Team Corvette’s GT1 signs off with a win
Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta left their stamp on the American Le Mans Series record book with a victory in Corvette Racing’s final GT1 race in the series. The three-time Corvette GT1 champions had a trouble-free run in the 100-minute Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach in their No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R. Beretta extended his record for ALMS victories with his 41st career win, while Gavin notched his 32nd ALMS victory. With a total of 73 wins, the pair is the most successful driving duo in ALMS history.
The streets of Long Beach turned mean for the sister No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R of Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen. O’Connell passed Beretta, the GT1 polesitter, on the first lap of green-flag racing, but had to make an unscheduled pit stop at 18 minutes into the race to replace a punctured tire, surrendering the lead. With fresh medium-compound Michelin tires on his Corvette C6.R, O’Connell was steadily cutting into Beretta’s advantage. The No. 4 Corvette made its scheduled pit stop at the 41-minute mark for tires and fuel, with Gavin replacing Beretta. With the race leader between the two cars, a safety car period could have dramatically changed the complexion of the race -- but then a drivetrain problem stopped the No. 3 Corvette on the course after 58 minutes of racing. The race ended under caution with Gavin and Beretta completing 73 laps and finishing sixth overall behind five prototypes.
“When I woke up this morning, I said I want to win the race, I want to stay out of trouble, and I want to have no mechanical problems,” Beretta said. “All three came true today.
“Racing Johnny was a lot of fun,” Beretta recalled. “I was pushing hard, and seemed to have an advantage in the braking zones, but as everyone knows, Long Beach has hard concrete walls and I could not overtake him. I tried to stay out of trouble because the main targets today were to win the race and to keep both cars in good condition to take to Le Mans. We could not afford to make any mistakes.”
The misfortune that stalked Beretta and Gavin last season befell their teammates today.
“Those opening laps show just how hard we race at Corvette Racing,” O’Connell said. “Olivier had a bit of a bobble and I got by him. I was just trying to control the pace; I knew where he was stronger and was just managing things to keep him behind me. Then he had a big moment in a corner and that opened a nice gap. Suddenly I got a low tire pressure alarm, and had to pit for tires. I felt our pace was good and everything was going great for the No. 3 Corvette, but then coming out of the hairpin something in the driveline broke.
“You don’t want to end the last ALMS GT1 race being towed in, but the Corvette Racing team gave me a very sweet race car,” O’Connell continued. “The number of problems we’ve had is so incredibly small, I’d much rather have an issue today and then go to Le Mans and win that one. That’s what we’re really thinking about.”
With the No. 3 Corvette C6.R on the sidelines, Gavin had an uncontested run to the checkered flag.
“It was shaping up to be a great race at the end,” said the Briton. “They’d had some misfortune at the start with a puncture, and then switched tires. Olivier was having real problems on the softer tire, and Johnny was catching him on the medium compound. We then switched to that tire and it was obviously the right move for these warm conditions. The car was fantastic from then onwards. After they had a mechanical issue, it was just a matter of being smart, hitting my marks, being mindful of the prototypes, and trying to pick my way through the GT2 cars sensibly.
“Although this is our last ALMS GT1 race, it isn’t the last hurrah for the GT1 Corvettes,” Gavin noted. “We still have unfinished business in Le Mans.”
Jan Magnussen was ready to take over the No. 3 Corvette C6.R when it slowed on the course, denying the Dane the opportunity to compete in the ALMS GT1 class for one last time.
“This isn’t the way we wanted to end the GT1 program, and these things don’t happen very often for us,” said Magnussen. “To be completely honest, I don’t mind it so much here as long as we don’t have any problems at Le Mans. Johnny did a fantastic job, he raced really hard and was absolutely mega.
“We’ll come back at Le Mans strong and reliable. Finishing off a decade with this car with everyone involved in the program at Corvette Racing, Chevrolet, Compuware, Michelin, and Katech, we owe them a big thanks.”
For Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan, the end of the GT1 era in ALMS was a bittersweet experience.
“This was not exactly the conclusion we had hoped for, but it shows how much luck plays a role in racing,” Fehan said. “Regardless of what the problem might be, the positive side is that we’re going to go back and learn from it, and that’s what has made Corvette Racing a great team. We try to turn every adversity into opportunity.
“When you compress almost 11 years of racing memories, with so many highs and lows, so many victories and so much success, it’s really difficult to choose between them. It’s been a great run for the Corvettes in GT1, and we have one more to go – it’s going to be a great 24 Hours of Le Mans, and we are tuned up and ready to go.”