Pretty much everything that could go right did for Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and the Corvette Racing team in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
The duo won their second driving title as a pair, having also done so in 2012 in the American Le Mans Series’ GT class.
Chevrolet won the GT Le Mans manufacturer’s championship (its 11th as a brand), Corvette Racing won the team title and then all three entities won their respective titles in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.
“We’ve done it all!” Gavin, co-driver of the No. 4 Corvette C7.R exclaimed after another podium finish in Saturday night’s Petit Le Mans to cap off the campaign.
It was the No. 4 car’s seventh podium finish of the year and perhaps the most surprising after a weekend pace deficit – however slightly – to the rival Ford GT from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, which ultimately won the day.
They duo even survived their third driver Marcel Fassler running into a sign, not for the first time this year, which has become an inadvertent good luck charm.
“It was a bit of a roller coaster race for us,” Gavin explained. “It was something where we had our mind on winning the championship and the way everything turned out with 67 (the Ford of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe), and that got taken care of, so we had to switch to win the race!
“Yeah he did,” Gavin added of Fassler hitting a sign in Turn 1. “But that’s a good luck charm! At Sebring he hit a sign and we won… and Daytona he blew the stop sign at the end of the pit lane. So that’s kind of a standard thing for Marcel.
“It was tough and aggressive out there. Traffic was crazy and wild at times. But it was an immensely enjoyable day. Ultimately we came away winning the championship, so my second one with Tommy and it’s pretty special.”
Milner then served to look back at the year at large. The seven podiums featured four wins – each of them special.
Gavin delivered one of the all-time greatest finishes in sports car history in the season opener when he edged the sister car driven by Antonio Garcia by just 0.034 of a second, a Rolex 24 at Daytona record.
Then the trio followed it up for the team’s second consecutive “36 Hours of Florida” sweep by winning the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March.
In July at Lime Rock Park, Gavin brought home the 100th win for the Corvette Racing program, for a team that has won races stretching back more than 15 years.
And then two weeks later in the next race at Road America, Milner put in the comeback of his life to launch from fifth to first in the final laps to steal a shock win there, and one that hugely swung the momentum of the GTLM championship for the year as Ford had dominated the midsummer stretch.
“You look at the year, and we ticked the big boxes – you always want to win Daytona and Sebring. But Le Mans was a bit of a low point,” Milner said.
“Still, at that point, we were still at 99 wins for the team, and it’s one of those things we didn’t talk about it much. But deep down – whether it was me and Olly, Jan (Magnussen) or Antonio, we wanted to be in the car to get the 100th.
“It was one of the craziest races in my life at Elkhart Lake to get the win there. I compare it to as a kid playing baseball, in the bottom of the ninth, the bases loaded and you hit the home run. That’s the best way to compare it.”
The Corvette team won five races out of 11 in class, with the Garcia/Magnussen car having won at VIRginia International Raceway.
That led the class as Ford won three times, Porsche twice, and Ferrari once. BMW was the only full-season manufacturer in GTLM that did not get on the scoreboard.
It was a banner year with only the Le Mans disappointment – Ford and Ferrari had the field covered on pace and the dreaded Balance of Performance – serving as a downside compared to the rest of the year.
“Road Atlanta was like a lot of races this year, where it just worked out in our favor,” Milner said.