corvette racing

All photos: Richard Prince/Chevrolet

Garcia: Sebring win a ‘dream turnaround’ for No. 3 Corvette team

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Since Ford Chip Ganassi Racing brought the GT into its parallel IMSA and FIA WEC programs starting last year, it’s had strength in numbers against the two Corvette Racing Corvette C7.Rs.

And Saturday at this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was to prove no exception, with three Ford GTs entered against the pair of Corvettes, with that yellow number then reduced to just one early on with a water temperature issue taking the No. 4 car out of the race.

All it did was set the stage for a dramatic toppling by Corvette over Ford that wasn’t in the pre-race script, authored in large part by a “superhuman” stint from Antonio Garcia in the team’s No. 3 Corvette C7.R and an outstanding effort in the pits from the Dan Binks-led crew.

“I have to give most of the credit to Antonio. That was a Superman drive,” said Jan Magnussen, who along with Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller co-drove the No. 3 Corvette to the GT Le Mans class victory. “It was a lot longer in the car than any one of us would want! As the sun went down and track cooled off, we picked up some pace, and Antonio made the most of it.”

Corvette Racing; Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring; Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida; March 18, 2017; C7.R #3 driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller; C7.R #4 driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler (Richard Prince/Chevrolet photo).

So how did the “King of Spain” earn this crown? It all boiled down a fascinating few hours of the race as the sun set.

With two hours and 27 minutes remaining in the 12-hour race, the No. 3 car ran fifth. Garcia had taken the reins of the car over from Magnussen with two hours and 53 minutes remaining in the race; a time frame with just enough of a window where the “King of Spain” could drive to the finish without the need for another driver change. The maximum drive time limit is four in six hours, and seven hours total.

The team had been caught out by a yellow flag earlier in the race that required both an emergency fuel stop and a subsequent full stop not much later, which required the comeback to begin with.

Alas, what went down in those final 150 minutes of the 12-hour race will enter Sebring and Corvette Racing lore. With a car that was better suited for the cooler nighttime conditions at Sebring, with the ambient and track temperatures both dropping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, Garcia was unleashed to the field. Teammate Tommy Milner, who’d been in the No. 4 car but was resigned to being a spectator, and the official IMSA Twitter account called attention to what was to come.

Garcia restarted fifth behind the three Ford GTs, which ran 1-2-3, and James Calado in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE.

Over the next 16 minutes and 10 laps, Garcia made three of the most incredible passes of the race on Calado in the Ferrari, then Olivier Pla and Scott Dixon in the Nos. 68 and 67 Fords.

Garcia recalled the dynamic driving on track with a simple calm serenity after the fact.

“I had 10 laps to figure out where I could follow them, or determine the speed I could produce to get ahead of them,” Garcia told NBC Sports. “I had Dixon I think seven, eight or nine seconds up the road, and then Calado in the Ferrari a bit further away. In those 10 laps my engineer told me the pace I was carrying. Whenever the yellow came, all three Fords stayed out, I knew when green I had to make the moves as soon as possible. I knew the pace was there. They struggled on cold tires. I made the moves on Ferrari in two laps, then got behind the three Fords and went after them.”

Corvette Racing; Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring; Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida; March 18, 2017; C7.R #3 driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller; C7.R #4 driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler (Richard Prince/Chevrolet photo).

Strategy and great pit work from there got Garcia past the No. 66 Ford into the lead. He’d got up to second on track and then once the next round of pit stops happened occurred, under green, he’d leap frog the field to where he had 10 seconds in hand over the No. 66 Ford with an hour, 40 minutes or so remaining.

“Everyone on the crew is part of the plan, and you need to maximize that part of it,” Garcia explained. “I figured out we were good the first five laps of every stint, with the cold tire temperature. We had a little advantage there between that and our pit crew. We still didn’t make it to pass (the Ford) on track. But to know you have that feeling, you can do your strategy towards to the end of the race and the tire change won’t slow it down.”

With just over an hour remaining though the epic previous stint on track came into doubt again. Garcia had toppled the Fords on strategy but then had to deal with Patrick Pilet’s No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, which was flying. Pilet had dispatched of Joey Hand in the Ford, and gained two to three tenths per lap on Garcia within a three-lap period.

But a left front puncture from debris ended Pilet’s charge and helped Garcia through to the finish. Although this denied a potentially epic scrap between the two cars, Garcia said he would have relished the challenge.

“With the Porsche it might have been a bit of a ‘COTA race,’ but I’d seen a few laps of their race, and I had the Porsche two to three tenths behind me. I think I was still picking up the pace. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been easy for him to pass me anyway!” Garcia laughed.

Corvette Racing; Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring; Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida; March 18, 2017; C7.R #3 driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller; C7.R #4 driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler (Richard Prince/Chevrolet photo).

The aforementioned ‘COTA race’ Garcia brought up was in 2013, in a similar-type scenario where his Corvette didn’t have the outright pace of cars behind him – at the time a Dodge Viper SRT GTS-R and BMW Z4 GTE – but held them off with better racecraft in the 2013 American Le Mans Series race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

This race ranked right up there as a time when Corvette also won in the face of adversity, and with a pace deficit to the competition. Garcia said this was similar to that day in 2013, but not entirely.

“It was similar, but it wasn’t!” he said. “At COTA, I couldn’t perform the pace the others were doing. This one, I could. I still don’t know how I did it. But I had the pace to stay ahead.

“From the last three hours in the car, I was so happy with the moves I made on both the Fords and the Ferrari to clear them very fast. I knew it had to be done if I wanted to have any chance of winning this race. Once the team put me in advantage, track-position wise, I just worked ahead.

“COTA, it 100 percent was defensive mode, while this was offensive mode. I charged all I had, instead of defending. The gap between us and the Ford was going up, one and two tenths per lap, and I kept it going 100 percent. I survived and let him kill the tires!”

Garcia said this was a magical win for him in his Corvette Racing career, his eighth with Magnussen under the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship banner since the series merged in 2014 and first since a dominant performance last August at Virginia International Raceway. Corvette seems to have a knack where when one car goes out or doesn’t start, the other seems to pick up the slack.

“As a driver, for us as the 3 car, it’s a dream turnaround basically,” he said. “We were coming from last year’s crash at Sebring. We finally won at VIR when we dominated. Then it was a little bit frustrating leading twice at Daytona last month and not being able to do anything to keep them behind us.

“Halfway through the race here, we didn’t expect to have the pace to really win this race. But as we always say, between the drivers and our engineer, we need to do 100 percent and see if it’s enough or not. That was a perfect boost for the 3 car and for the race overall.

“It’s just how Corvette Racing reacts to trouble. Instead of everyone getting upset and it feels like it goes the other way, it pushes the other car forward.”

Garcia’s heroics deliver Corvette third straight Sebring, denies Ford

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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SEBRING, Fla. – Antonio Garcia is nicknamed the “King of Spain.” He earned his crown today.

The Spaniard put in arguably the drive of his career via a mix of speed, determination and strategy to get around the faster Fords and Porsches in front of him, to help Corvette Racing to its third consecutive GT Le Mans class victory in the 65th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

He shared the No. 3 Corvette C7.R with full-season co-driver Jan Magnussen and third driver Mike Rockenfeller.

A late charge from Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, the new mid-engined car showing well in its second race start, was halted via a late pit stop with just over 30 minutes remaining.

But Garcia helped put the car in position with a storming middle stint of the race where he passed Olivier Pla and Scott Dixon in the Nos. 68 and 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs in succession, then closed down on the leading No. 66 Ford of Joey Hand. Once a round of green flag pit stops occurred, the Corvette Racing team helped propel Garcia to the lead by more than 10 seconds over Hand.

After a late caution brought the field together, Garcia then had to play defense against Pilet, who seemed faster but lost his spot.

The win was Corvette’s third in a row at Sebring after Garcia, Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe won in 2015 and Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler did last year.

The win also denies Corvette archrival Ford the opportunity to sweep Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring in succession, as Corvette did in 2015 and into 2016.

Ford’s trio of Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais were second in their No. 66 car, having been the trio that was looking to deliver that triple sweep themselves. Bourdais also came up one spot shy of his own Florida triple sweep in Daytona, the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener in St. Petersburg and Sebring.

After a chaotic final lap, the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE advanced into third thanks to James Calado behind the wheel. He shared that car with its full-season drivers, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella, advancing into a surprise podium position after starting 10th in class.

The Nos. 67 (polesitting entry) and 68 Fords were fourth and fifth ahead of the first of the BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, the No. 25 car of which was sixth in class. The No. 67 car was delayed from the start of the race as the car wouldn’t start, and wound up taking the green from the back of the field.

Meanwhile in GT Daytona, a near perfect performance from the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3 of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Mario Farnbacher saw them win the race.

Bleekemolen and Farnbacher drove the majority of the race, with Silver-rated Farnbacher doing more than enough to complete the three-hour minimum drive time required for a Silver-rated driver.

Bleekemolen got by Alessandro Balzan in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, the car which won this race last year, within the final hour and was able to pull away from the rest of the field.

A chaotic final lap saw the podium spots change, Balzan sharing his car with Christina Nielsen and Matteo Cressoni ending second while the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 ended third, thanks largely to a comeback drive from polesitter Tristan Vautier in the car he shared with Kenny Habul and Boris Said.

Montaplast by Land-Motorsport ran in the top three all race and was unlucky not to score a podium with its young trio of Connor De Phillippi, Christopher Mies and Jules Gounon, but the No. 29 Audi R8 LMS banked its second top-five finish in as many races in the second of its planned (but perhaps longer) races in America.

The No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 was unofficially fifth in class and top Lamborghini with the trio of Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow and Dion von Moltke, but that was a bit misleading. Both the GRT and Change Racing Lamborghinis ran in the top-five all race but both fell short of making the finish on fuel gambles, and the Nos. 11 and 16 cars unofficially ended ninth and 11th in class.

The heartbreak was particularly stinging for Robby Benton’s Change team; the young trio of Jeroen Mul, Corey Lewis and Brett Sandberg ran an otherwise flawless race and would have fully deserved its first series podium.

Another team that came up on the tough side of luck was the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS entry of Lawson Aschenbach, Matt Bell and Andrew Davis. Despite a stop-and-hold plus four-minute, six-second penalty that dropped it back more than a lap, this car came back to finish seventh in class behind the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, and on the lead lap. Considering the time lost from that penalty, there was a sense of what might have been for this car.

The GT classes resume alongside with the Prototype class at Long Beach next month, while Prototype Challenge is off until Circuit of The Americas in May.

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

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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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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Sports cars: AXR, Visit Florida, Corvette, DTM notes and more

Photo: VISIT FLORIDA Racing
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bunch of sports car news has come out here recently in the last few days, with most of it this mroning so we’re going to round it all up below:

  • Action Express Racing has confirmed its extra drivers for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Filipe Albuquerque, the talented Portuguese driver, will share the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R with Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi. It’s his fifth straight Rolex 24 start; he won Rolex GT in 2013 and then has raced in GTD, PC and P since. In the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox entry, Mike Conway will make his Rolex 24 debut with Sunoco Challenge winner Seb Morris, with IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship champions Dane Cameron and Eric Curran.
  • Lest this be the only DPi team with news, Wayne Taylor Racing with Konica-Minolta is the first to show its Cadillac in livery. Here’s the link to that.
  • Corvette Racing will keep Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler as third drivers for its pair of Corvette C7.Rs at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Rockenfeller was in the No. 3 car, Fassler the No. 4 car last year.
  • Park Place Motorsports has confirmed a full-season return to IMSA’s GTD class. Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey will run all races in the No. 73 Porsche 911 GT3 R with Matt McMurry the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races.
  • Tequila Patron ESM has revealed car numbers and lineups for its Ligier JS P217 Nissan lineup. Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp will be in the team’s No. 2 car with Pipo Derani back for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup. Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek will be in the No. 22 car with Bruno Senna for the TPNAEC and Brendon Hartley at Daytona. More here from them.
  • VISIT FLORIDA Racing has taken delivery of its Riley Technologies Mk. 30 Gibson LMP2 car, with a shakedown at Carolina Motorsports Park prior to a full test this week at Daytona.
  • BMW Team RLL’s lineup will feature Alexander Sims and Martin Tomczyk as new full-season drivers in the pair of BMW M6 GTLM alongside Bill Auberlen and John Edwards, respectively. Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler are alongside Auberlen and Sims, with Kuno Wittmer and Nicky Catsburg in the second BMW alongside Edwards and Tomczyk.
  • Audi and BMW DTM lineups are out. Audi’s are Loic Duval and Rene Rast as new full-season additions, continuing with Mattias Ekström, Jamie Green, Nico Müller, and Mike Rockenfeller. For BMW, it’s Marco Wittmann, Timo Glock, Augusto Farfus, Tom Blomqvist, Maxime Martin and Bruno Spengler. Edoardo Mortara has left Audi to join Mercedes-Benz, but the rest of Mercedes’ lineup will be revealed at a later date.

Corvette Racing retains same full-season lineup

Photo: Richard Prince/Corvette Racing
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From the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” department, Corvette Racing has confirmed the same four full-season drivers for its pair of Corvette C7.Rs in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

GT Le Mans class champions Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner will be in the No. 4 Corvette with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia continuing in the No. 3 Corvette.

This will mark the sixth consecutive year that the full-season lineup features the same four drivers. In their combined Corvette Racing history, they have combined to win 105 races and 10 Driver’s Championships in IMSA competition. Corvette Racing also has amassed class 11 Manufacturer and Team championships and an IMSA-record 102 race victories.

“Consistency is a key component in a successful endurance racing program,” said Mark Kent, Chevrolet Director of Motorsports Competition. “Retaining our core driver lineup for a sixth straight season gives us the best opportunity to repeat the phenomenal results from 2016.”

“It’s great to be coming back and joining Tommy again in the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R,” Gavin said. “It was a great season for us with four victories, a number of podiums and of course sweeping the GTLM championships. The mindset and motivation is there for everyone on board. We want to start 2017 the way we ended 2016 – running at the front, leading races and challenging for victories. That has to be our goal. That’s what everyone’s aim is on our team.

“You have a little more spring in your step coming into a new season on the back of one like we had in 2016. You feel confident. I hope that’s the way it carries over into 2017.”

Milner added, “More than anything, I’m excited to start a new season again with Corvette Racing. Each year always presents new challenges, and fighting hard to conquer those challenges is what makes it easy to get excited for the season.

“Being with Corvette Racing for this many years and having the same core team, I find we hit the ground running from the first test to the first race, almost as an extension of the previous year. With the success we had last year, let’s hope that translates to a strong start for 2017.”

Third drivers for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races and Le Mans will be determined at a later date. This year, Audi factory drivers on loan Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler were in the U.S. races, with the Taylor brothers added for Le Mans.

Porsche recently announced Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner for its No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR and Laurens Vanthoor and Kevin Estre for its No. 912, with Fred Makowiecki and Richard Lietz in the Nos. 911 and 912 cars as endurance race third drivers.

BMW Team RLL may have inadvertently revealed one of its lineups upon its “Art Car” release, as the names of Bill Auberlen, Alexander Sims, Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler were listed on the No. 19 BMW M6 GTLM.

Ford is expected to have a similar full-season lineup with its pair of Ford GTs run by Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. It leaves the second BMW and Ferrari’s GTLM entries via Risi Competizione and potentially Scuderia Corsa as yet to formally reveal their lineups for the class next year.