By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. There were no stinkin' "team orders," no artificial political arrangements, no dismally pre-programmed manufacturer priorities. No, it was just two pure road racers at the highest levels of the sport - who happened to be driving for the same team - going balls out for the GTLM class win in the Daytona 24 Hour race. The epic duel between Oliver Gavin (No. 4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R) and Antonio Garcia (No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R) will go down in history as the closest class finish in the history of the race, with Gavin edging Garcia by just 0.034 seconds.
Once Garcia barged by the factory-entered Porsche 911 RSR driven by Earl Bamber to take second position with about 20 minutes left in the race, Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager, told Garcia that there were no team orders and the two could have at it, with the implicit understanding, of course, that they didn't screw things up by taking each other out. Garcia briefly passed Gavin entering Turn 1 with about three minutes to go, but ran wide, allowing Gavin to retake the position. Then Garcia got a run coming out of the bus stop on the final lap, coming up just short in a drag race to the stripe, giving the win to Gavin and co-drivers Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler. Garcia, with co-drivers Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller, finished second, while Bamber finished third in GTLM in the No. 912 Porsche North America entry that he shared with Michael Christensen and Frederic Makowiecki.
“All I could think about was my boss, Doug Fehan and what he would say if we did touch,” said Gavin. "As soon as Antonio had passed the Porsche, I asked my engineer, I said how's this going to work? And my engineer then said, okay, Doug Fehan has said that you will race and you're clear to race clean and fair, but don't touch one another and certainly don't take one another out. We've raced like this many years now, and I've already said that to race against Antonio is a pleasure. He's an amazing teammate. I knew I was going to have my work cut out to beat him, and I suppose that does make it a little bit sweeter for me that we've come away with the win. It was all full clearance, the race. So that's always fun to see. And like Marcel says, it's what the fans want to see is great racing.”
“Then on the last lap I was thinking I had just enough on him, but then he towed up behind me," Gavin added. "It was like the line was just going away from me. I couldn't get to the line fast enough. I've just seen a picture of it, actually, and it was pretty close.”
For racing enthusiasts, it was so refreshing to see a team have such confidence in their drivers that they were given the green light to race to the finish that it was almost a revelation, especially after all the manufactured crap that goes on in other racing series (F1 to name just one). I'm sure there were some classically trained team owners across the pond watching in horror as the end of the race unfolded, wondering how the Corvette Racing brain trust could possibly let this happen. It was also a fitting first volley in the GTLM class "Battle for the Ages" that has been brewing since last summer when the announcement was made that Ford would be returning to factory-backed road racing with a pair of Ford GT racing machines, a battle that will play out throughout the 2016 season.
(That the Ford effort encountered myriad troubles almost from the get-go was absolutely no surprise to anyone who knows the racing business, given that the new cars lacked the kind of intensive, in-game testing that the other teams' machines have in their racing dossiers. The only surprise about it was the surprise vocalized by some of the principals on the Ford team. The expectations were understandably high, especially given the credentials of the Ganassi racing organization, but it's a reminder that you just don't show up and expect to win right out of the box in the most ferocious class of racing in the world, no matter who you are. Ford expects the 12 Hours of Sebring will be better - make no mistake, the Ford GTs displayed genuine speed in their on-track debut at Daytona - but those expectations may be a tad too high as well, especially given the soul-crushing - and car-crunching - nature of the brutal Sebring course, which hosts this country's most prestigious endurance race.)
The GTLM battle at Daytona, featuring Corvette vs. Porsche vs. Ferrari vs. Ford squaring off against each other in the most hotly contested class in all of motorsport, was everything road racing enthusiasts could have asked for and then some. Flat-out the whole way with no quarter asked and none given, it was a magnificent display of road racing at its finest and a reason to be cautiously optimistic that this season will indeed be one for the ages.
You can read more about the Daytona 24 Hours in "The Line", including the notable debut of 22-year-old Pipo Derani, whose brilliant driving spearheaded the Honda-powered Tequila Patrón ESM team to an overall win. But on this day congratulations must go out to Corvette Racing and the entire Pratt & Miller organization for a superb effort and a truly spectacular and memorable win.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
(Images courtesy of Corvette Racing)
“We thought this was going to be a great weekend because we had a couple of additional competitors in the series this year,” said Mark Reuss, General Motors Executive Vice President, Global Product Development. “I'll tell you, this is the second year in row we placed both Corvette C7.Rs on the podium. I couldn't be prouder of the team because they all worked so hard. They know how to win because it is a great team, and it is a great car. Honestly, that is what it is all about. It was an outstanding weekend."
Oliver Gavin (No. 4 Corvette Racing C7.R co-driven by Tommy Milner and Marcel Fässler) holds off teammate Antonio Garcia (No. 3 Corvette C7.R co-driven by Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller) by 0.034 seconds at the finish of the Daytona 24 Hour (Rolex 24). Each of the Corvette Racing entries completed 722 laps for 2,570.32 miles. The margin of victory set a Rolex 24 record. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for the Gavin-Milner-Fässler trio and the No. 4 Corvette C7.R now takes an early lead in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup’s GTLM standings. The competition is a four-race series of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s four long-distance events with points for segment winners that go toward an end-of-season championship. The No. 3 Corvette C7.R also won the DEKRA Green Award for best performance combined with fuel efficiency in the GTLM class.
Marcel Fässler, Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin in Victory Lane after the Daytona 24 Hour (Rolex 24). Brian Hoye, the crew chief of the No. 4 Corvette had this to say: "Oh my gosh. I just can’t believe that we were racing that hard to the end. Nobody was holding back. We had all the GM and Chevrolet leadership here; we had Mark Reuss, Jim Campbell and Mark Kent. We put on a great show. It’s so hard to have everything sink in because nobody has really slept since yesterday morning when they got up. It takes a while to absorb it, but it just feels fantastic.”
Check out the latest episode of The High-Octane Truth on AutoextremistTV below. -WG
Editor's Note: Many of you have seen Peter's references over the years to the Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation (HERF), which he launched in 2007. For those of you who weren't following AE at the time, you can read two of HERF's press releases here and here. And for even more details (including a link to Peter's announcement speech), check out the HERF entry on Wikipedia here. -WG
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Photo by Dave Friedman courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Daytona Beach, Florida, February 7, 1966. Lloyd Ruby (left) and Ken Miles in victory circle after winning the Daytona 24 Hour race in their No. 98 Shelby American Ford Mk II. The duo sat on the pole and won the race by eight laps, leading a 1-2-3 Ford sweep. The Dan Gurney/Jerry Grant No. 97 Shelby American Ford Mk II would finish second, followed by the Mark Donohue/Walt Hansgen No. 95 Holman & Moody Ford Mk II. It was the first time that the sports car opener at Daytona was contested for 24 hours. See a flckr album here.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD