Corvette Racing brought down the curtain on the GT1 era with a victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Johnny O'Connell, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia scored Corvette Racing's sixth class victory in the world's biggest sports car race with the No. 63 Compuware Corvette C6.R.
The winning Corvette completed 342 laps, racing to a six-lap margin of victory over the No. 73 Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R of Yann Clairay, Julien Jousse and Xavier Maassen. The No. 64 Compuware Corvette C6.R of Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta, and Marcel Fassler retired from the lead in the 22nd hour with an apparent gearbox problem.
Today's win was Corvette Racing's 16th podium finish at Le Mans since 2000. It was the fourth Le Mans class win for O'Connell and Magnussen, and the second consecutive Le Mans GT1 victory for Garcia. O'Connell became the first American driver to win four class titles in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
"When you look at the Americans who have won here multiple times, they're all important figures in motorsports history," O'Connell said. "To achieve my fourth win with Corvette Racing, driving a sports car that's an American icon, it's hard to put that into words. There is nothing more difficult and more rewarding than winning here, and sharing it with two awesome drivers like Jan and Antonio."
The two Corvettes waged a fierce battle throughout 22 of the 24 hours, never separated by more than one lap. The pole-winning No. 63 Corvette C6.R led from the start for 18 hours and 52 minutes. Beretta then put the No. 64 Corvette C6.R in front, passing Garcia on a restart following a safety car period. Garcia regained the lead at 19:23 when Beretta pitted; the No. 64 was back at the front following a pit stop for O'Connell to replace Garcia. The 21st hour saw an intense duel between O'Connell and Fassler with the cars dicing around the entire 8.47-mile circuit.
"It was a great race, but a shame that the No. 64 Corvette was not there at the finish," said Garcia. "We raced really, really hard for 22 hours. We were racing fair, and we were all going 100 percent. The full stint I did fighting with Olly after the safety car came in was great."
At 21:36, Fassler radioed the crew that he was experiencing shifting problems. The gearbox problem intensified, and the car was stranded near the pit lane entrance when it lost drive to the rear wheels. In contrast, the No. 63 Corvette had a trouble-free run throughout the grueling 24-hour race, making 32 pit stops and never going into the garage for repairs. O'Connell and Garcia drove the closing stints in the race when Magnussen became ill.
"It was a good fight," said Fassler. "Sure it was difficult to race your teammate hard, but when we went out of the chicane he was really fair and he left me space. I enjoyed leading the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and I came very close to reaching one of the goals I want to achieve in my life. I was only two hours away, but suddenly I smelled some gearbox oil. Then something broke quickly before I could get back to the pits. I was very disappointed for the whole team and my teammates. All of them did a really good job. There were no mistakes, and they deserved a victory as well. In the end, it's important for Corvette Racing that they have a Le Mans win with the No. 63 Corvette, and I have to congratulate them because it was a tough fight."
This race marked the end of the GT1 era for Corvette Racing that began in 1999. Since then, Corvette Racing has become America's premier production sports car team, winning 77 races and eight consecutive American Le Mans Series championships.
"When you look at all aspects of the close of the GT1 category as we know it today, it is an unequivocal testament to the commitment of a corporation that recognizes the value of motorsports from a marketing and technological perspective," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "It's also representative of all the people who have been here since the beginning, who dedicated themselves to taking Corvette forward. At the end of the day, today's victory is emblematic of what American teamwork and American spirit is about."
Corvette Racing will make the move to the GT2 category in its next event, the Acura Sports Car Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on August 6-8. The two-hour, 45-minute race is scheduled to start at 2:10 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 8. The race will be televised same-day tape-delayed on NBC at 4 p.m. ET.
24 Hours of Le Mans GT1 Results:
1. (63) O'Connell/Magnussen/Garcia, Corvette C6.R, 342
2. (73) Jousse/Maassen/Clairay, Corvette C6.R, 336
3. (66) Lichtner-Hoyer/Gruber/Muller, Aston Martin DBR9, 294
(64) Gavin/Beretta/Fassler, Corvette C6.R, 311 (retired)
(72) Alphand/Goueslard/Gregoire, Corvette C6.R, 99 (retired)
(68) Apicella/Yogo/Yamagishi, Lamborghini Murcielago, 1 (retired)