CORVETTE RACING AT LE MANS: First Steps Toward Eighth Class Victory
Annual Test Day serves as dress rehearsal for Corvette C7.R’s Le Mans debut
DETROIT (May 28, 2014) – The biggest challenge yet for the new Chevrolet Corvette C7.R beckons across the Atlantic. Sunday is the annual Test Day ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and eight hours of track time for the C7.R and Corvette Racing’s six drivers. It’s the only time cars can run on the 8.3-mile circuit ahead of official practice and qualifying for the world’s most grueling auto race June 14-15.
Le Mans is the biggest event on Corvette Racing’s schedule, and for good reason. It tests man and machine like no other in some of the most extreme conditions imaginable. And it’s one where Corvette Racing has a strong history – seven class victories since 2001. Once again, the team will compete in the GTE Pro class.
The driver lineups are the same in each Corvette for the third straight year. Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Jordan Taylor will drive the No. 73 Corvette C7.R. Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook will share the No. 74 Corvette. The group has a combined 12 victories at Le Mans – four each for Gavin and Magnussen, three for Garcia and one for Milner.
All six drivers tested the Corvette C7.R in a low-downforce aero package during a two-day test earlier this month at Road America. It marked a significant change in feel and handling from the high-downforce setup the two Corvettes use in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The team hopes the success in North America transfers to Le Mans. Garcia and Magnussen are on a two-race winning streak and stand second in the GT Le Mans championship. Gavin and Milner are tied for third.
The Corvette C7.R debuts at Le Mans nine years after its predecessor – the C6.R – made its first start in 2005. Much has changed with new design and engineering efforts that will aid Corvette Racing and its drivers at the 24 Hours. Even with limited downforce, the C7.R is much more stable and predictable than the previous generation Corvette, drivers say. That will make the Corvettes that much stronger in the medium- and high-speed corners that dot the Le Mans layout.
This also is the first race at Le Mans for a Corvette with a direct-injection engine since the final GT1 race for the C6.R in 2009. Corvette Racing engineers expect a 3 percent gain in fuel economy over the C6.R which could mean one less pit stop over the course of 24 Hours – a potentially huge advantage.
Sunday’s test sessions at Le Mans run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. Central European Time or 3 to 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. to noon ET.
(Benefits of Road America test) “Every single lap we do is important. We did all we can to get to Le Mans with the maximum amount of knowledge about the car and maximum amount of development. It took me a few laps to get used to the car in a low-trim setup. Even Road America isn’t a low-downforce track. You have to adjust your style to the aero more than the track. What I remembered about Road America was completely different because we ran a completely different aero configuration. You have to focus on driving the car and forget about where you are. We know we could have adjusted the car to go faster around there, but the focus was our Le Mans program and gain as much data as possible.”
(Test Day outlook) “When we left Road America, we were happy with how things progressed and how the car behaved on the track. Now we have to wait to see how this new C7.R is around Le Mans and where we are compared to our competition. The test will be important considering the weather. It has been difficult the last three years. If we have a week like we had last year – with almost no dry running – it will be difficult for us. We hope to have a good, clean run Sunday with nice weather that is good enough to confirm that all we have is good enough for the race and what we expect.”
(Road America test) “As usual at Le Mans, everyone is looking for top speed and stability. I think we got through a good number of things at the test that will help us at Le Mans. But we won’t know how we stack up against the competition probably until the race at Le Mans. Even at the Test Day, people are testing stuff and not exactly going for a lap time. But we will get a good idea of where we are on the Test Day. Unfortunately if we are not near the top, there is not a lot we can do between the test and the race other than some fine-tuning. But I do think we are much better prepared this year than we were last year.”
(Outook): “We are in a much better position this year. Last year we were a huge amount of time off the fastest cars. This year I don’t think the gap will be that big. But if you are a half-second or a second off, that’s still a problem. We’ve done everything we can to be as well-prepared as possible.”
(Being back with Corvette Racing) “It’s been a long time since I drove the C6.R – since last year’s Petit Le Mans. It was nice to finally get laps in the C7.R. It’s a way different car –everything from the cockpit to the way it drives and the seating position. I sat in it at Daytona and Laguna Seca to get a feel for it, and to get to drive it at Road America was really fun. Getting up to speed in a car like that in such a competitive class is always difficult. It’s great having guys in the car with you like Antonio and Jan, who are obviously on it in the class and won the last two races. So I have the perfect guys to compare my data to and really figure out the car.”
(First C7.R impressions) “The biggest thing for me is how much more comfortable to drive and how much more predictable it is. The C6.R was always on edge; when it started to slide, it would slide quickly and it was hard to catch. Finding the limit of the car was always a little intimidating because there wasn’t much time to react when the car started to break loose. But once I got in the C7.R, I could instantly feel the grip and a much better sensation of where the car is in the corner. You know what’s about to happen and you can react much quicker. For our type of racing, it’s huge to have that predictability just for consistency over a run.”
(Road America test) “It’s always good to go to Road America and test. I felt pretty confident in the car. You know from many years of going to Le Mans what the car needs to be fast at Le Mans. Did we tick all those boxes? I’d say we ticked some of them but you never know if you ticked all of them until you get to Le Mans and you see what your pace is like and what your straight-line speed is like. Le Mans is so unique and it’s so hard to replicate that and reproduce it anywhere in the world.”
(High-downforce vs. low-downforce setups): “Fundamentally the balance of the car is very similar. Just the level of grip in medium- and high-speed corners go down when you have a light-downforce package. So you know you have to be a little more delicate with the wheel, the brakes and slow with your hands and feet so as to not upset the car under braking – the sort of mindset that you need for when you go back to Le Mans. And that was another great thing about having that test at Road America. After running the cars with the highest levels of downforce possible for first part of the year, it was a bit of a culture shock to how the car needs to be set up and how it needs to be in order to go fast around 8.3 miles at Le Mans. You have to make those adjustments so not only is it good for us to go to Road America to test the car and see what it’s like in those configurations, it’s good for the drivers to get that experience and feel.”
(Driving with low-downforce settings) “It was a big
difference in general from what I’m used to. But you have to reset your brain a little bit on what the car feels like in high-speed corners and under braking. Certainly for a first stab at it, the car wasn’t too bad. But over the two days (at Road America), we worked really hard on making it more comfortable to drive. We definitely achieved that – as comfortable as it can be with very little downforce. At a place like Road America, if you can be pretty comfortable in the Carousel with little downforce, then that usually bodes well for Le Mans.”
(Team preparations) “The atmosphere within the team doesn’t change much. But everyone on the team is a little more anxious to see how the car feels, how fast it can be and what we say about it over the radio because in some ways it is our first taste of what to expect for Le Mans. The biggest difference is just those first impressions and they make a bigger impact on the mood of the team a little bit early on. The car was obviously not very fun to drive to start with (at Road America) but nobody panicked. We put our heads down and started working on the car. We definitely left the test feeling pretty optimistic about going to Le Mans with a car that should be quick and one that is fairly nice to drive. But having said that, I’d trade a comfortable car to drive for a fast car at Le Mans any day. That’s part of Le Mans – trying to find that elusive balance.”
(Back with Corvette Racing) “It’s great to be back in the Corvette Racing family. It feels like it has been too long. I had to sit out Daytona and Sebring because of my duties with the Corvette Daytona Prototype, so I was really excited to get back with the team and I was keen to try out the Corvette C7.R. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It’s an amazing piece of machinery and engineering. Everyone at Pratt & Miller and Chevrolet did a fantastic job in improving on the successful C6.R in every department. It was a very encouraging test.”
(First impressions) “The thing that struck me was the lower center of gravity in the car. You can feel that right away. You can feel the added stability especially at high speed. The thing that was a big, big step is the lateral grip. The advancements in the center of gravity are just incredible. It was a real joy to drive and I have to say it was a little easier to drive and step into than what I was used to before. It feels much more like a racing car – something you can grab hold of and drive. When you have quick sections like the Porsche Curves, it’s all about confidence and this car really introduces a lot of confidence into its driver.”
“I know all our fans are anxious to see the new Chevrolet Corvette C7.R turn its first laps at the upcoming test day at Le Mans. Experience tells us that any track time there proves to be extremely valuable and fundamental to success. While our recent two-day test at Road America was beneficial to get our first taste of running the car in a Le Mans-style, low-downforce setting, you simply can’t simulate actual Le Mans conditions at any other track in the world. That’s what makes the challenge and allure of Le Mans special and why it is the cornerstone of our racing program year in and year out.”