ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – It’s perhaps fitting in a way that Corvette Racing’s longest serving active driver, Oliver Gavin, and its lone American full-timer in Tommy Milner, were the pair that delivered the standard setter for GT racing in North America its 100th win as a team last time out at Lime Rock Park. And there’s a commemorative decal on the cars this weekend to celebrate the occasion.
And so today, the quest to capture the next 100 wins begins here at Road America – which surprising as it seems, is a track Corvette Racing has not won at since 2008 with a GT1-spec Corvette C6.R, and Jan Magnussen and Johnny O’Connell driving.
Gavin and Milner lead the GT Le Mans class points heading into today’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, and the drivers of the No. 4 Corvette C7.R were able to reflect a bit on what that win at Lime Rock meant for both them and the team.
“It just all fell into place really,” Gavin told NBC Sports. “We’d been waiting for a race like that Sebring. We were close in Long Beach but that one got taken away from us. Then we got into the midseason, and the performance of some other cars was pretty hard to beat. Everything has been relatively equal at Lime Rock.
“As we have done to deliver and perform, we perform throughout every level of the team at a very high consistent level. Whether that’s with the strategy we employ, the pit stops, the Michelin tires that we are on, the partners we’re working with, it’s why we’re in the lead of championship.
“This championship will come down who can perform the longest, strongest and be more consistent. At moment it’s between us, and the 67 (Ford GT) car. We’ll see how things evolve.”
Milner added, “No question it’s special. When I joined this team in 2011, I joined this team knowing I was joining at a team with a lot of success and experience, and always are in the hunt to win. That’s certainly has been my experience here. We have cars that can win races. This team is built to win races.”
Asking Gavin to pick which of his 47 wins with Corvette Racing stand out present some obvious candidates – notably the Corvette 1-2 photo finish at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona – but also mentioned 2012 a lot, when he and Milner won the class championship.
“Daytona this year was pretty spectacular. To come away with the win there was immense,” he said. “Then I think about my first win with Corvette in Le Mans in 2002. Johnny and I drove most of night; Ron (Fellows) was unwell. That was satisfying; then there was 2006 at Le Mans, following a very hard fight with the Astons. And then you sort of think about some of the Sebring results. Those are special.
“Mid-Ohio in 2012 starting a ways back and passing a number of cars in class, was satisfying to win there. The championship win at VIR in 2012 was quite nice. That year produced a lot of fond memories and I’m hoping this year provides some parallels.”
For Milner, he needed the confidence to know he could win when he got to Corvette from BMW, because he hadn’t won an ALMS race prior to arriving. In fact, his first win with Corvette was at the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“Getting over that hump was huge for believing in yourself,” Milner admitted. “If you’re not winning, you definitely question if you can do it. So getting the win at Le Mans was a nice sort of kick in the ass.
“It’s funny how for most of my career, I’d never won an American Le Mans Series race, until 2012. Then we not only won races, but also won the title!
“Now, I don’t remember that feeling of dying… with that desire to get a win. It’s just different now. Getting one win, you want to get another one. There’s years where you get down and you figure out how to overcome those challenges. It’s the age old saying of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s made me a better driver.”
Heading into today’s race, the No. 3 Corvette of Magnussen and Antonio Garcia starts sixth while the No. 4 car rolls off seventh. The Fords, meanwhile will start first (No. 66) and third (No. 67).
While Gavin isn’t bullish on Corvette’s chances today, at a track where there’s been four different manufacturers (Porsche 2015, Ferrari 2014, Viper 2013, BMW 2012) not named Corvette that have won the last four years, the goal is simple: bank as many points as possible to consolidate the 10-point gap (228-218) over Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe.
“We’ve had some success here in the past but it hasn’t been our strongest circuit,” Gavin said. “The turbo cars should be exceptionally strong. Ferrari has a bit more boost and speed, got a bit of weight. If I had to put my money on it, a turbo car should win here Sunday.
“Our main focus for us is to finish ahead of the 67 and then one of the other Fords if possible. This is gonna be back and forth for the rest of the year now. Pressure won’t let up whatsoever. It’s been fun, Mosport, Lime Rock, the same cars, just in a slightly different order. If we can have another result like that, it’d be good.”