A storybook finish to the GTE-Pro class ended with pure elation for Aston Martin Racing and sheer heartbreak for Corvette Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Jonny Adam in his venerable No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage V8 pressed Jordan Taylor in his No. 63 Corvette C7.R in the final stint of the race, with the battle culminating in the final 10 minutes.
At Arnage corner, Adam went to the inside of Taylor but overshot the corner apex. Adam was on the outside driver’s left with Taylor to the right, and the two made contact at corner exit. However not long afterwards, Taylor went off course into the gravel at one of the chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight.
Taylor’s car then began to slow shortly thereafter and had there only been one lap still to go, he may have been able to hold off Adam. But Adam made it past Taylor at the exit of the Ford Chicane and waltzed through to the victory from there after an intense finish.
Adam, Darren Turner and Daniel Serra took the win in the No. 97 car while Harry Tincknell’s storming charge netted the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT a second place finish on the final lap with Andy Priaulx and Pipo Derani.
Taylor fell to third with a right rear puncture, after a final lap of 5:37.233, 1 minute 36 seconds back of Adam, in the No. 63 Corvette he shared with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia.
Jordan has a right-rear puncture on the final lap. Incredible effort. Third place in #GTEPro for the 63 #Corvette.
The parity in class continued with the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR and No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE completing the top five, making it five different manufacturers in as many positions, a year after the Ford and Ferrari domination of a year ago.
Verizon IndyCar Series stars Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon shared Fords that ended sixth and seventh in GTE-Pro, respectively.
GTE-Am was a far more straightforward affair with the Ferrari 488 GTEs sweeping the podium.
JMW Motorsport, which won its signoff with the old Ferrari 458 Italia at Monza’s European Le Mans Series race, won in GTE-Am with a new lineup and a new car. Rob Smith, Dries Vanthoor and Will Stevens took the No. 84 car to the win.
Spirit of Race was second in the No. 55 Ferrari (Aaron Scott, Marco Cioci, Duncan Cameron) while Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler have continued their podium streak, three podiums in as many years for Scuderia Corsa, in their No. 62 WeatherTech-backed Ferrari they shared with Cooper MacNeil, who has made the Le Mans podium for the first time in his career.
Both GTE classes were very reliable with 11 of 13 in the Pro class and 15 of 16 in the Am class finishing, so it left 26 of the 29 starters able to see the checkered flag.
As expected, Jordan Taylor and Marcel Fassler will complete Corvette Racing’s lineup in its pair of Corvette C7.Rs at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The younger Taylor brother shares the No. 63 car with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, while Fassler is back with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in the No. 64 car, as he is in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races Stateside.
The GTE-Pro class lineup is altered slightly compared to past years, with Fassler back with Corvette at Le Mans after the end of Audi’s LMP1 program, where he won three times overall with co-drivers Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer. He drove for Corvette Racing in Chevrolet’s final GT1 race at Le Mans in 2009, but that entry was forced to retire while leading.
Jordan Taylor won in class with Gavin and Milner in 2015, a dramatic victory that came after the No. 63 car suffered an accident in practice and was unable to start the race. He is four-for-four with Ricky Taylor in IMSA this year while Corvette is three-of-four, with the No. 3 crew winning twice and the No. 4 crew winning once.
Both Taylor and Fässler are part of a pre-Le Mans test this week at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc.
“It’s great to head to Le Mans with Corvette Racing for the sixth consecutive year,” Taylor said. “Le Mans is a massive event; the feeling of winning there is unlike anything I’ve experienced. Last year’s race was difficult for all of us but we’re all motivated to go back this time with the goal of contending for another victory.
“I’m looking forward to teaming again with Antonio and Jan. They have been great teammates and helped me learn a lot my first couple of years at Le Mans. Hopefully we can work our way to the top of the podium this year.”
Fassler added, “It is always great to be back with Corvette Racing and Chevrolet, but to return with them for Le Mans is special. We both have had a great deal of success at the 24 Hours. My hope and goal is to add to that this year.
“I feel like I have some unfinished business with Corvette Racing at Le Mans. We were leading late in 2009 until our car had to retire. So I very much want to score that elusive Le Mans victory with Corvette Racing. Racing in GTE Pro will be a new challenge. There are many great cars and drivers in our class. It would be a nice result for Olly, Tommy and our team.”
This year’s Le Mans is June 17-18, with the Test Day on June 4.
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Covering races off site often leads one to rely heavily on the results sheet – likely too much – without factoring in the circumstances behind how the car, driver or team got there.
So if one was to look at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix and see that Corvette Racing qualified on the pole with its No. 3 Corvette C7.R and won the race with the No. 4 car, you’d think – oh, that was straightforward.
It was easily one of the least straightforward days in the team’s history after a bizarre ending to a goofy race, which packed so much drama in the LBC in just 100 minutes of action.
Jan Magnussen, who’s ratcheted up his performance lately, scored a decisive pole position on Friday in a great effort to put the No. 3 car he shared with the “King of Spain” – Antonio Garcia – on the top spot.
But the race almost went away from them right at the start. Toni Vilander tried an enthusiastic passing maneuver in his No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, as the GTLM leader, to try to pass Ed Brown’s No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi on the opening lap of the race exiting Turn 5.
Yet it backfired, badly. Vilander spun Brown, then took himself, Magnussen and Joey Hand in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT into the outside wall of the corner in an accordion effect accident.
Vilander’s Ferrari was done on the spot while Magnussen’s Corvette had left front quarter panel damage, and Hand lost the hood of his Ford.
Magnussen didn’t lose a lap though and pressed on with the damage. A second caution 22 minutes into the race provided an opportunity to go off-sequence, which about half the GTLM field did. The No. 3 crew pitted Magnussen to switch him out and put Garcia in. The Spaniard then drove the final 78 minutes on the same set of Michelin tires and tank of fuel, aided by five full-course caution periods.
As the race neared its finish, the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM was leading in class and for that matter overall on the same strategy, but an apparent ECU issue took that car from the lead as it slowed exiting Turn 8. It provided a window for the two Corvettes and the second Ford to barge through into the new podium scenario.
Corvette Racing looked destined for a 1-2 finish, which would have been the team’s first since Lime Rock last year, when disaster struck entirely out of their hands.
A battle between two GTD cars, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 and the No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, was always going to make the hairpin tricky but when the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 attempted to make it three-wide, a rather late lunge from GT class rookie Robert Alon, it turned the Long Beach hairpin into a parking lot on the 405 freeway.
This blocked the track and Garcia was stuck, trapped in behind the three cars on the outside of the corner apex. When one of the GT cars was able to get out, it opened up a lane for the No. 4 Corvette, driven by Tommy Milner and started by Oliver Gavin, to go through to the win over the No. 67 Ford. Garcia dropped to fifth.
IMSA reviewed the incident, and a series spokesperson confirmed the traffic jam was deemed an “incident in progress.” In layman’s terms, that meant if you were stuck in the incident, you were trapped, while if you were able to get out of the incident, you could get out. The field was not frozen as it was not a full-course caution but only a local caution in that corner, and the overall leader had already taken the checkered flag as the GT cars were on their final lap.
“I’ve seen a lot of races before, but none like that,” Danny Binks, the legendary crew chief on the No. 3 Corvette, lamented to NBC Sports. The only logical conclusion to occur at this point was that Garcia had exhausted all his luck with the racing gods after his heroic drive at Sebring, and the racing gods felt compelled to take one away that they giveth in Florida.
Meanwhile for the No. 4 car, it provided the quirkiest bit of redemption because a Porsche took Milner out at the hairpin last year.
While the win was appreciated for the No. 4 car, it was still hard to swallow because the No. 3 had the win to rights by strategy.
Gavin and Milner attempted to explain a race that was lacking in rhythm all the way through.
“The start for me was pretty interesting. I was coming into turn 1 and it looked like Jan had been jumped by the Ferrari and the Ford,” Gavin said. “And on first laps here you’re looking at who’s tires are up to temp and who is taking chances. It looked like everyone was taking chances. And by Turn 5 it looked like the Patron car was already into the curbing there. The three of us managed to avoid any contact after the stopped car. We were 1-2-3 then and it was just some insane racing, not by just us three, but by all the cars.
“There were some choice moves by a lot of cars out there, everyone wanted to win it, but making moves with 85 minutes to go. So I was just trying to keep the car clean and hand it over to Tommy for the finish. And the way the team managed the pit stop, we managed to get the car out in front of everyone we were racing. But the race kept turning on its head, and it’s one of those you can’t take your eyes off.”
Gavin then highlighted a variance in the technical regulations about the different elements the GT Daytona class cars have which the others in the series don’t.
“This really highlights an issue in that I really don’t think you can run cars with ABS in the same series with cars that don’t have ABS,” he said. “I think you have to have everyone on it, or no one. Especially in our class, trying to get past those guys, someone can make it really hard. They can park the thing in the middle of the corner and drag strip it off. We have to develop the speed with Michelin, and in the chassis and our team. And ABS on this circuit is something you can rely on and be a hero. Driving around here without ABS, you’re holding your breath trying to find out if you’re on the limit at every corner. With ABS you can just hump on the pedal and turn the wheel and the car looks after itself. This race really highlights that. I think it’s part of some of the reasons the race happened that way today.”
Milner then offered take on the race: “It was just a weird race today for sure. We started off a bit behind and it looked like the strategy wasn’t going to pay off for us, and the cautions made for the people who made the stop early were going to play it out on fuel. Then we kind of hoped for yellows to bunch us back up there. I was racing hard with Briscoe and Antonio and the BMW, but I had newer tires by 14 laps. The BMW had a problem coming off of turn 8 and I kind of went for it. I expected him to keep going, but he didn’t. we got a little sideways with the Ford and it freed up where Antonio was and we both pulled away. Certainly my newer tires were better, but getting by Antonio was going to be pretty tough.
“Then we came to the last corner there, I knew the race was over because Antonio had a bit of a gap on me. It came on the radio and I saw the caution flags there. It was free, and then it wasn’t. I tried going to the outside in the same situation last time and lost spots. This time I went on the inside. I wasn’t even full speed, I was cruising thinking we were under caution. Then I saw the green flags and the guys on the radio said we were P1. Racing is a lot about luck in a lot of cases, I don’t think I’ve seen it play out this way for me or for anyone else. It’s good to just get some points for me and for Chevrolet and Corvette and so we’ll start to go on to the next one.
“At no point do I feel like I was in a rhythm until the last 4 or 5 laps and then I could see what the car could do and find its limits, then start taking off tenths. For those short spurts you could see it was going to be hard to pass cars. I can’t say I took an opportunity at the hair pin, I just lucked out. It goes along with having classes similar in speed in a lot of places. Certainly the GTD cars are quicker in a few places. The way we mixed together is not ideal and this track really highlights those mismatches. Those guys are racing hard and we all have to co-exist, and it’s hard to get 100 drivers to co-exist for an entire race. It’s not ideal, but you make the most of it and deal with it.”
At least one Garcia won this weekend, as Sergio captured The Masters, and Garcia and Gavin had some fun with it on social media…
With this the 104th win in program history, albeit one of the strangest ones, it’s worth looking at how Corvette Racing has endured and sustained the success over nearly 20 years. A quick answer to that can be found below:
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.
“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.”
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.
If you aren't watching @AntonioGarcia_3 right now, you're missing out on what could be his greatest drive of his career. Unreal.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.