What a race! 24-hours of non-stop action from the drop of the first green flag until the drop of the checkered 24-hours later.
The first round of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship for 2015 the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona took place over the weekend in Florida at the Daytona International Speedway. In the GTLM Class the weekend had started with a rare pole position for the Corvette Racing team. The pole position was a real team effort in that during the 15-minute qualifying period on the Thursday before the race Oliver Gavin in the #4 managed to get a tow around the all important high speed banking part of the circuit from team mate Jan Magnussen in the #3 Corvette C7.R.
In NASCAR terms, the drafting of the #4 by the #3 gave Oliver that crucial advantage of the hole in the air which allowed Olly to set the pole time of 1:43.488 more than 0.3 seconds faster than the #51 Ferrari which was second in the GTLM Class. Jan Magnussen took fifth place with a time of 1:43.976. All ten cars in the GTLM Class took positions 25 through 34 in the overall qualification and were separated by just 1.3-seconds.
The Rolex 24 Hours race started Saturday at 2.10pm as the pace car pulled off and the new for 2015 two parts of the field were released. The field was split by a 200 yard gap with the front two prototype classes ahead of the two GT classes this was a new innovation for 2015. The second pack was controlled brilliantly by Oliver Gavin in the #4 Corvette C7.R as he made his way around to the start finish line. Once released the GTLM battle was intense for all 24 Hours, as with the DP Class the list of contenders slowly reduced through mechanical failures and accident damage.
Olly Gavin led the first lap and Jan Magnussen starting in the #3 Corvette quickly got his car up to third place. The first of countless lead changes in the GTLM Class took place when the #51 Ferrari got around Olly Gavin at the International Horseshoe, the first loop of the infield section of the track on the second lap. Olly soon regained the lead as the Ferrari had taken the lead at the expense of preserving its tires for the full length of the stint. All of the competitors in the class seemed to be very evenly matched and the race was literally a 24-hour sprint with none of the drivers being able to relax at all when behind the wheel except during the caution periods.
The two Corvette C7.Rs were running 1-2 for much of the race once it settled down and with points for the North American Endurance Cup being awarded at the 6,12,18 and 24-hour marks. Both cars are in a great position for the four endurance race, season long championship within the full season Tudor United Sportscar Championship. The #4 Corvette C7.R with Olly Gavin at the wheel hit one of the slower LMPC cars at a re-start following one of the caution periods at about the 20-hour mark. This caused the bodywork to be displaced which meant it was rubbing on the left front tire so Olly had to pit to get it fixed dropping the car off of the lead lap.
A little later on Sunday morning when Tommy Milner was in the car, a similar problem occurred at exactly the same corner on the track when one of the slower DP cars spun up its tires in front of Tommy which meant Tommy had nowhere to go, thus hitting the other front corner of the #4 Corvette C7.R. Further repairs were needed and the car returned to the race but four laps down with a little over three-hours to go. The #4 managed to hang on and took third place in the GTLM Class as the Rolex struck 24-hours.
We spoke to Oliver Gavin briefly after the race and although disappointed that they couldn’t compete for the race victory, he admitted to me that the car was unlikely to have been able to challenge for the win as the car was suffering from electrical problems. The new third driver for the #4 Corvette C7.R is Frenchman Simon Pagenaud and having had the opportunity to speak with him over the weekend, he seems like a fantastic addition to the Corvette Racing family of drivers.
The problems for the #4 Corvette C7.R meant the race victory would now go to the final two contenders in the GTLM Class the white #25 BMW Z4 and the #3 Corvette C7.R. The BMW at one point in the final two-hours gained a 16-second lead over the Corvette as the result of a faster pit stop.
Having been off track at the bus stop and dislodging the rear bumper cover the car was losing down force and therefore grip. Hence the Corvette was able to reel the BMW back in while further caution periods also helped to bunch up the field again. The Corvette was obviously faster than the BMW and managed to re-take the GTLM Class lead.
The #3 Corvette C7.R crossed the line to take the victory at Daytona, marking a first for Corvette Racing since their overall race victory at the track with the venerable C5.R back in 2001. The winning margin was less than a half-second from the BMW at the end of the grueling 24-hour race of hard and extremely fast racing.
All three drivers in the #3 Corvette C7.R, Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ryan Briscoe drove fast and clean throughout the entire event. Although the car was filthy by the time it took the chequered flag there was not a mark on it from contact, a real testament to the skills of these three drivers.
Being at Daytona to personally witness the victory was fantastic, especially having missed out on the 2001 race win, it made this event all the more special