Englishman re-emerge in third, one lap down on the #3 C7.R and BMW Team RLL’s Bruno Spengler, although successive full-course yellows and plenty of committed driving enabled Gavin to get the #4 car back onto the lead lap.
The team also benefitted from the numerous full course cautions and with some exceptional work from the mechanics during scheduled pit stops, a fired up Gavin clawed his way back into second and set about reducing the ten-second deficit to the sister Corvette.
With four hours of the race remaining, Milner stepped into the breach for a double stint, followed by an appearance from Pagenaud, and the team was on course for victory. Sadly, the team’s luck did not hold and the #4 C7.R was back into the pits for a new front end following a collision, and the lengthy repairs left Milner and Pagenaud with it all to do, some four laps adrift of the leaders.
However, endurance racing is not about giving up and settling for ‘second best’ and with 90 minutes remaining and after a huge push from his teammates it was up to Gavin to carry the #4 machine to the finish. As spirited as Gavin remained there was little that could be done to salvage anything more than a third place result in the super-competitive GTLM division and eighth overall.
Reflecting on a trying race, Gavin said: “These 24-hour races can be brutal, both physically and mentally, and pretty much from the outset of this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, we had to win from the back foot. Corvette Racing did such a fantastic job to recover from disappointments and setbacks and get back into a winning position, only to face another obstacle. It’s great for the team that Jan (Magnussen), Ryan (Briscoe) and Antonio (Garcia) in the #3 car won the GTLM class and I’m delighted for them. It’s difficult to have put so much effort in, overcome so many hurdles and not to reap the rewards, but the team performed remarkably well to find solutions. There was so much wheel-to-wheel battles throughout – it was an amazing 24-hour sprint race – and I’m proud of my teammates Simon (Pagenaud) and Tommy (Milner), for doing a wonderful job behind the wheel. It’s been a tough day, but very rewarding.”