With Corvette Racing having a stellar start to their season, no one could have expected the less than ideal finishing places the team ended up with at the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend. Unfortunately, things happen, and the result on Sunday was a disappointing five-six finish for the American sports car team. One thing the team did have going for them, however, was that both cars were actually on the track at the finish of the grueling race.
Everything started out great for Corvette Racing. Having secured third and fifth place starting positions at Friday’s qualifying sessions, both the No. 73 and No. 74 Compuware Corvettes moved up the field by the six-hour mark of the challenging endurance race, putting the No. 74 car driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook in first and the No. 73 car driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor in fourth. Although drivers of the No. 73 had to battle a few handling problems initially, which dropped them back into the seventh place position, the team rebounded and sat pretty at the end of the first quarter of the race.
Unfortunately, Corvette Racing’s fate changed by the 12-hour mark. Ten hours in, the Corvettes were sitting in first and third place positions with Tommy Milner extending the No. 74 car’s lead on the second-place No. 51 Ferrari by more than 50 seconds. After pitting, things went downhill, however, with the No. 74 C6.R losing its left rear wheel with Westbrook driving. Westbrook limped the car back to the pits where the missing wheel was replaced and the diffuser fixed.
Ten minutes later, the car was back on the track but not without trading its first-place position for sixth. The No. 74 Corvette’s misfortune continued from there with Westbrook tagging a tire barrier in the first chicane of the Mulsanne Straight while taking evasive action to avoid hitting another racer. That run-in severely damaged the car’s noise and gearbox, requiring a lengthy stay in the garage while repairs were made. The No. 73 car maintained its third-place position through the 12th hour while the No. 74 car moved even further down in the field to eighth place.
With just six hours of racing left, Corvette Racing was still battling problems. Aftereffects of issues and accidents with the No. 74 C6.R resulted in numerous garage visits, while a continuing handling issue put the No. 73 C6.R into the garage to replace the steering rack.
By the 18-hour mark, the No. 74 car had been virtually rebuilt, with drivetrain, diffuser, floor and uprights work having taken place. All that work went unrewarded as the next hour brought more bad news for the car, which had a run-in with an Audi prototype and a spin-out which resulted in damage to the rear body work, suspension cradle, dry sump tank and air conditioning. Luckily, as more and more teams encountered problems of their own, Corvette Racing’s luck started to look up, and the team was holding fifth and sixth place positions.
At the end of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Corvette Racing still maintained their fifth and sixth place positions, with the No. 73 car finishing just one car ahead of sister No.74 C6.R. Continuing problems plagued the team in their finals hours as the No. 73 car made a few more trips to the pits for an alternator replacement and battery swaps. The damage that occurred to the No. 74 car during its spin-out in the Porsche Curves in the 18th hour resulted in a 2 hour and 12 minute pit stop to rebuild the back half of the vehicle. Since there was no chance of moving up in position, the car was held in the garage until there was only 40 minutes left in the race.
Magnussen drove the No.73 C6.R to the checkered flag for its fifth-place finish with 326 laps completed. Gavin drove the No. 74 across the line in sixth place with just 215 laps completed, although the finish wasn’t classified due to failure by the car to complete its minimum race distance. The GTE Pro class winning No. 51 Ferrari had a three lap lead over the second-place finisher with 336 laps completed.
“Sometimes in motorsports, the greatest battles that are waged are not against a competitor, but rather against the challenges that one faces,” Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing Program Manager said in the Corvette Racing 24-hour update. “Today was one of those days for both the No. 73 and No. 74 Corvettes. When we got to the 12-hour mark, it became clear that it would be difficult to leave Le Mans with a victory. At that point we engaged the enemy head on, which was adversity. I think by any measure, anyone who watched this event saw us emerge victorious against that enemy as we brought both cars home once again to a finish in one of the most brutal, hard-fought battles in our Le Mans history. I think we can all be proud of the passion, the dedication, and that never-say-die attitude of Corvette Racing. Hopefully, our fans enjoyed every minute of it.”
The troubles faced by Corvette Racing over the weekend and the resulting consequences are disappointing but unfortunately a part of racing. Corvette Racing will be back in the United States for the next race in the Le Mans Series July 6th and 7th with hopefully better luck.