Corvette Racing saw a promising 1-2 finish the super-competitive LMGT2 at Le Mans end in a pair of DNFs.
The two cars, running in GT2 for the first time at Le Mans, were the class of the field for much of the race with the no.64 car of Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Emmanuel Collard leading from the sister no.63 Compuware Corvette (Jan Magnussen, Johnny O'Connell, Antonio Garcia).
The Corvette domination was only challenge by the Risi Ferrari of Jaime Melo who battled with Gavin for several laps – the sort of battle that has seen GT2 racing on both sides of the Atlantic garner almost wholly positive reviews this season. However, Brazilian Melo was soon forced to pit with gearbox issues, problems that Gavin may have been caused by the aggressive racing between the pair.
“Jaime was hard but fair,” Gavin started. “[But] he was using a lot of road – maybe a little too much at times, particularly at the Ford and Mulsanne chicanes. I think he dropped a wheel off coming out of Indianapolis and missed a gear, and then missed another gear coming out of Arnage and I got by him. That may be where their gearbox problems started. I was able to get by cleanly and then open a gap.”
The delay (and then retirement) of the reigning class champion handed second back to the no.63, the pair of Corvettes handsomely leading the category until they hit troubles of their own around 7am on Sunday morning.
First, while on his out lap Antonio Garcia suffered an engine failure, signified by a “big noise and an engine alarm” according to Garcia – the Spaniard in his second year of being a third driver for Corvette. It was the first in 11 years of racing at Le Mans according to program manager Doug Fehan.
The no.63 retired, things went from bad to worse less than 90 minutes later, as Emmanuel Collard, was involved in what became one of the major talking points of the race.
To quote the team's press release; “the No. 64 Corvette C6.R had hard contact with the barriers in the Porsche Curves after an aggressive pass by the No. 1 Peugeot LMP1. Driver Emmanuel Collard was not injured in the accident.”
“I turned to the second left in the Porsche corner and the Peugeot was on the inside,” Collard said. “I didn’t know he was there, I was focused on my driving. There was no contact, but he was there on the inside and I missed the right line. The car lost grip, and I crashed.”
The catalogue of damage betrayed the force of the impact. “It backed into the barrier really hard and took the inner frame bumper off, the rear tail, wing, and quarter panels,” said team manager Gary Pratt. “The clutch was damaged so we had to install a clutch and bellhousing. We changed the front nose box, and the exhaust was pushed under the rocker panel.”
Incredibly Collard was able to limp the car back to the pits where the team descended on the car, repairing the heavily damaged machine in just 15 minutes, Oliver Gavin taking the car back out in fifth place in class, six laps behind the new leader.
Unfortunately any potential fight back was soon over, despite Gavin running his fastest race lap after the repairs, the car stopping at Mulsanne corner with smoke coming from the exhausts.
Corvette Racing's Le Mans was over.
“There are different ways to make history, and today’s result certainly wasn’t what we set out to accomplish,” summed up Fehan.