Photo courtesy of IMSA

Corvette Racing building for Rolex 24 three-peat at 2017 Roar

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While racing other teams is one thing, racing teammates can oftentimes be more rewarding – or frustrating.

Such was the case for Corvette Racing’s two cars in last year’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.

When the checkered flag fell, the two cars finished 1-2 in GT Le Mans (GTLM) competition, with the No. 4 team of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler earning a 0.034-second win – the closest finish in Rolex 24 history (including all classes).

Coming in a close second was the No. 3 team of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller. Garcia and Magnussen were part of the class-winning Corvette in the 2015 Rolex, meaning Corvette Racing is now going for three in a row in sports car racing’s most prestigious race later this month.

Both Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs are back this year – and with the same intent in mind in the Rolex 24 later this month: to beat the other, as well as all the other teams that will be participating.

To see what they have collectively, both teams will be taking part in this weekend’s three-day Roar Before The 24 at DIS.

“We’ve been able to accomplish a lot in our testing in October through December, which will bode well for how we approach the Roar,” Gavin said in a release. “We know how well the Corvette C7.R works at Daytona so we’re heading there with a lot of confidence.”

Added Milner, “The performance of Corvette Racing last year was outstanding, and that is evident by the success we enjoyed. In this class, you have to keep striving to maximize every opportunity you can. That’s why the Roar is so important if we want to continue last year’s momentum into another strong Rolex 24.”

Winning last year’s Rolex 24 was like a rocket being launched from nearby Cape Canaveral. Not only was it the first Rolex win for all three drivers, they moved on to win the next race, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

In addition, the team went on to capture checkered flags at Lime Rock and Road America to ultimately lead Gavin and Milner to the 2016 GTLM Driver’s Championship, as well as lead Chevrolet to win the Manufacturer’s title.

“Everything seems very positive going into the Roar,” Fassler said. “We saw last year how important it is to turn lots of laps in order to arrive at a good baseline for the race. We are of course hoping to repeat that again.”

That won’t be the case if Garcia has anything to say about it. He gave Gavin all he could handle in the closing laps of last year’s Rolex and definitely wants to see that outcome turn out differently in 2017.

“I feel like we are very well prepared for this year’s Roar at Daytona,” Garcia said. “Corvette Racing has won the last two years there in GTLM and the nature of the track seems to be very good for us. This is an important three days coming up with not a lot of time for any other big changes to the car once we return for the race. The goal is to leave the Roar with a good plan and setup for the Rolex 24.”

The Rolex 24 – and the Roar – are integral parts to Corvette Racing’s legacy. The team’s first-ever race came in the 1999 Rolex and has gone on to compete in 170 events worldwide – with 102 victories, including five in 2016. Corvette Racing also has earned 11 Manufacturer and Team championships in the American Le Mans Series and WeatherTech Championship, three overall wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and eight wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“At this point, the guys are totally motivated an anxious to get back on the track to defend all our 2016 championships,” Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan said. “I have a feeling that 2017 is going to be the best year of competition yet in GTLM!”

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Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.