Saturday was a very good day for Chevrolet and the Corvette brand in particular. The godfather of Corvette–Zora Arkus Duntov–must have been looking down from Corvette heaven with a massive smile on his face as, for the first time in 50 years, a Chevrolet powered car won overall at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
The last time a Chevy power plant won was in 1965 in back of the Chaparral 2 and this was mated to a 2-speed automatic gearbox! Consequently the actual car that won in 1965 ran some demonstration laps before the race and on Friday in the hands of Jim Hall II the son of Jim Hall who won in 1965 with Hap Sharp.
The 2015 edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring did not look promising for Corvette in either the Daytona Prototype or GT Le Mans Class as the best they could muster in qualifying was 3rd in both classes. The Krohn Racing Ligier took the overall pole and a pair of Porsches headed the GTLM Class from the #3 Corvette, the #4 Corvette could only manage 7th place, about 6/10ths of a second behind the #3.
The race was so much better than the 2014 edition. The phrase “less is more” seemed appropriate as–although there were significantly less cars competing compared with the inaugural Sebring run under the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship banner–the racing was much better and there were far fewer full course caution periods.
The GTLM category was as competitive as usual with both factory Porsches, the Falken Porsche, the Risi Ferrari, both BMWs and both Corvette all putting in strong performances especially in the first half of the race. To illustrate this point, the top seven cars were all still on the same lap at the halfway point.
The only cars to have had issues were the #98 Aston Martin who lost a wheel just after a pit stop and the #25 BMW which broke its front suspension but both these cars were still running just off of the pace.
At nine hours the story was pretty much the same, all three Porsches were running in the top 4 the #3 Corvette was third but again the top seven were still all together, with a shot at the class victory. The first to blink was the #4 Corvette with Olly Gavin at the wheel which had a long, lazy spin approaching Turn 3, but it appeared to be driver error as the car got going again immediately without the need for a Full Course Caution.
Later it turned out it wasn’t driver error, but an issue with the pedal box which re-occurred after Olly pitted the car to investigate. The second time, again it happened at Turn 3 and this time it did require a Full Course Caution to recover the car. Down to six for the win.
During the 11th hour it appeared that the #62 Risi Ferrari was making a charge for the win and pushed the #3 Corvette down to fourth place in class. The #911 and #912 Porsches were still leading and looked unstoppable for the victory. However, the race is 12 Hours not 11, and the class leading #912 had a lengthy pit stop for a problem with the left rear hub. It appeared that the crew could not get the wheel to seat correctly.
A second pit stop confirmed that the #912 was out of contention, the #62 Ferrari then slowed with overheating issues and the #911 Porsche was struck by a late race gearbox problem allowing Antonio Garcia to guide the #3 Corvette C7.R to a second victory of the season and a 9th class victory for Corvette Racing since 2002.
In the Daytona Prototype Class The #57 Krohn Racing Ligier led away from pole position and in the early stages of the race was able to pull a gap on the rest of the field, however they lost the lead at the first round of fuel stops and were never really a factor again after that.
The defending #01 Target Chip Ganassi Ford Powered Riley was really the only car that looked like it could challenge the Corvettes for the victory as it led at the hallway stage of the race. The Wayne Taylor Racing #10 Corvette DP having had to change brakes early in the race, fought their way back through the field and due to fantastic stints by all the drivers took second place overall.
The #90 Visit Florida Corvette DP took third place when Richard Westbrook managed a late race pass on the #01 car. The 9th hour of the race saw the crucial move as the #5 Action Express Corvette managed to put themselves a whole lap ahead of the rest of the field, thanks to great pace and an extended period of green flag racing. From that point on it was a case of driving the car fast but not pushing it and Joao Barbosa brought the car home to record a clean sweep of the overall podium for Chevrolet and Corvette.
With the GTLM victory for the #3 Corvette as well this was a special race for all associated with the Corvette brand.