ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen managed to hold onto an increasingly shrinking lead in their GT Le Mans (GTLM) Driver’s Championship Sunday with a fourth-place finish at Road America in the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase. The Number 3 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C7.R still holds an eight point lead while only three rounds remain for the GTLM Championship.
In what is the classic Chevrolet vs. Ford rivalry, The Ford GT of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller closed it’s gap on the Championship lead with the win at the historic 4.048-mile, 14-turn Road America circuit. Corvette Racing is a three-time winner this year in GTLM and has won seven times at Road America, including the 2016 race. The Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs have been showing excellent pace — and giving the Corvettes a real run for their money.
An early strategic call and some late-race luck propelled the No. 3 Corvette C7.R from eighth at the start to just off the podium in the seventh GTLM round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
According to Number 3 Corvette driver Antonio Garcia, “Knowing what the pace was and our starting position, we had nothing to lose. That’s why we went off-sequence on our first stop. The only thing we could do is keep pushing. We needed some help from a full-course yellow, otherwise our last stop was going to be longer than others. Another great call by Corvette Racing put us fourth after the last stop.
The Corvette was good and improving, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with the rest of our competitors. I did make a mistake into Turn One with the No. 911; I didn’t see him go back across the track and maybe I caught him out by braking a little too soon. I maybe moved a half-meter to the left and didn’t see him.
For sure it wasn’t on purpose. For sure I’m frustrated with our pace over the last few races. We are having to fight from the back the whole time. Today was good for the points but we definitely deserve more.”
Oliver Gavin qualified the No. 4 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C7.R seventh at 2:03.358 (118.134 mph), just ahead of Jan Magnussen and the No. 3 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C7.R at 2:03.581 (117.920 mph).
Saturday’s qualifying results weren’t unlike last year’s qualifying efforts – sixth and seventh – but Gavin and Tommy Milner parlayed a seventh-place starting position to a dramatic victory on their way to the GTLM Championship.
Jan Magnussen remains positive, but is clearly anxious. “Up until halfway through the race, the No. 3 Corvette hadn’t been working and we were pretty far off. We managed to turn things in the race and produce some decent pace. Although fourth place came due to the misfortune of others, we still have the championship lead. But we need to stop finishing fourth and start getting back on the podium. We need a win or two by the end of the year.”
Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner were fifth in their No. 4 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C7.R despite late-race contact that sent Milner off track on the final lap. The No. 4 Corvette had stayed on the same pit strategy as the lead cars and Milner fought a hard battle to keep BMW’s Alexander Sims at bay for fourth, but at the entry to turn three on the final lap, Sims made a diving, desperate move for position and the two cars came together, forcing the Corvette into the grass and causing heavy damage to the BMW. This promoted Garcia to fourth, capturing valuable, needed points.
“All weekend we have been missing a bit of pace,” said Tommy Milner. Even at the end, we didn’t have enough to run with the top three cars. These days it’s all about points and getting as much as we can for Chevy and the team. I did the best I could at the end keeping up with the Fords but they kept getting away. I had a big fight with the 25 BMW at the end; he was definitely quicker than I was but I did whatever I could keep him behind me. Once he caught up to me, it was difficult for him to get by.
The last two laps were good fun. I was struggling with tires toward the end and he was on newer ones. Unfortunately we came together in Turn Three. I gave him some room but it wasn’t enough. It worked out OK for us in the end. We finished ahead of them after all and the No. 3 Corvette got good points. Overall on the weekend, if you would have told us we would finish fourth and fifth after qualifying, we would have signed up for that right away. But it is frustrating to be in there with a chance at the end and see your competition just drive away.”
Corvette Racing Program manager, Doug Fehan offered his take of the event with excitement, “Qualifying seventh and eighth – and two seconds off the pole-winning pace – would normally not bode well for a points-achieving endeavor.
Once again, Corvette Racing defied the odds and captured valued championship points by finishing fourth and fifth. The early fuel-stop strategy implemented by the No. 3 Corvette engineers yielded incredible results and the late-race driving by Tommy in the No. 4 Corvette brought everything together.
As usual, it came down to the last lap and the team was fully prepared to take advantage of every opportunity. An amazing finish!”
The two Corvettes qualified seventh and eighth, but the No. 3 Corvette went on an alternate pit strategy early following a full-course caution 15 minutes into the race. The strategy paid off with three yellow-flag periods in the final hour, which allowed the No. 3 Corvette to gain two positions in the pitlane with 45 minutes to go.
Olivier Gavin offered his take on the race, “In my stint, it was a big struggle with our early pace but we kept chasing the track conditions to the end. The team made a great effort to get us in a position to challenge for fourth late.
Tommy did a great job but we ended up with contact on the last lap at Turn Three that knocked Tommy off the track. But fifth place at the end was a good recovery for us. We’ll move on to VIR, and hopefully we can end up there with a good race without damage or an incident.
We just really want a clean, straight-forward, fast race where we are competitive and fighting. It’s not been like that this year for Tommy and me in so many races. We feel like we are due.”
Corvette Racing’s next event is the Michelin GT Challenge at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) on Sunday, Aug. 27. According to Number 3 Corvette Crew chief Dan Binks, the VIR race could be a challenging crash-fest: “VIR ends up being a demo derby. We changed three noses in one race.”