Corvette Racing ran at the front in the fiercely competitive GTE Pro category throughout the first quarter of the 24 Hours of Le Mans yesterday. The No. 74 Compuware Corvette C6.R took the lead in the first hour during an extended safety car period and held it as the sixth hour ended. The No. 73 Compuware Corvette ran as high as second and was consistently in the top five. At the six-hour mark the No. 74 Corvette was leading the class with 80 laps, and the No. 73 was fourth with 79 laps completed.
Starting the No. 74 Corvette C6.R from fourth on the GTE grid, Oliver Gavin gained two spots on the opening lap to move to second in the category. An early pit stop put him in position to take the lead during a lengthy one-hour and 12-minute full course caution to repair the barriers after a high-speed crash by the No. 3 Audi. Gavin was behind the first safety car when the caution period began and thereby gained more than a minute and a half on the field. Olivier Beretta was running second in the No.73 Corvette C6.R behind the second safety car (multiple safety cars are used on the 8.5-mile Le Mans circuit).
"I was behind Priaulx's BMW at the start, and as we came out of Tertre Rouge I could see him struggling," Gavin said. "I went wide on the Mulsanne Straight, got a tow from the three cars ahead of me, and went around both BMWs.
"I was right behind the leading Ferrari, but backed off a little to settle into a rhythm," Gavin continued. "I needed to pit, and then we got a lucky break with the pace car. I was really happy after all the times the safety car has gone against us in the past. We can still make the car a little better, but we're not far off."
Jan Magnussen replaced Gavin in the No. 74 Corvette at 2:32 into the race, and handed off the car to Richard Westbrook at 4:24. “There was a lot of traffic in my first stint, which meant I couldn’t make the best of my tires when they were new," Magnussen said. "The second stint was very difficult, so we’ll have to make some changes over the next few pit stops to compensate for that.”
Beretta also moved up two positions at the start, taking the No. 73 Corvette from sixth to fourth in the opening lap. He also benefited from an early pit stop, running second behind the safety car, a position he held to the end of his stint.
“It was just a regular double stint like we had planned, only a bit longer because of the lengthy safety car period which meant we could stretch our fuel dollar by 50 percent," Beretta said. "I tried to stay with the sister Corvette for as long as I could, but the safety car cut in between us so I lost a third of a lap. So far everything is going okay.”
Tommy Milner took over from Beretta, completed his first double stint in the No. 73 Corvette C6.R, and was ready for more. "This track is more mentally tough than it is physically tough," said the young American driver. "I feel good out there, the most comfortable I've been since we arrived, and obviously early in the race is a good time for that to happen. Now we just have to run laps and be there in the end. I've seen a lot of guys racing in traffic and there's no point in that – one little mistake and you're in the garage. We can push at the finish if we need to."
Antonio Garcia replaced Milner at the 4:17 mark, moving up to third shortly after the start of the fifth hour. After a routine fuel-only pit stop, Garcia had to return to the pits when a punctured tire started to lose pressure. The unscheduled stop dropped the No. 73 Corvette C6.R to sixth, but he regained two positions by the end of the sixth hour.
24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Pro Top Five After Six Hours:
1. 74 Gavin/Magnussen/Westbrook, Corvette C6.R, 80
2. 56 Priaulx/Muller/Hand, BMW M3 GT, 79
3. 75 Goossens/Holzer/van Lagen, Porsche 997 GT3 RSR, 79
4. 73 Beretta/Milner/Garcia, Corvette C6.R, 79
5. 59 Ortelli/Makowiecki/Melo, Ferrari F458 Italia, 79